There were controversies, clear missed and mistaken calls, and a lot of things out of control of the Seattle Seahawks that cost them the game in Green Bay in Week 1. There were also a lot of things firmly in their control that cost them the game. Jimmy Graham had possibly his worst game as a Seahawk, the Run Offense was practically non-existent, the Offensive Line was playing like Russell Wilson made a pass at their wives, and some of the Defensive players looked inexperienced and/or out of shape. However, Russ also looked very healthy and we got a glimpse of just how incredible the Defense could be.
This week the team is playing the 49ers, and the concerns will play out a bit differently. From a talent and experience standpoint, the Seahawks should run away with the game on Sunday. Seattle is the clearly better team. However, even a decisive win may not do a lot to reassure us as to what the rest of the year will look like. It is not just important that the Seahawks win, it is key to see how the team wins. The team has a lot to work on, that much was already clear, and that work needs to start showing growth this week. Here are my key things to watch in Week 2 as Seattle plays Santa Clara:
1. The Guts of the Offense
The Seattle Seahawks ran a total of just 48 Offensive Plays last week against the Green Bay Packers. Russell Wilson was pressured on nearly 40% of his drop backs on those Offensive Plays. The team went 3 for 12, and lost the Time of Possession Battle by nearly 20 minutes. A lot of this had to do with the constant 3rd and long situations the team put themselves in. A lot more of it had to do with the lack of any sort of a run game. Seattle had 90 yards on 18 carries, but even that number is misleading as Russell Wilson had 2 of those carries for 40 yards and a 30 yard run by Chris Carson really propped that up. Remove Russ’s 29 yarder and Carson’s 30 and you have 16 carries for 31 yards. That is very, very bad. We already knew that our Offensive Tackles were going to struggle this season, as Ifedi looked bad in the Preseason and Odhiambo also appeared unreliable. If there was going to be significant progress on the Offensive Line, it had to come from the signing of Luke Joeckel, the continued progress of Justin Britt at Center, and the growth of Mark Glowinski at what the team called his more natural position at Right Guard. Well, the Tackles played pretty much as advertised all game, looking overwhelmed and unable to handle the Packers Defense. However, it was the Interior of the Line that was the big let down. At times Russ had a pocket to step into, and when the running game did work it was interior runs that gained a little bit of traction, but it was Mike Daniels murdering our Guards that stalled out several drives and created a turnover and it was Linebackers slicing through the interior that was cutting a lot of runs down in the backfield.
The Seahawks need to have a run game that can get about 3 yards reliably in order to make the rest of what they like to do work. Play-Action, throws down the field, crossing routes that free up as the receiver flies over the Linebacker…these are plays that require a bit of time to happen and that means the Defense can’t just crash in and assume the run stops are easy so they can focus on disrupting the passing game. We just don’t know what the tackles are going to do, but through the 4 Preseason games, even against First Team Defenses, the interior of the Seahawks Offensive Line looked improved enough to make those things happen. Even against the Packers, it was the interior that held up to allow Russ to take off on his two runs and it was the interior that gave him the room to make his longer throws on the day. The 49ers have an athletic and talented Defensive front that will provide the biggest test to any part of the team on Sunday, so we may actually learn a bit about the Offensive Line and the adjustments they are able to make. If the double team can control DeForest Buckner and the skill position guys are given just a bit of time and room, that speaks well to the rest of the season. The Tackles need to grow and they will have big ups and downs, but the Interior group needs to be reliable, they need to be the players the team can plan around. If Joeckel, Britt, and Glowinski can hold up then there is hope yet for the Offense to put things together. If not, it is a really bad sign for 2017.
2. Playing to your Strengths
The Offensive Line did not play well last week. We’ve been over it, and if you have eyes you know that protection and run blocking is a problem. However, we also saw a lot of things in Week 1 that did not help out the Line very much. The team panicked at one point and went Max Protect, keeping the Tight Ends and Runningbacks in to block, which meant blockers had to keep their blocks even longer. We saw stretch plays to the outside that required the line to win battles one on one and stretch the Defense out. The run game was virtually abandoned for large stretches of a close game, leading to a lot more 3 and Outs and putting even more pressure on the Defense while also forcing them to be on the field longer. The team did not play to their strengths in Week 1. This week, against what ought to be a well out matched opponent in the rebuilding 49ers, it is a chance to establish what kind of Offense the team can run.
What are those strengths the team has shown? We all saw that the 2 Minute, Hurry Up Offense was the most effective version of the Offense that took the field last week. There is something to that, as it puts pressure on the Defense to play more conservatively in their scheme and personnel as they need to focus on getting lined up and in position, while at the same time making them more vulnerable to Russell Wilson’s ability to exploit mistakes in coverage. I don’t think the team wants nor really should run the hurry up all game, but what they ought to consider is pushing temp a bit more and, especially on first down, getting to the line quickly and letting Russ make the call. If the Interior of the Offensive Line is going to be the strength it needs to be, the team could help them out by running the ball up the gut more. Asking the Guards and Center to win battles where they can leverage their power is playing more into what they do well, and we’ve seen Carson and Prosise have the ability to read the Defense and look for those lanes where they can peel off a long run. Speaking of runs though, the team MUST involve Russell Wilson in the run game. We did not see the Zone Read play in Week 1, and only one designed run play for Russ all game. Wilson should be running the ball 5-10 times a game in this Offense to put pressure on the Defense and force the spy, which either robs them in coverage or steals someone off their pass rush, and either way that takes pressure off the Offensive Line. This week, against a 4-3 49ers Defense with Cornerbacks and Linebackers that lack experience and in some cases just plain ability, it is a good opportunity to establish these wrinkles and give the team some confidence in these areas. Unless the Seahawks walk out of this game looking like they could possibly run the football and get play-action working this year, no matter the score it will be hard to feel great about the team going forward.
3. The Next Generation
Frank Clark, Shaq Griffin, Jarran Reed, and Naz Jones are part of the future of the Seattle Seahawks Defense, and it is games like these where you see young players step up and show what can and will be as the torch is passed. Frank Clark is the most proven of the group, and will likely get plenty of snaps in the game as Bennett and Avril get a little more rest. Jones, Reed, and Griffin are the ones to watch for progress. We’ve already seen Jones show himself as a playmaker with his excellent Preseason and the
big time amazing pick 6 well timed leap for an interception in Week 1 against Aaron Rodgers. If he continues to show an ability to effect both the pass and run, he could begin earning a larger share of the snaps than the 29% he had last week. Jarran Reed playing with consistency and Naz Jones stepping further into his role in the rotation would mean the team is able to keep Sheldon Richardson even more fresh and effective, especially late in the season. Richardson clearly did not look like he was at peak physical condition last week, so Reed and Jones absorbing more snaps with quality play could mean great things for the Defense.
Most importantly in this youth movement is Shaq Griffin. The team showed confidence in Griffin by dealing away Tramaine Brock and clearing a path to more playing time for the rookie, at least until DeShawn Shead returns from injury and likely beyond. He faced a very tough task in Week 1 facing the consensus best throwing Quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers, as well as often being asked to cover the best receiver on the team in Jordy Nelson. Griffin was a mix of great plays, most notably on longer passes down the sideline in man to man coverage, but also had more than his share of bad plays, like the two Defensive Holding calls that went against him and several in breaking routes that found him out of position often in zone coverage. These factors indicate a player who has the physical tools to match up with quality NFL Receivers, but lacks some technique that makes him vulnerable. The good news for Griffin is that Brian Hoyer is no Aaron Rodgers and Pierre Garcon is no Jordy Nelson, so this ought to be a good chance for him to work through some of those kinks in his game with the stakes being a bit lower. Seattle asks their DBs to play in zone quite often, and if Griffin is going to stick that is something he must learn to do. We know that Pete Carroll and his staff know how to coach up Defensive Backs, and his problem appears to be more on things like angles and positioning than anything else, so from week to week don’t be surprised to see slight improvements in his play. Also, don’t be surprised to see him tested by opposing offenses and having a few big misses. This will be an up and down year for him, but games against overwhelmed foes like the 49ers this year should end up looking like bright spots if he is going to prove himself a big piece of the Defense in 2018 and beyond.