There’s a freshness to the changing of the seasons. As summer winds down, the autumnal breeze carries with it hope for the new football season, full of promise and renewed expectation. For years the Seahawks have enjoyed remarkable continuity, keeping their stables full of all pro horses. Each year the same fearsome collection of elite players strapped on the blue and green to do battle together. As fans, it made it really nice- knowing you can expect top level play from Pro Bowlers like Doug Baldwin, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, KJ Wright, and Russell Wilson. There was a comfort in it, even as it began to get uncomfortable over the last couple seasons.
Now it feels allll the way different. Seattle’s formidable armory was decimated over the offseason, with injuries and roster needs forcing the Seahawks to dramatically overhaul the top end of their roster. The change did, however, re-introduce true competition at a number of positions that have been devoid of that for a long time, and it will be fascinating to see if they can coalesce the way the departed did.
Today’s game in Denver provided the first test, and Seattle’s performance was a mixed bag. At best. Now, it is absolutely worthwhile to point out that the Broncos simply never lose at home in September. They’re winning percentage in those games is like 86% all time or something ridiculous. The combination of altitude and heat are, I imagine, enough to compound the challenge of facing an opening day crowd.
The Broncos started with the ball and racked up a first down or two before petering out and kicking it back to Seattle. Russell Wilson and the offense took the field filled with energy, hope, and drive. Then Russ got sacked on the first play. I guess not everything is different. Seattle went three and out, which brought the Australian wunderkind out for his much-anticipated first NFL punt. Yes, you read that correctly. And Michael Dickson did not disappoint, launching a 60-yard punt.
On Seattle’s second defensive possession, Case Keenum dropped back and zipped a pass into the eager hands of
pay the man his got damn money Earl Thomas. The best safety in the world then sprinted down the sideline to Denver’s 15. On the very next play Wilson hit rookie Will Dissly on a wheel route for a touchdown on a slick little play. It was Dissly’s first career catch and it gave Seattle an early lead.
The Broncos answered right back, creating some confusion on the left side for converted safety Tre Flowers, who got caught up chasing a receiver inside. That opened up the flat for Phillip Lindsay who jogged in with the tying TD.
A couple drives later, Marquette King pinned the Seahawks on their own 4 yard line. Chris Carson then took a handoff and jumped (levitated?) over a defender in the open field, creating 24 yards of breathing room in the process. The hurdle has become a more common weapon as the bar for NFL athleticism continues to rise, but this was special even among those. A truly incredible effort.
On the very next play, Wilson found Dissly again on a crossing route, leading him perfectly and allowing the rook to shrug off two would-be tacklers en route to a 66-yard field flipper. Sadly, for much of the game it seemed that every time something went well, Seattle would do something to muck it up. After a Rashaad Penny toss got pushed out of bounds, Wilson found Brandon Marshall in the back of the end zone for his second touchdown pass. But the score was called back on an offensive PI (go figure) and after a couple more incompletions, the ‘Hawks settled for a Sebastian Janikowski field goal to take a 10-7 lead.
That advantage was short-lived, as Case Keenum continued to carve up Tre Flowers, throwing a dart to Emmanuel Sanders. Once the ball was in Sanders’ hands, the Seahawks had no shot. The elusive wideout darted around and through Seattle’s secondary for an impressive score and a 14-10 lead.
As the game progressed, it became increasingly clear that this would be a counter-puncher’s fight. Seattle hit a big screen play to Chris Carson that went for huge yardage but got called back on a hold. That mistake was compounded by a Germain Ifedi false start immediately following and just like that, the Seahawks went from 1st & 10 in scoring position to 1st & 25 and just three plays away from another punt.
Denver responded with a field goal drive, which the Seahawks promptly answered, driving inside the Broncos 35 yard line to set up Janikowski. Seattle’s new kicker then calmly approached his kick and pushed it wide left. But there was a flag! Denver was offsides! Given new life, the titanic placekicker proceeded to hammer it wide left again. Sigh.
The teams went to the half with the Broncos leading 17-10 after a Bradley McDougald interception thwarted Denver’s last drive. The Seahawks looked like a wobbly boxer, but they were still on their feet and to their credit, brought great energy into the third quarter.
The second half got off to a wild start, including one sequence where Von Miller ripped the ball out of Chris Carson’s hands only to have McDougald pick Keenum off fagain on the very next play. That pendulous swing led to a beautiful third down lob from Wilson to prehistoric monster Brandon Marshall in the end zone to tie the game. The play was gorgeous from start to finish. Finally given time to throw, Wilson drifted right then floated a graceful parabola over the defender’s head. The cornerback was in perfect position but the wily vet deftly hand-jabbed his chest at the last possible moment, creating a football-sized hole between them for the pass to descend through. Just sensational, and an extremely encouraging sign for a receiver who came in as a total question mark.
Denver scratched their way back down the field for another three-pointer, giving them a momentary lead near the end of the third quarter. When Wilson and Co retook the field, they quickly found themselves facing 3rd & 11. That’s when Russ took the snap, stepped decisively through the pocket, and whistled a pass into an impossibly small window between three defenders, almost throwing it through Marshall’s chest in the process. The mighty receiver corralled the pass for the first down.
What happened next was sublime. As Wilson rolled to his right, he planted his back foot and launched the ball back across the field. The moment he did so, Duane Brown threw his hands triumphantly into the air. As the spiral carved its way through the thin Denver air, Tyler Lockett coasted beneath it with nary a soul around him. The ball hit his hands soft as a butterfly’s whisper and he sprinted through the back of the end zone to give Seattle the lead.
Seattle’s joy would be short-lived, however, as Keenum marched his boys right back down the field. The drive culminated with a razor sharp pass to Demaryious Thomas, who may or may not have gotten both feet down in the end zone for an impressive TD. Initially ruled an incompletion, the refs on the field then changed their call. That ended up being a huge decision because the replay was inconclusive, letting the touchdown stand.
Von Miller’s third sack would snuff out Seattle’s next drive and after Dickson bounced his punt off the moon, the Broncos took over at their own 13 with a three-point lead. The Seahawks would never get it going again. Wilson never looked comfortable and rarely stayed in the pocket long enough to go through his reads. It got really ugly at the end, with Seattle unable to convert a third down on their second-to-last drive . After their defense held, Wilson had about a minute to get them into field goal range.
The first play was a little pass to Nick Vannett for 11 yards. With the offense scrambling to run the next play, Wilson took his eyes off the snap, uncharacteristically dropping the ball into the scrum. He was able to jump on it, but the snafu cost Seattle nearly 30 seconds they didn’t have to spare. If that wasn’t bad enough, the ensuing play was nullified by a false start, which lead to a further 10-second runoff.
Just like that, Seattle went from having it at the 23 with just under a minute to being pinned at the 14 with nine seconds remaining. The final effort of the game was a haphazard heave from Wilson that was picked off by Adam Jones. 0-1.
~Russell Wilson had some great plays but was otherwise not great. He seemed rattled or unfocused or something. His numbers (19/33, 298 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) were fine but it was all the misses that really hurt. And I don’t just mean errant throws, of which there were a few. I’m talking about mental errors and sacks that he absolutely could not take. He is still an elite QB, make no mistake, but he did not have an elite game. With this new iteration of there Seahawks, he’ll need to be much, much better.
~One of the things I was most interested in seeing was how the work would be divvied up between Carson and first-round pick Rashaad Penny. To be frank, I thought they both looked good but only one showed glimpses of the spectacular. The final breakdown looks like this
Carson: 10 touches, 79 yards
Penny: 11 touches for 43 yards
Penny may or not be fine and I actually think he’ll be pretty good, but there is no doubt in my mind that right now, Chris C arson is that dude.
~The offensive line is our greatest annual concern and I thought that today, they looked alright at times, including a terrific stretch for most of the second half. Seattle would end up averaging 7.3 yards per pass play (a figure dragged down by 6 dreadful sacks) and 4.0 yards per rush. Both of those numbers are okay but it was rarely pretty. Granted, they were forced to debut against one of the most effective pass rushers in the world in Von Miller. Germain Ifedi had a better chance of eating spaghetti with a butter knife than he did of blocking Miller, and Von knew it. He terrorized Russell Wilson and destroyed any semblance of timing Seattle’s passing game could have had. At least it gets easier next week in Chicago when they only have to worry about, uh... oh shit.
~It took Will Dissly 14 minutes to record a longer reception (66 yards) than Jimmy Graham has ever had in his career (59). For all the hype around Rashaad Penny, Rashaan Green, Michael Dickson, and Shaquem Griffin, it may be the 4th-round “blocking TE” that ends up being Seattle’s most impactful draftee. Doug Baldwin left midway through the game with a knee injury, failing to record a catch on his only target. Tyler Lockett was more productive, turning just 4 targets into 3 catches for 59 yards and a TD. Brandon Marshall looked exactly howe I hoped he would. He’s not gonna beat anyone deep but he’s still a great route runner and a nigh-impossible player to beat on jump balls.
~The defense didn’t generate a ton of pass pressure, with Frank Clark recording the team’s only sack. That will definitely be something to monitor throughout the season because the ‘Hawks lost a metric ton of pass rushing this offseason. Interceptions by Thomas and Bradley McDougald (who could have had three if he didn’t drop a can o’ corn in the first quarter) were encouraging because I just didn’t know if Seattle was gonna be able to force many turnovers. Tre Flowers had a rough go but that was to be expected. After playing safety in college, he’s been pressed into a starting CB role and found himself matched up with one of the league’s sharpest route runners. Way too early to draw any conclusions (except that he’s probably not going to be Jalen Ramsey); just a tough tough first assignment.
~Bobby Wagner was great, but for the first time in his career there’s just a lot of open space around him. Just too much space for anyone to cover. Here’s hoping that time (and the return of KJ Wright) begin to funnel more plays towards him instead of away.
~Earl Thomas made his presence felt immediately, picking off one of Keenum’s first passes. It’s impossible to tell how in sync he felt with his new secondary but the speed, instincts, and skills are still very much there. He was on a snap count so he didn’t play the whole game, but nothing I saw has me anticipating anything other than the Earl Thomas we’ve seen for the better part of the last decade.
~Michael Dickson is absolutely out of this world. 59 yard average. Fifty. Nine.
~Third downs killed Seattle, much as they have in each of the last two seasons. The Seahawks failed to convert their first six attempts, and finished an ugly 2-12. Yuck. To the defense’s credit, they held Denver to 4-12 on third down, and certainly gave the offense a chance to win this one.
This was an uncomfortable game. I think the Seahawks will be uncomfortable to watch for a lot of this year, an unpleasant characteristic that promises to be buoyed by some really big plays. An NFL season is a 16-act play, and the first one felt a half-beat off throughout. They don’t have the stalwarts that they’ve been able to rely on in the past, so a new collective personality must be formed. That’s gonna take some time.
Next up are the Bears in Chicago. There’s no such thing as a must-win in Week 2 but if there was, this would qualify. Onward, upward; it’s the only place to go from here.