There was a lot to be happy about from watching the Seahawks' performance on Saturday night. I think Scott Enyeart put it perfectly on Twitter the other day when he said that 'analyzing preseason football needs to lie somewhere between overreaction and the dismissal of everything good "because it's against backups."' Good things happened, and that's nice to see, but it's the preseason, so let's not jump to conclusions. However, good things happened, and that's good. Because it's better than bad things happening. Anyway. That said, the first-team defense looked very good - they picked up two turnovers, they sniffed out a couple of screen plays (though, Chris Johnson couldn't catch a screen pass to save his life, but the Seahawks were there), they looked quick, hungry and multiple. The first-team offense was exciting too, looking in command early as they ate up over nine minutes of the first quarter marching down the field. Let's go to some of my notes.
The Brandon Browner interception was a bit fluky, but regardless, he and Earl Thomas played it well. For a second it looked like it would just be a dropped pass, but Earl swung his arms while on top of the receiver to break up the reception and the ball popped up. Browner was, again, in the right place at the right time for a pick-six. It's actually pretty funny how often this happens.
Jason Jones got things started quickly for the Seahawks' defensive line by getting past the Tennessee line on several early plays, most notably when he power rushed to get into the backfield and knock down Chris Johnson for a three-yard loss. A bit later, he used excellent get-off speed to knife past the offensive line and T David Stewart put Jones in a de facto sleeper hold to avoid letting his former teammate blow up the play. Both instances, coming on the first two Titan drives, were big momentum grabbers for the Seahawks defense so it already looks like the Jones signing has the potential to be very important. Jones started at 3-tech, in place of Alan Branch, who did not play.
I tried to watch Bobby Wagner as closely as possible, both with the first team unit and later in the game as the Seahawks had him get extended reps, and I can't say I was either impressed or disappointed. He did flash some nice speed on a few occasions, he seems pretty fluid and natural in zone coverage, and he certainly didn't look lost, but there were a few run plays that he allowed himself to get sealed off from and let the run play go past him (the Darius Reynaud touchdown run saw Wagner get doubleteamed and completely sealed off, so I really don't know if there's much he could have physically done on that play). All in all though, a good start, I'd say, to his career and it will be interesting to watch him develop over the next few preseason games as he learns to get off of blocks, not to overpursue himself out of plays, and things of that nature. If he's able to grasp the job over the next few weeks, having his athleticism in the middle of the field will allow the Seahawks to do some interesting things.
Bruce Irvin didn't do a whole lot in terms of speed rushing, but did make a nice inside move to blow up a run play to his side. Chris Clemons didn't get a whole lot of heat on the quarterback either, but it's notable to point out that the Titans actually had the 2nd best pass protecting offensive line in the entire NFL last season, according to Football Outsiders' charting, with a measly 4.2% sack rate, and they return their bookend tackle tandem there, so I wouldn't get immediately discouraged that neither of the Seahawks' LEOs got home.
On Richard Sherman's interception early in the 2nd quarter, you could really see where the experience at wide receiver in college has paid off for the now-cornerback. He tracked the ball over his shoulder running full speed down the sideline, shielded his body from an incoming teammate, in this instance, Earl Thomas, and the receiver, and tapped his two feet in bounds as he made the catch. It actually was a fairly high degree of difficulty catch, in my opinion, and was impressive. I thought it was fitting too that both of the Hawks' starting cornerbacks had interceptions in the game -- setting the tone for the season where the Hawks will look to create a lot of turnovers on defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, the most exciting thing, for me, was the play of the offensive line. The Seahawks first-team unit of LT Russell Okung, LG Paul McQuistan, C Max Unger, RG Deuce Lutui, and RT Breno Giacomini simply dominated on their opening drive, clearing big lanes for Robert Turbin and Leon Washington to run through, and giving Matt Flynn clean pockets and plenty of time to work. At one point in that early drive, Leon Washington had consecutive runs of nine yards, nine yards, then another eight yards as the offense marched down the field. The drive stalled of course, once the Seahawks got into the redzone, and the Hawks had to settle for a field goal, but the one sack the line gave up was more of a coverage sack than anything.
I will need to go back further and watch the line more closely, but Deuce Lutui was the one interesting addition to the line. At times he looked a bit lost moving into the second level, but he's not experienced in the zone blocking scheme so he's still adapting to the system, as Pete Carroll has mentioned a couple of times during camp. However, it does look like he moves well and his old college coach at USC's axiom "mass moves ass" certainly comes into play because Lutui is a large, rotund man.
Leon Washington looked really good. I mean, he looked like a starting-caliber running back. He was decisive and explosive in his cuts and got downfield in a hurry. He runs out of the backfield very similarly to how he runs on kickoff and punt returns - choppy and resolutely. When there wasn't much there, he hit the pile hard and picked up an extra yard or two. He was effective in the passing game. I also thought it was pretty interesting that he received the first portion of snaps at running back, and this might indicate that he's still ahead of the rookie Robert Turbin for snaps. Regardless of the depth chart, once again this season, as it's been over the last two, Leon Washington is going to offer an enticing option in the backfield, should the Seahawks actually decide to use him there.
Robert Turbin looked very good at times, but also struggled keeping his feet under him on a few plays. My guess is this can be attributed to a little bit of jitters as he tried to make big things happen in front of a raucous CLink crowd for the first time. I think he'll get a little more comfortable and things will slow down a bit for him. Still, he made a few very nice cuts upfield, exactly what you need to do in this offense, and picked up chunks of yards on one or two plays while looking explosively fast running downhill. I don't think he'll be a sideline-to-sideline speed guy that gets around the corner very often (and that's fine), but when he puts his foot in the ground and gets downfield, it's very, very quick. He also displayed nice, soft hands on a couple of passes - one in particular was behind him and thrown hard - and he reached back and made the catch for a first down.
Matt Flynn looked comfortable and poised, which I thought was important. He didn't look skittish, he didn't look rattled or nervous. For a guy with a large amount of expectations on his shoulders, he handled the pressure well. He said after the game that the Titans were playing a lot of deep cover-2 and taking away anything downfield, so he worked with what the defense gave him, hitting his tight ends and running backs as outlets and checking down to open receivers in the middle. This meant he ended up with a mediocre 5.4 yards per attempt, but overall he was efficient, going 11 for 13, and I thought he moved well in the pocket and stayed balanced at all times.
There was one play in particular that impressed me (which I will break down in detail later today), in which Flynn took a bootleg to his left and threw downfield to his deep-dragging tight end in Zach Miller. Miller made the catch and got hit (and concussed) but rolling left and making that pass takes a lot of skill and accuracy. He also put a nice zip on the ball so I thought that was impressive as well.
In terms of playcalling and formations - I remember thinking while watching the second half yesterday that Russell Wilson sure saw a lot of I-Formation, "21" personnel groupings with two running backs and a tight end. I thought initially that perhaps this was to make Russ more comfortable because that's what they did at Wisconsin a lot of the time with Montee Ball and Bradie Ewing. But, in charting the first drive for Matt Flynn, he too saw that look, and a lot.
His first 11 plays went like this - (I stopped charting after I realized my theory on 'differing offenses between the two' wasn't holding too much water, at least personnel-wise).
1 - 21 balanced.
2 - 12 I-formation, Miller left.
3 - 12 I-formation, Miller left, both receivers set right.
4 - 22 I-formation, Miller, Mccoy on the left, Golden Tate lone receiver on the left.
5 - 21 balanced.
6 - 12 I-formation, Miller right.
7 - 11 empty backfield, shotgun, Turbin slot right, Miller left.
8 - 12 I-formation.
9 - 11, Miller right, shotgun.
10 - 11, Mccoy to the left.
11 - 21, heavy left.
As you can see, five of the eleven plays were in 12 personnel in the I-formation - i.e., a fullback/running back stacked behind the quarterback, who is under center. I guess I would expect this is going to be a heavy-use look this season for whoever is out there at QB. Regardless, I'm hoping to go through and chart personnel later this week and I'll report back on the later drives as well for Flynn, and the differences between that of Wilson.
None of the receivers in the first half really stood out to me - Golden Tate had was quietly effective, with two grabs in the first half. No other receiver had more than one (until Braylon caught his two in the 2nd Half).
I've got several plays picked out to breakdown, so I'm going to start in on those now. Thoughts?