For the record, I really dislike writing post-game wrap-up articles because quick first impressions can be can be flat wrong and watching live you tend to miss what about 20 of the 22 players on the field are doing at any given time. It's easy to forget some of the good things and the bad things you saw, and it's chaotic trying to sort out all the stats and numbers without a 2nd or 3rd viewing to match them up to what happened on the field.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts I had whilst watching the game for the 2nd and 3rd times last night and this morning.
My initial impression was that Robert Turbin didn't have the greatest game - I had visions of several ankle tackles at the line of scrimmage or downfield when Turbin had a lot of green in front of him, plus one missed blitz pickup where he held and drew a penalty. Upon further viewing though, he definitely did some nice things out there and showed some power pushing the pile and gaining positive yards. Here's how I view the running backs group, for what it's worth:
Turbin is a different style running back than Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is elite because of two things - lateral agility/explosiveness and raw, punishing power. I would probably add vision as his third attribute that makes him elite. When you watch Marshawn Lynch with the football in his hands, he's making explosively quick lateral cuts behind the line - subtle at times - making defenders miss in the backfield and setting up linebackers and safeties in the secondary to take bad angles and miss tackles. It's like he's sees two or three moves ahead. When Lynch runs, you see the rubber pellets or dirt clods flying behind him while he's making these explosive cuts laterally - somewhat like a slide step by a defender in basketball - all the while he keeps his balance going forward and somehow packs more punch than you'd expect from a human being of that size. When Lynch runs, if you used a highlighter to track his path, it would probably zig-zag at sharp angles all the way down the field rather than smooth arcs or a one-cut and go style. This is why it's so weird to see him run in a straight line. He just looks weird doing that.
Turbin, though, from my impression, lacks that lateral burst and agility, and when he changes direction sideline to sideline, he loses some speed and power. This is partly why I think he gets picked up with these ankle tackles. When asked to change direction laterally, he loses some of his inertia - something Lynch is not burdened with - and some of the power in his legs dissipates. While Lynch's legs break through those tackles, Turbin's get hung up and he falls forward.
What Turbin does have, though, in spades, is explosive north-south speed and acceleration. I'm not expecting Turbo or Christine Michael or Spencer Ware to be Marshawn Lynch - Lynch was the 11th overall pick for a reason, he's elite for a reason, and by definition elite players don't grow on trees - but, I do expect that Turbin will be an effective and useful player in this system. Because Seattle will focus on what he can do over what he can't do.
It comes back to that speed and acceleration that makes him a change of pace from Lynch. When Turbin sees daylight ahead of him, there might not be a player on this team that can get from 0 to 60 in a faster time. He accelerates like a drag racer and once he has a full head of steam he's tough to bring down. So, when Turbin has a nice seam in front of him, he can take advantage better than maybe any back on this roster, - that's why you see him hit the hole at full speed and sometimes he'll get gobbled up by the line and sometimes he'll emerge unscathed like the Millennium Falcon flying out of the Death Star's explosion (god I'm a nerd). But, I also don't necessarily think he's a creative runner nor an elusive one. He'll get around the corner on you at times, and has the speed to be dangerous out there, but he's not going to create much if the blocking up front breaks down and won't make many miss with quick jukes or stutter steps. Or, at least, he hasn't much yet, in my opinion.
In the zone blocking scheme, that's okay, really, because the idea is for the offensive line to, on wide-zone, get the defense flowing to the sideline and create cutback lanes (which Turbin can explode upfield through), or on inside zone, create a seam right up the middle for the back to explode in to. At that point, it's Turbin against safety or linebacker, and if Turbin can get two or three steps to get to full speed, holy shit watch out, because he will run you over. Turbin had a few nice runs last night doing exactly this - hitting the hole at full speed and taking a linebacker or safety about four or five yards downfield just as they hold on for dear life to this runaway freight train about to go off the tracks.
The other thing about Turbo that I really like is that he's a strong receiver out of the backfield. When he catches the ball, he gets back up to full speed quickly, and again, god help you if you're a cornerback trying to tackle him on a short leak out route because he's not going to go around you, he'll go through you.
Now - most of this analysis is based on last year's tape, but I think it showed up last night too. Turbo is a great weapon to have in this offense, so don't take some of the critiques I offer as meaning I'm down on him as a player.
What Turbo lacks in lateral agility and power in the phone booth, Spencer Ware shines in that area. Ware isn't a speedster, but he has nice vision as a runner, good forward lean and takes short, explosive choppy steps that make guys miss in the open field. Ware was stuffed behind the line a few times in Saturday night's game, but he also had some runs where he sifted through the chaff past the second level and picked up extra yards where a less physical or agile back would have gone down. I see Ware more in the category that Lynch fits in to as a laterally explosive tackle breaker, - creative after the initial first couple of steps, and a strong-finisher rather than a home-run hitter - which is why the thought of Ware and Turbo complementing each other in the backfield is exciting.
At the end of the day, I'm thinking more and more that Seattle will keep five running backs this season. I think they're high on Ware as a tailback that could potentially transition to H-back/Fullback down the line, but for now is more valuable as a change of pace or wear you down at the end of the game type of weapon. He's only 21, he's on a rookie deal, and he's flashed enough for them to keep him around to develop him down the line. Keeping five means that Mike Rob will still be lead-blocking in the I-formation for Marshawn Lynch, but in split back shotgun looks, pistol formations, or anything in between, having versatile pass-catching and open field threats like Turbin and Ware makes this offense that much more deadly. While Mike Rob is dangerous on Spider Y Banana as a leak out route on bootlegs, you don't see him running any traditional routes and he's even less agile in the open field than Turbin.
Regardless, in the aggregate, Seattle's five top running backs have a wide-ranging skillset and style, and thinking about defending this team's punishing and relentless run game - a team that ran more than any other in the NFL last year - must keep defensive coordinators up all night. I haven't even talked about Russell Wilson yet.
Anyway. So how does Seattle keep five running backs? By going with 9 offensive linemen. This is something I've been throwing around in my head lately and with the way that Tom Cable has been experimenting with Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie, I am starting to think this is how it will play out.
With Bowie and Bailey each getting time at guard and tackle last night, Seattle would, in theory, be capable of carrying 9 offensive linemen (with one on the practice squad) and not have to worry too, too much about quality depth at either tackle or guard position (because Bowie and Bailey are both T/G). The main issue becomes the center position, so Lemuel Jeanpierre, John Moffitt, Mike Person, or Rishaw Johnson can fight for that honor as backup center. Further, Bowie and Bailey's emergence gives Seattle some wiggle room with Paul McQuistan - who is slated at starter at left guard but has competition with James Carpenter and the trio of Bowie, Bailey, and Moffitt. Ryan Seymour and Jared Smith seem like perfect practice squad candidates and Mike Person might be a guy you could sneak onto the PS if he's still eligible (I'm too lazy to look thatt up).
Last night, I thought that both Bowie and Bailey looked natural at the multiple positions they played, and Seattle as a whole has still only given up one sack all preseason. This emergence of possible quality depth could shake things up on the o-line and give Seattle the option to keep 9. When it comes down to quality skill players like Ware or Robinson over a backup tenth offensive lineman, it will be interesting to see which direction they go.
The other option, of course, is to keep only five receivers and run with five running backs and ten linemen. With Chris Harper still not doing anything to separate himself from the rest of the bubble, Seattle may just go with the group of Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Stephen Williams.
Kearse looks like a very quality fourth receiver (eventual fifth receiver once Percy gets back) - he runs quick, fundamental routes and can play all three receiver positions, plus stands out on special teams. His route for a touchdown last night was textbook - faking a slant on the wing, turning his head back into Russell Wilson, which got the corner in coverage to turn his hips and false step forward. Once the corner turned his hips, Kearse broke outside quickly, and the corner had to turn all the way around back toward the middle of the field, and was toast. That kind of awesome route and separation is the reason Wilson could pick up a botched snap and still make the throw from the pocket.
Likewise, Williams showed his ability as a deep threat again in this one, but also ran some nice routes underneath and caught a crossing pass over the middle of the field as well. Williams gunned on at least one punt, and was badly juked and missed his tackle (this was the big Trindon Holliday return), so his special teams' contributions are still very much up in the air. I am still thinking he makes it regardless, though.
The tight end group is interesting. Sean McGrath separated himself somewhat as the third tight end for this roster, but he isn't explosive downfield and I didn't really see him doing a whole lot of run blocking in-line. Jameson Konz got some garbage time late in the game and looked really, really fast, but again, didn't see him do much blocking and he didn't get any targets downfield. Cooper Helfet caught a nice pass crossing the field and toe-touching at the sideline, so he's impossible to discount at this moment as well. Darren Fells looks like the real deal out there - size-wise - but he got held up at the line of scrimmage badly on each of the downfield routes I saw him run, so he has a lot lot work on with his releases - using his hands to deflect defenders and fight through the jam. It really effects timing when you can't get off the line and settle into zones.
I do still think Seattle will look to swing a trade for a tight end before it's all said and done, but for now, it looks like McGrath is still the favorite.
Jesse Williams' play is kind of concerning at this point. Williams got most of his snaps with the twos and threes and didn't show anything in terms of a pass rush, and at times was pushed back off the line too easily. He's a space-eater, and these are super vanilla schemes, so maybe his value as a nose tackle or base three-tech will be seen later on, but in the game last night, he didn't do anything that impressed me (not that I am an expert on defensive line play). At this point, it's a toss-up as to who is more effective between Clinton McDonald and Williams - and I'd really only side with Williams because of potential and club control. At the three-technique spot, I think Jordan Hill has shown a lot more versatility and explosiveness than Williams so he may be fighting for more snaps in the starting unit there.
I think Hill had another good game. He was active, disruptive, and I like how he hand-fights, holds his ground, and keeps his eyes in the backfield at all times. He never seems to lose track of where the play is going, and if he's out of position, he reacts quickly to compensate. I don't think that Seattle's first-team run defense was overly good or bad last night, but if Hill can play the run he's going to earn a lot of playing time.
Also, rookie UDFA Michael Brooks continues to surprise me. He was in the backfield on several occasions in Week 1, and made a couple more flash plays last night. He's sort of in the Michael Bennett mold as an undersized penetrator with strong, strong hands, quick feet, and an explosive first step.
If you've noticed, Bennett's get-off on the snap is lightning quick, and he beats offensive linemen when a quick step one way and a counter step another way. Strong swim move, relentless, violent playing style. He's not overpowering, he's just too quick and too violent to be blocked. Bennett, if he can stay healthy, looks to be a core player in this defense, and made some really nice plays again last night.
The Seahawks found themselves stuck to some personnel groupings early on when Peyton Manning and the Broncos went no-huddle and some hurry up, and Red Bryant got some snaps on the interior, and it wasn't necessarily what you'd hope. He is so long and plays so upright that he gets pushed off at the snap and sometimes five or ten yards out of the play. This upright style is suited for the five-technique spot because he's playing against tackles, but when you get him playing a center-guard combo block, he's washed out of the play too easily. This is something Dan Quinn may have to get worked out when playing against teams that employ the no-huddle.
Seattle's corps of SAM linebacker and LEOs is actually a little stronger than I had thought. While the Seahawks weren't able to generate a ton of pressure early on, guys like O'Brien Schofield, Benson Mayowa, and even Kyle Knox showed some potential as pass rushers. Knox in particular - who was playing off the line mostly as a WILL or MIKE before, lined up with his hand in the turf a few times and looked good - busting past Broncos' right tackle Vinston Painter for a sack on one play and nearly doing the same a short while later.
I can't wait to see how this group shakes out. Mayowa looks like a depth guy at the moment, but his potential is intriguing. If Chris Clemons makes it back for Week 1, though, he's more likely a practice squad type.
One more note on the game - I am starting to think that Winston Guy may be on the outs this year, and guys like DeShawn Shead and Jeron Johnson are pushing past him. Shead is intriguing in particular because of his ability to potentially play cornerback as well, so his versatility as a free safety/corner hybrid sets him apart. Derek Stephens brought this point up to me this morning, but with the Seahawks' ability to rush the passer from more angles with their SAM/LEO corps, Guys' value as a nickel pass rusher is somewhat diminished. This means he needs to be stronger in coverage but will he be stronger in that area than Shead or Jeron? We'll see.