I’ve not looked at the tape again since initial viewing, mainly because the first half was torture to watch and why would I want to ruin a perfectly acceptable weekend? Even so I wanted to put a few thoughts down based on Seattle’s third pre-season game at Denver on Saturday.
Everything I’ll write here is with the fullest knowledge that this is a NFL pre-season like no other. Rookie’s are under-cooked and facing almost an impossible task to be ready. New coaches and schemes need to incorporated as do a lot of free agents including a new quarterback. However, there were a lot of concerns from this game that I don’t think can be ignored simply because there are several potential excuses.
For starters, the first team offense was horrendously bad. I’ve watched the Cincinnati Bengals offense this summer and couldn’t possibly believe there is another team out there worse than the Bengals. The Seahawks aren’t there yet, but they’re having a good go. The offensive line is a complete mess and it’s not going to be fixed by Russell Okung’s return (if he can stay healthy, and it’s a substantial ‘if’). The Seahawks have pumped so much investment into improving the line, but we’re seeing zero immediate return.
I talked up James Carpenter at Alabama last year long before he received greater national awareness, but he is struggling in a bad way. Denver’s defensive lineman abused him last night and while he will admittedly have easier games in 2011 with greater support, he’s also going to come up against scary-good Pittsburgh and Baltimore, improving pass rushers St. Louis, Philadelphia and Cleveland and not forgetting the occasional stud like Brian Orakpo or DeMarcus Ware. It’s hard to really work out what the team should do. Perhaps consider adding a veteran tackle and red-shirting Carpenter? He’s not ready to start, it’s hurting the team and potentially his development too. Yet the team was banking on an immediate return from that first rounder in April and making such a move would be a big statement.
It’s important to stress that Carpenter is not the only issue here. I thought Chris Spencer had an under rated season in 2010 and I’m still unconvinced by Max Unger as the replacement center. John Moffitt needs to get stronger too – a problem that was highlighted throughout the draft process. Robert Gallery isn’t a miracle worker and can’t accommodate a young line and losing a left tackle on his own, but he has looked far from assured so far. As a collective group, the performance against Denver was shambolic. No pass protection, a very inconsistent performance in the running game and very little hope that this can be addressed sufficiently before September 11th.
Tarvaris Jackson suffered more than anyone through the line’s awful performance, but he’s far from exempt from blame. Too often Jackson was dancing around in the pocket, looking tentative and unsure and adding to the bad protection. He attempted zero runs, possibly with the view to getting things rolling in the pass game, but the opposite occurred. Instead of stepping up into the pocket, he’d jolt from side to side and try to keep the play alive. Eventually you have to either a.) throw the ball to a target or b.) throw it away. I haven’t got access to coaches tape to see whether there was the opportunity to throw, but certainly a couple of times I noticed a receiver creating just enough separation on shorter routes but Jackson held on to the ball.
It seemed like he was caught in the middle-ground throughout. When the pressure came, the eyes went down if he was intending to scramble but instead it was just to dodge pass rushers before the inevitable conclusion. As soon as his eyes go down, he might as well set off. If he’s going to try and stay in the pocket to make passes, then keep your eyes downfield, sense the pressure, step up to avoid the edge and drive down field. There was absolutely no rhyme or reason to the play of Jackson.
It’s all well and good having a ‘take what you’re given’ approach but in the first half Jackson had little to take so surely the reaction is to try and use your own inspiration? If he’s not going to run around and try to open things up that way, then he absolutely must take a leaf out of Charlie Whitehurst’s book. When Whitehurst was under pressure in the second half, he sensed the rusher and moved to the right to give himself just enough time to complete a short pass for positive yardage. Not an explosive play, but at least it wasn’t another sack.
I thought the scoring drive against Denver’s back-ups was unsatisfying to watch. Rather than take any solace from a succesful 90-yard drive, I just felt like it was an empty score. I get that it can at least generate some small level of confidence, but in reality a touchdown in that circumstance should be the expectation. Getting six points merely confirmed what should happen against rookie’s and back-ups (the bare minimum) while failure would’ve been a further blow.
The defense wasn’t much better in all honesty. A couple of big plays (Trufant sack, Clemons interception) stick in the mind but big plays surrounding a complete lack of pressure will still equate to defeat. As soon as Denver found it’s groove, Orton had so much time in the pocket. It was a complete contrast to Seattle’s situation in pass protection. Rushing three guys and dropping extra coverage didn’t seem to have any impact in halting Orton, who needs to be pressed to force mistakes because he’s so static. The Seahawks don’t have someone on that defensive line who is a consistent disruptive force. They have a lot of neat and tidy role players, but not someone who scares the living daylights out of the opposition. I’m concerned we’ll be completely reliant on blitzing to create pressure again, which isn’t healthy.
Nevertheless, I think the defense at least offers something if partnered with a serviceable offense. Unfortunately, it’s working with an offense that looks as functional as a teapot made of ice.
The Seahawks benefited a lot last year from great special teams and kick returns and Doug Baldwin’s 105-yard touchdown run proved once again how that can make a one-sided affair pretty close in the end. The new kick off rules take away a huge weapon for the Seahawks and that has to be another concern.
Had this been a regular season game, Denver would’ve blown the Seahawks away. The Broncos are not going to be a good football team in 2011, but they are clearly well ahead of Seattle. There’s still time to make improvements, but I suspect it’ll be several weeks into the season until we see noticable changes in fortune. Maybe they need real football to work this out and get moving? If I had to make a prediction, I think the Seahawks wil be one of those teams that looks a good bet for the #1 pick early on but improves enough from mid-t0-late season to never realistically challenge to be the leagues worst. I do think we’re facing the prospect of a top-ten pick in 2012, however.
Perhaps that’s too specific right now, but this is going to be a season where established teams with returning starters dominate due to the lockout. Team’s in rebuild with new starters, coaches and schemes are going to suffer – and that in my opinion includes the Seahawks.