Seahawks Vs. Broncos: More Notes on the Offense

Aug 18, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) is pursued by Denver Broncos linebacker Joe Mays (51) in the first quarter at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Byron Hetzler-US PRESSWIRE

I missed the Seahawks - Broncos game live to attend a friend's wedding, and hadn't been able to finally sit down and watch the game in full until last night, and it's always a little strange to do that only after reading the various takes on what went down. From some of the Twitter and blogosphere reactions, you'd have thought that Matt Flynn played terribly and that the Seahawks had lost - I know that periodically checking my twitter account during the wedding reception that night that I began to fear the worst about Flynn. However, after going back and watching the game a couple of times, I can say that I was encouraged by his play.

We'll get to the Russell Wilson vs Matt Flynn conversation plenty this week (believe me) so I'm not going to talk too much about that - but for now I just wanted to point out my instant reaction, which was that Flynn again looked decisive and assertive, his arm actually looked strong, and he made a couple of throws that ... gasp ... impressed me. I'm beginning to think that the talk about Flynn's 'popgun' arm and severe limitations within the construct of any given offense may be a tad overstated. I.e., it's not readily apparent that the Seahawks will have to greatly alter the offense that they wish to run if Flynn is at the helm. That's not to say that he has elite arm talent and as Greg Cosell would say, it's impossible to tabulate the throws that he refuses to make - but in the two halves he's played for Seattle, I haven't once thought to myself 'dear god look at that duck' or 'man alive, he shouldn't have even tried to make that throw'.

Of course, the schemes have been basic ("vanilla," as everyone says), and Flynn has only taken a few shots deep down the field, but at this point it looks like he has plenty of arm to execute explosive downfield plays that the Seahawks will ask him to make. As for the intermediate zones, he looks completely comfortable threading the needle and throwing into tight windows. He showed this on the play I highlighted last week where he threw across his body to connect with Zach Miller for a first down; Saturday, on an out-route to Kellen Winslow for a first down where zip and accuracy were essential to get the ball past a trailing defender.

The willingness to make the throw here is important. One thing I remember Aaron Rodgers saying last year when breaking down a touchdown pass he made was something along the lines of, and I'm paraphrasing, "if I can see the defender's numbers (on the back of his jersey) when the ball comes out, that's a high-percentage throw." In other words, throwing before a defender's head is turned, is key.

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He even showed that on the first offensive play of the game for Flynn - a pass to Terrell Owens' back shoulder for what would have been a first down after Flynn saw pressure coming from the right and quickly and decisively threw to his outlet. Of course, on the play, it would appear that Owens failed to make a sight adjustment (i.e., he didn't see the overload to the offensive right and the pressure coming from there) and didn't stop in his route (I'm guessing, though I could be wrong, that it was Owens who was at fault). Even on that play, I thought to myself that it's nice to see a one-two count with the ball coming out when pressure is coming.

UPDATE: Pete Carroll confirmed on Brock and Salk this morning what I had guessed above - "The first one was going his way, the route adjusted, and we didn't do it as cleanly as we needed to. That takes a lot of time. The route adjusted and the throw was a back-shoulder thing, and we just didn't hit it right."

Now, obviously, Flynn's not lighting the world on fire in the statistical boxscore, but there were positives to take away.

On to my other notes.

First - the play of the offensive line. In case you missed it, J.R. Sweezy, as I had thought may happen, started and played much of the first quarter with the first-team unit and again looked good at right guard. He holds up at the point of attack better than you'd think, didn't give up much ground or get walked back into the pocket, and used his natural quickness to fire off the snap be where he needs to be on run plays. His quick adjustment to the offensive side of the football is seriously impressive, and depending on where Moffitt is when he gets back from his elbow injury, Sweezy could honestly be giving him a run for his money. There are technical things to clean up, just from a learning-curve standpoint, but Sweezy has looked extremely impressive, considering.

The rest of the first-team line looked fine, and the protection for Matt Flynn was pretty good. Breno Giacomini was apparently pretty pissed off throughout the game, and for a preseason game, this one got pretty chippy, but I thought he played fairly well. As Jacson pointed out this morning, Russell Okung did get beat off the snap a few times by the excellent Elvis Dumervil, so look for him to bounce back next week against the Chiefs, who have 9 sacks in their first two outings and should provide another tough test, running out of a 3-4 defensive front. I still don't really have a read on Paul McQuistan - he's not overly exciting nor concerning, so I suppose he's doing well enough to warrant that spot as the starting left guard, and I thought Max Unger impressed. Overall, with the first- and second-team units splitting time in the first half, the Hawks ran for 75 yards on 17 attempts - 4.5 yards per carry.

In terms of the second- and third-string units, I again thought that Rishaw Johnson stood out. I would guess he's really pushing Deuce Lutui for a roster spot at this point, though the depth chart may not reflect that yet, and should continue to see a good amount of snaps at both guard spots. He played at right guard in this one, briefly replacing Lutui in the 2nd quarter when Lutui picked up a pretty stupid personal foul penalty.

In terms of the running backs, Marshawn Lynch stood out above the rest, and looked excellent at getting into the second level and making things happen once there. He does look a little leaner and maybe even quicker this year, so I'm excited to see them fully feature him once the season begins. There's still no question that he's the backbone of this offense, and with four of the five starting linemen returning from last year (the part of the year where Lynch dominated, anyway), it's logical to guess that the Hawks run game should look pretty good.

Leon Washington again looked strong and quick in the zone running game, and though Robert Turbin again averaged less than four yards a carry, he did have a nice couple of runs where he burst through the line, running downhill, and picked up chunks of yards. I have the feeling that this might be what the Seahawks get from Turbin in year one and still am sort of inclined to think that Leon still might sit higher on the food chain to get carries once the season starts. Washington has looked more effective and consistent running during the preseason, but when you catch glimpses of Turbin's downhill speed - he cut against the grain down the middle of the field on an outside run at one point and just smashed into a defender's chest about 8-10 yards downfield - you can see what the Seahawks' really liked in him. I don't think he's quite there yet as a complete runner though. As a pass-catcher - he looks really great.

Michael Robinson didn't play so Vai Taua got a lot of snaps at fullback and had another nice game for himself. Earlier in the preseason, I had thought that maybe Kregg Lumpkin would make a push as Robinson's main competition at fullback and though Lumpkin has seen a few snaps leadblocking, Taua is the one that is standing out. He has been good at reading the defense and laying down his blocks, and has set himself apart by being a legitimate threat out of the backfield catching passes (he had one catch for eight yards on Saturday and two for six yards last weekend). His skill-set lends itself very well to both the Seahawks' zone running scheme and to the fullback position in general, so whether he's a project there, a backup to Robinson, or has the ability to take Mike Rob's spot as starter, he's a guy to watch.

Kregg Lumpkin ran for a score in the second half and Tyrell Sutton took a swing pass 34 yards for another score, so those two things considered with the total output of 228 yards rushing for a 5.2 yards per carry average, and you're talking about a pretty damn great job by the Seahawks' backfield. I kind of feel like Lumpkin is a Robert Turbin/Marshawn Lynch insurance policy and Tyrell Sutton is one for Leon Washington.

As a side-note, and I'm sure you are all going to freak out when I say this, so let me ask it carefully: Was I the only one that thinks that Sutton runs a lot like Maurice Jones-Drew? Now, let me qualify that. When I say "runs like" I mean that in the literal sense - like, he kind of has short stocky legs and a big upper body, and he swings his arms around kind of like MJD so when he's running he kind of has a similar appearance. Obviously, I'm not saying the Sutton will be a MJD-type runner - I just kind of thought that was funny. Regardless, Sutton looked good - averaging a paltry 16.0 yards per carry in addition to his 34 yard TD scamper. Kind of makes you forget about ole' Tommy Gunz or whatever his name was, eh?

The receiver corps didn't really stand out one way or another in this one, outside of Terrell Owens' big drop in the endzone and his inability to get on the same page as Flynn. One receiver that was able to get open for Flynn though was Deon Butler, and as Thomas wrote to me the other day on Twitter, Butler is kind gaining ground as a possible backup slot receiver to Doug Baldwin. Butler was able to find himself the soft spot in the defense on one play and catch a first down pass in the first quarter, and then in the second quarter, caught a couple of successive passes from Flynn, one of which was a nice out-route for a first down. Butler actually led Seahawks' receivers with 3 catches and though they only went for 16 yards, two of them were for first downs. I think he helped himself this week.

Golden Tate only saw one target and came up with a sick jump ball in the back of the endzone on a well-timed and delivered pass from Matt Flynn. Drayton Florence, the Broncos' defensive back, made a similarly brilliant play to push Tate out of bounds while still in the air and that thwarted what would have been a highlight reel touchdown. If you didn't appreciate it enough watching it live, check out the stills below. This is why Tate can and probably will still play at the X-position a lot of the time for Seattle. Having great jump ball ability and that ability to pluck passes out of the air isn't height-restrictive talent, and Tate has those skills in spades.

Screen_shot_2012-08-20_at_9Screen_shot_2012-08-20_at_9

Most of you that are regular readers know that I'm high on Anthony McCoy, despite his drops, and he really showed up this week, making a nice 26 yard reception up the seam from Russell Wilson in the 3rd quarter on a 3rd and long situation, and then later in the drive, just pancaking an outside blocker to spring Kregg Lumpkin for a touchdown. I will break down that drive later this week in more detail, but for now, suffice to say McCoy did a great job filling in for a concussed Zach Miller.

Other than McCoy, I thought that Cameron Morrah, Sean McGrath and Cooper Helfet all looked decent, though none really separated themselves from the pack on Saturday. Helfet had a nice touchdown catch in the back of the endzone late in the game, but I'm not sure this will have the power to springboard him past both Morrah and McGrath on the depth chart. With the Seahawks keeping three, or maybe four tight ends, Morrah, McGrath, and Helfet will fight tooth and nail for that last possible spot.

Overall - I thought the offense looked decent. The run game produced, which is encouraging, and Russell Wilson looked really great in the second half. The wide receivers, as Ben Harbaugh so astutely pointed out, remain the biggest question mark (apart from the QB situation, of course).

Finally, on special teams, I thought this return by Coye Francies, where he jumped to overhand catch the kickoff in the very back of the endzone, return it to the ten yardline and fumble the football away to the Broncos was seirously hilarious. That is, until I realized there were two seconds on the clock so none of it mattered anyway. So, it was not a bonehead play, really. Still, it did make me laugh out loud.

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