Seahawks-Broncos Preseason Quick Slants
By Corbin Smith
The Seattle Seahawks fell in the 2014 preseason opener to the Denver Broncos 21-16 on Thursday night at Sports Authority Field, snapping a nine game preseason winning streak dating back to 2012. Even though Seattle ended up losing down the stretch, head coach Pete Carroll and his staff should see plenty of positives when the team reviews game film over the next couple of days. Here are some quick thoughts from last night's contest:
1. Penalties ruled the night, and then some…
Even though it was only the first preseason game and the starting units only played a few series last night, there was certainly more intensity in the air than typically seen in an exhibition matchup since these two teams faced off in Super Bowl XLVIII this past February. With tensions high and both teams returning to game action for the first time in months, it's not surprising it transformed into a sloppy penalty fest.
Denver's first scoring drive was heavily-aided by four Seattle penalties that helped push Peyton Manning and the Broncos toward the red zone. They quickly capitalized as Ronnie Hillman scored on a one yard plunge to give Denver an early 7-0 lead. After a lengthy suspension of play due to lightning in the region, the Seahawks returned the favor, taking advantage of four Broncos penalties to drive 91 yards before Christine Michael punched the ball in from a yard out for a touchdown to tie the game. As the game continued, it seemed as if there were more yellow flags hitting the field than actual plays being executed.
In all, Denver and Seattle drew 25 penalties on the night for 226 yards, with the Seahawks committing 13 of those infractions. With a new emphasis being placed on illegal contact and defensive holding, NFL officials may be more trigger-happy throwing flags this season. Based on last night's results, it looks like both the players and officials will need a few games to round into regular season mode.
2. The offensive line will once again be a work-in-progress.
Okay, with James Carpenter, Max Unger, and Russell Okung all inactive last night, it's tough to truly gauge Seattle's offensive line play. Guard J.R. Sweezy was the only guaranteed starter who played, and it's not shocking that the unit struggled to protect Russell Wilson during the first few series considering the circumstances. But that core group of linemen better get healthy quick because the backups left plenty to be desired last night.
Rookie Justin Britt had an inconsistent performance, but he did seem to get more comfortable in pass protection as the game progressed. He will continue to grow and develop as he gets more snaps under his belt over the next month, and veteran Eric Winston will be ready to start if he's not quite ready. Alvin Bailey, who started at left tackle as a replacement for Okung, was tortured by Broncos defensive end Demarcus Ware on the opening series and surrendered a sack in the process. Ware has victimized Pro Bowl tackles before, so there's no shame in giving up a sack to him- he'll just have to make adjustments to become better against premier pass rushers.
I have full confidence that Britt and Bailey have the skills to be quality starters and will provide great depth at the tackle spots, but I'm not near as optimistic at the guard positions. If Carpenter or Sweezy misses time, the options behind them scare me. Caylin Hauptmann had a tough time holding his own with the starting unit in place of Carpenter, and reserves Greg Van Roten and Stephen Schilling both struggled mightily against Denver's backups in the second half last night in run and pass blocking departments. Thrusting any one of those three guys into a starting role would not be ideal.
3. Overall, the rookie class showed well in its first game action.
On a night where neither team could find much of a rhythm, Carroll and his staff had to be pretty pleased with how the rookies performed in their first NFL action. While others made contributions as well, Paul Richardson, Brock Coyle, and Cassius Marsh stood out from the rest of the field.
Richardson led Seattle with four receptions for 37 yards, and its already evident that opponents respect his ability as a vertical threat. The Broncos played soft coverage on him when he was in the game to prevent the big play, and he took advantage by making a few nice catches on curl patterns. Those type of routes will be open all day long for Richardson, and if opponents try to employ tighter coverage to compensate, he will burn them deep. He has an opportunity to be a real impact player on this offense right away.
Coyle stepped in and played admirably starting at middle linebacker in place of injured starter Bobby Wagner. He proved to me that his strong play at practice hasn't been a fluke, and the kid can flat out hit. On one particular play in the second quarter, he quickly filled a running lane and blasted Broncos running back C.J. Anderson. The hit was clean and fundamentally sound, but Anderson had to leave the game with a concussion. He ended the night with five tackles, second most on the team behind star safety Earl Thomas.
As for Marsh, he made his first career NFL sack in the third quarter and showed his versatility by playing both on the edge and inside as tackle. He missed another key opportunity to sack Brock Osweiler on Denver's final scoring drive, but overall, he made a strong first impression and looks like he will be a factor in the trenches for the Seahawks this season.
4. Missing pieces hindered the run defense big-time.
Like the offensive line, Seattle's linebacking core has been rocked by injuries so far. Wagner, Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith, and Korey Toomer were all inactive last night and Seattle only had seven linebackers available to play. Once the first unit left the field in the second quarter, the Broncos found great success running between the tackles, and much of that had to do with depth issues that the linebacker position.
Juwan Thompson gave the Seahawks fits, rushing six times for 59 yards on the evening. Kapri Bibbs ended up rushing for a touchdown to give Denver a 14-10 lead early in the third quarter after Thompson broke a few big runs on that drive. After that point, Seattle seemed to settle down and do a better job filling gaps, but it was still somewhat concerning watching Denver's reserves bully the defense in the third quarter. It will certainly be a focal point of discussion heading into this week of practice.
With the injury situation, undrafted rookies Jackson Jeffcoat and Horace Miller were forced to play with the second team, and their lack of experience showed on the field. Jeffcoat primarily played defensive end at Texas in college, and adjusting to a new position seems to be a major challenge for him. As for Miller, he plays with a high motor every play, but he ended up in overpursuing several plays and needs to be more focused on his assignments. This is a raw group of players and it will take some time for them to catch up with their peers, but I'm optimistic another week of practice will come a long way towards helping them close the gap.
5. The backup quarterback race continues to intrigue.
Terrelle Pryor and Tarvaris Jackson both led scoring drives last night, but neither player could get Seattle into the end zone. As close as this backup competition may have been entering last night's contest, it may be even tighter now. This is a race that I fully expect will last into the closing moments of the preseason. If Seattle is going to cut either Jackson or Pryor, it will surely be one of the final roster cuts because they'll want to see both players in action as much as possible before making a decision.
Jackson completed five out of seven passes for 47 yards and conducted a steady drive capped off with a Steven Hauschka field goal to give the Seahawks a 10-7 advantage at the half. As usual, his play was nothing flashy but he got the job done. Pryor ended up seeing extended action, playing most of the second half while throwing for 137 yards and rushing for 28 more. He actually looked quite comfortable throwing the football last night and his decision making is vastly improved from where it was a few months ago, but a late interception dampered an otherwise strong outing.
Jackson still appears to have a slight edge, but I believe Pryor made up some ground last night. Despite throwing a costly goal line interception that may have cost Seattle the game, he showed great command in the huddle, placed nice touch on several passes, and he's simply a unique quarterback with rare physical and athletic traits that is hard to ignore.