Seattle’s backups (and some of the starters) had an off-night in Oakland
Well, this was something of a surprise.
I settled in to watch the first half of this game at 3am GMT. By the end of the first drive I was already plotting an early exit. Russell Wilson dissected Oakland’s backup defense with three completions for 77 yards and a touchdown. Everything was going to plan.
Then the defense came out. What occurred next was totally unexpected.
Sleep? I couldn’t take my eyes off this. This was the football equivalent of slowing down to gawp at a car crash.
Dennis Allen has a very different approach to pre-season games compared to Pete Carroll. In this one for example he sat nearly every starter. Seattle gave both starting units a series and kept certain players (Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor) on the field for extra game time.
That’s why it was so surprising to see rookie Derek Carr (poor in his previous pre-season outings) pick apart Seattle’s defense on a long opening touchdown drive.
It might’ve raised a few eye brows, but it wasn’t inexplicable.
The defensive line simply got mauled. They created no pressure with the pass rush and couldn’t stop any run play. They were gashed.
Carr deserves credit for taking advantage, but even the sloppiest NFL quarterback will make a few plays in a squeaky clean pocket. There were some nice back shoulder throws and Carr was very accurate on the night. But he shouldn’t have had such an easy ride.
After the initial tying touchdown things escalated very quickly. Bryan Walters fumbled on the following kick off, gifting the Raiders great field position and an immediate second score. Phillip Adams got torched peaking into the backfield on a downfield throw and was beaten badly. The Raiders had 14 points in 15 seconds.
Pete Carroll preaches protecting the ball and limiting explosive plays. Through Walters and Adams, they betrayed both core philosophies in less than half a minute.
Tarvaris Jackson replaced Wilson for the subsequent drive and immediately had to drag a confused Paul Richardson into the right position. That badly organised play ended in a holding call and a botched snap on the next one almost led to another turnover. Punt time.
The special teams unit gave up a big return to follow and then Carr scored another touchdown immediately. It was certainly his night and a tipped pass by Malcolm Smith deflected kindly into the hands of a receiver.
One more three and out and yet another quick Oakland scoring drive completed one of the worst quarters of football in Carroll’s ultra-successful reign. In a flash 7-0 became 7-28.
Seattle regained its composure by half time and the rest of the game played out as a pretty even (if somewhat tedious) contest.
It’d be easy to overreact to this ultimately meaningless outing. A lot of the players who played badly here will be cut. It’s unlikely Seattle’s two starting units will perform this badly next week.
Yet there are some concerns that need to be addressed. The depth on the defensive line is the key one.
Michael Bennett, Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Cliff Avril are fine starters. O’Brien Schofield has possibly been Seattle’s brightest spark in August after Russell Wilson. It has to be of some concern, however, that beyond this group hardly anyone has stood out.
Gregg Scruggs has drifted between ineffective and at times a liability (see his needless hands-to-the-face penalty that torched Kevin Pierre-Louis’ interception). D’Anthony Smith was pushed around all night. Cassius Marsh looks like he needs a red-shirt year and left the game with a hip problem. Jordan Hill had a sack but hasn’t exactly filled Clinton McDonald’s shoes in pre-season. Veteran addition Kevin Williams hasn’t had much impact.
The pass rush will probably be OK if Bennett and Avril stay healthy. Schofield can provide some threat in the three man edge rush that worked so well at the end of last season. The interior line and rotation could be a problem though.
Will the line suffer when the starters aren’t in? How about the run defense? You could argue they had ugly games last season too (see: Tampa Bay). In fact the run-D was pretty patchy for the most part. It hasn’t improved. Not on this evidence.
The NFC West is a war of attrition and you need to be stout up front. Seattle needs to be effective against the run. They also need the ability to rotate like they did so brilliantly last year.
Carroll and John Schneider have done a fantastic job building this roster. One of the all-time great jobs in fact — they don’t get enough credit nationally, even despite all the plaudits this year. Yet they’ve struggled to draft for the defensive line.
They inherited Mebane and Bryant and traded for Clemons. They signed McDaniel as a free agent and traded for McDonald. They made cost-effective moves in free agency for Bennett and Avril. They went after Williams this off-season to add experience to a line now missing some key leaders.
The moves they’ve made should be applauded — it’s just as tough to find starters in free agency or via trades as it is in the draft. But with money getting tighter they need to find young, cheap talent for the DL. So far it’s the one thing they haven’t achieved.
They’ve avoided defensive linemen early in their five drafts. The highest pick they’ve spent is Jordan Hill in round three. Does it need more attention?
It’s also evident that Seattle’s incredible depth — created by excellent drafts between 2010-12 — is on the wane somewhat. Last year Seattle’s backups terrorised pre-season opponents and many were snapped up by rivals on cut day. That level of depth isn’t there any more.
The number of misses in 2013 is mostly to blame. From 11 picks last year only Christine Michael, Jordan Hill, Tharold Simon and Luke Willson remain, plus UDFA’s Alvin Bailey and Caylin Hauptmann. It was unfair to expect Seattle to retain the 2013 depth for years to come, but it does show the kind of pressure they’re under to keep hitting in the draft.
The 2014 class has already suffered some setbacks. Garrett Scott is unlikely to return, Jimmy Staten appears set for the practise squad along with potentially Kiero Small while Eric Pinkins is on the PUP list. Kevin Norwood is fighting to be healthy for the start of the season. Terrelle Pryor, who cost a seventh rounder, could be cut this weekend.
There are promising signs too. Cassius Marsh could develop into a versatile pass rusher while big things are expected of Paul Richardson. Both players probably require a red-shirt season, though. The only immediate starter to come out of the class could be Justin Britt — and coupled with a lack of starters in the 2013 class — it’s not surprising the depth is weaker this year.
It’s no reason to panic or be overly negative. But it’s also worthy of debate. We shouldn’t avoid talking about this.
On the positive side Russell Wilson appears ready to take a major step forward, Percy Harvin is healthy and sharp and the offensive line is moving in the right direction. Bruce Irvin is also facing a big year and could be set for a break-out season when he gets healthy.
It does raise the interesting point though of quality versus quantity in a draft. Seattle has traded down en masse for consecutive drafts selecting 20 players in 2013-14. The New England Patriots have taken a similar approach in recent years, with mixed results.
You can hardly blame the Seahawks for feeling confident about their ability to hit in the later rounds and find “their guys”. Yet a high number of picks doesn’t guarantee depth and quality. Sometimes less is more — picking higher and getting better players. I don’t expect their philosophy to change in 2015 and it’s not like they aren’t flexible. They’ll be aggressive when the time calls (see: Harvin trade).
It’s hard to criticise anything about their draft approach, but I also think there are lessons to be learnt from the Pats here. Did they get a bit cute? While they’ve been competitive for years, they’ve often fallen just short in recent seasons.
I’ll end with some final thoughts on a few players vs Oakland:
– Bryan Walters played really well despite the fumble. He scored a touchdown and had an impact as a receiver. If there’s no home for him in Seattle he’ll land somewhere else. It’s easy to linger on the fumble, but take that out of his performance and what more could he have done on the night?
– Terrelle Pryor just doesn’t look special enough. Yes he’s a great athlete, but at no point during this pre-season has he been truly exciting and worthy of stashing as a third QB. Keep two quarterbacks and bring in a player who can contribute to the DL or DB rotation.
– Phillip Adams and Akeem Auguste both made nice plays and had some big errors. With A.J. Jefferson injured it’s probably a safe bet Seattle’s final defensive back comes in from another team. On the plus side Deshawn Shead had a good performance.
– It was a tough night for any of the running backs to impress given Seattle quickly fell behind 28-7. I still think Spencer Ware will make the cut.