I'm just gonna get this out of the way so we can all focus on more important stuff: the overzealous issuance of penalty flags in this game was an affront to every aesthetic sensibility I have. 22 penalties for 251 yards. And that's not counting the 2,947 penalty yards that were waived off due to 314 offsetting/declined fouls. To my eye, many of the penalties were just misjudgments by the officials, which would be better than the alternative: an institutional implementation of ticky-tack emphasis. I mean, if this is how the NFL is going to officiate games from this point on, then by God I'm going complain a lot but still watch just as many games and spend just as much money on their product as I would have otherwise.
Okay, to more important stuff -- the Seahawks didn't play great football tonight. That's not alarming, as in Week 3 of the preseason the team is still in full de-kinking mode, it's just a bit strange given how well they've played over the last nine months be it regular, post, or pre season. It's not like Seattle played poorly, either but this was an ugly, arrhythmic game and ugly, arrhythmic games tend to make the teams playing in it look uglier and less rhythmic than they actually are.
Some things that stood out to me from this one:
~Seattle's opening drive looked great despite coming away with just three points, as that possession covered 71 yards and nearly eight minutes on 12 plays. Russell Wilson was 5-5 on the march, completing passes from half of the positions in the Kama Sutra. The seemingly effortless drive was hamstrung by a big sack Wilson took in the redzone.
~That play wasn't all bad, as it gave us an opportunity to highlight a few things: 1.) Robert Turbin tried to flat-foot block a sprinting Clay Matthews and that went about as well as you'd suspect, as Matthews blew right through him and into Wilson's lap. 2.) That was a nine yard sack when it probably should have been a four yard sack, a direct result of Wilson's attempt to avoid Clay's gross sweaty embrace by turning his back and rolling out of pressure. 3.) Herein lies a conundrum with Wilson, though I'll admit bringing it up is a bit of niggling on my part -- he doesn't want to let a play die. It's an admirable trait, but one that he should (and likely will) reign in. According to Football Outsiders, Wilson took more "bad sacks" (losses of ten yards or more) than anyone in the league. Also according to Football Outsiders, Wilson led all QBs in "Houdinis" (plays that should have gone for a loss that were turned into gains). There is a risk-reward continuum on which every QB falls when a defender is in his grill. On one end, you've got your Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings, who hilariously turtle up in the face of certain sacks and on the other you have your Michael Vicks and Ben Roethlisbergers, authors of dozens of incredible escapes as well as dozens of turnovers on the same type of extended plays. For all of his cold calculation Wilson was, statistically at least, a total gambler in this regard. One of the next steps in Wilson's development will be learning when to cover up and take the four yard loss and when to let improvisation take over. On this particular play, he chose wrong. Earlier in the drive, however, his decision to break the play and run resulted in a huge gain. For reference sake, I think Aaron Rodgers has become the best in the league at making that judgment call but that may be because Green Bay's big OL splits and poor line play given him more experience in that situation than anyone else.
~Speaking of Rodgers, over the last two years he's thrown 70 more touchdowns than interceptions. Brady and Drew Brees are the only other QBs to have even thrown 70 TDs in that span. Even if you doubled Rodgers' interceptions since 2011, he'd still have the best TD/INT margin in the NFL.
~Wilson finished 11-17 with 126 yards, no TDs and 2 INTs while taking three sacks for 27 yards. It was his worst preseason game to date, but I didn't see anything that caused me to worry about his performance this year. One interception was on a ball that was tipped, so whatever, and the other was an ill advised attempt to thread the needle on a seam route in double coverage. Those are going to happen.
~Last week, the Seahawks O-line struggled to establish a plus line of scrimmage, performing better in pass protection than they did on run plays for much of the game. This game was the opposite, as Seattle consistently knocked Packer defenders off the ball like Spartan shields in the Hot Gates (166 yards on 27 carries, 6.1 YPC) but often looked confused trying to pick up Green Bay's myriad of blitzes. I'm not overly concerned at this point. The line is playing aggressively and it's easier to make an aggressive player more technically sound than it is to make a technically sound player more aggressive.
~All of the running backs looked great tonight. Much of that had to do with the aforementioned push consistently given them by the hogs up front, but a lot of it also had to do with the fact that Seattle's backfield is composed of bionic freaks that represent a glimpse into the next stage of human evolution. Marshawn Lynch (4 touches, 31 yards) set the tone by initiating contact with every opportunity given him. When he gave way to Turbin (14 touches, 72 yards), the trend continued. T-1000 ran with a style much more befitting the God-sculpted masterpiece of a body he has. It looked like Turbin ran with heavy feet last week against Denver, letting hands at his ankles bring him down or slow him up enough to miss out on a big gain. Not so tonight, as he careened through his cuts at full speed, changing direction with conviction and purpose. When Christine Michael got his turn, he astounded.
~All preseason I've been touting Michael as the most physically gifted of the Seahawks running backs, perhaps of any in team history. Michael has been presented as something of an out-of-nowhere talent, another diamond pulled lovingly from the rough by a Seattle front office willing to take a gamble. In reality, we're talking about an athletic marvel that won the 2009 Walter Payton Award as the best high school player in the country and whose physical feats (which include setting the all-time record for vertical jump by a running back) blew the doors off the NFL Combine. After amassing 89 yards on 16 carries in his first professional action against San Diego, Michael notched 122 on 12 touches against the Packers, the highlight of which was a 41-yard slingshot through the defense on a simple draw play. In my opinion, that wasn't even his best run. That came on a stretch play to the left that got blown up and forced Michael to change plans three yards behind the LOS. Michael bounced backwards and without a gather step, rocketed forward into the second level. Once there, he threw an exaggerated circle-button spin move back to the outside to spring him for another acre before being wrestled to the ground. Credit Pete Carroll and John Schneider for being willing to use a second round pick on a back that rushed for just 417 yards in college last season.
~Even with Michael's insane ceiling, he won't get on the field as much as his talent warrants if he can't get better in pass pro. For most of his time on the field, Michael did alright, though he wasn't asked to block all that often. The glaring exception was when he blocked a defender directly into a Brady Quinn rollout. At first I wondered if that wasn't just Quinn bailing on the pocket too early, but Michael's immediate expressions of disappointment and the patting of his own chest lead me to believe that he was supposed to block his man to the inside. Another time, he allowed a blitzer to deflect right off of him and straight towards Quinn, causing him to flee the pocket and throw it away on a 3rd and 6.
~No Spencer Ware tonight.
~It would be unfair of me to mention Michael's TD run without also mentioning the downfield block that Jermaine Kearse threw to give him the sideline. Kearse engulfed his cornerback and steered him into the safety that was coming over to cut off Michael's angle. That block was a visible example of two birds meeting one stone.
~The next round is on me for the first person to post a .gif of Lynch making fun of Rodgers' mustache at halftime.
~A number of Seattle's 14 penalties (for 182 yards) that were of the over-aggressive variety and I'm okay with that. The Seahawks' goal is to construct a roster of maulers and a team full of maulers that are relentlessly coached to finish every play are going to take it a half-beat too far from time to time. Even so, the Seahawks have racked up 38 accepted penalties in three preseason games and that will have to be reigned in before the regular season gets too far along.
~Seattle special teams are gonna be really fun. One of the hallmarks of Carroll's coaching career at USC was his commitment to playing his best guys on punts and kickoffs. Most kick returners in the NFL are tasked with avoiding gunners that are buried on their teams' depth charts. Against Seattle, they've got to deal with the entirety of the Legion of Boom.
~Among players to return kicks for the 'Hawks in this one were Jeremy Lane, Walter Thurmond, Will Blackmon, and Golden Tate. The really fun part is how, no matter who's returning the kick, they all seem determined to make SportsCenter's Top 10 or die trying.
~By the way, this is the shirt that Tate wore before the game. If Golden Tate hasn't pissed you off, you're either a Seahawks fan or he hasn't been to your city.
~Brady Quinn got the second team reps, while Tarvaris Jackson was relegated to mop up duty. Make of that what you will.
~Stephen Williams won't be denied. Seattle's leading receiver during the preseason, Williams man-beasted another touchdown, this time winning a 42-yard jump ball in the endzone. Williams has gone from complete unknown to afterthought to pleasant surprise to practice squad lock to challenger for Final 53 to someone that may just find himself on the field on Sundays.
~I haven't even talked about the defense yet. They were terrific, limiting the Pack to 201 total yards, although some of that can be chalked up to Rodgers' departure after only seven pass attempts. Still, all they can do is make the most of the opportunities they're given and they performed admirably against Green Bay's Packups. Seattle's constant swarming held the Packers to 3.4 yards per rush and a comical 3.7 yards per pass, recovering two more fumbles and nearly intercepting two passes along the way.
~Tony McDaniel looked frightening in his first action as a Seahawk. The former Dolphin straight Vince Wilforked the interior of the Packers line, forcing broken plays on a handful of occasions in his limited duty. Other standouts were Benson Mayowa, who continues to display a third-eye instinct for finding gaps in a blocking scheme and Bobby Wagner, who apparently wants to leave a facemask imprint on every sternum in the league.
~I'm not spending a ton of time on the defense here because I think they largely performed up to our expectation of them and also because I'm hesitant to place too much weight on their performance against a truly awful offensive effort by Green Bay.
~Soooo many teams hate the Seahawks. I've been a bit reluctant to jump on the "We're public enemy #1" train, as I think much of that sentiment is amplified by our proximity to the team as well as the rush that accompanies a long-sought spate of national attention. Still, there's no question that this team can get under the skin of opponents better than any I've seen 'round these parts, and they do it so damn naturally, too. The Seahawks are making August feel like December.
~It just hit me: the Pete Carroll Seattle Seahawks are the Dennis Erickson Miami Hurricanes.
One more preseason game to go before the real fun starts. That contest will come next week in Seattle against the Oakland Raiders, which should help provide some clarity among the bottom parts of the Seattle roster as well as prepare Oakland for the 16 exhibition games they'll play after that.