The Seattle Seahawks easily defeated the San Diego Chargers 31-10 in their preseason debut.
The Seattle Seahawks are poised to make a legitimate run to the top of the NFC West.
If last Thursday's 31-10 preseason victory against the San Diego Chargers is any indication, Seattle is well on their way to achieving their goal of returning to the playoffs, albeit this time as division champions.
There are plenty of reasons to focus on the Seahawks in the upcoming season. One year removed from an impressive 11-5 year, Seattle has numerous reasons to be hopeful heading towards the 2013 regular season.
How will second-year quarterback Russell Wilson mature and develop in a league that is now fully aware of his capabilities? Will returning veterans like wide receiver Sidney Rice and running back Marshawn Lynch continue to make notable contributions? To what extent, if any, will injured wide receiver Percy Harvin have on Seattle's chances this year?
In addition, can Seattle's top-ranked defense perform at the same level as it did in 2012? Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, can the Seahawks get the best of their division rival San Francisco 49ers and overcome them in the division standings?
All of the aforementioned questions beg answers and some of them were revealed in Seattle's Week 1 preseason opener in San Diego.
Like any NFL team, there are things to be learned from the opening game. Sure, it is only the preseason but there are plenty of indications regarding what faces the team heading forward.
Here are five takeaways from the Seahawks first preseason game.
Wide receiver Golden Tate could have a breakout 2013 season.
When the Seahawks brought in veteran wide receiver Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings during the offseason, Seattle was looking for a talented and dynamic playmaker that would add to an already dynamic offense.
Following Harvin's hip injury and subsequent surgery, the acquisition seems more like a painful move than a brilliant transition.
Despite the fact that head coach Pete Carroll feels Harvin can still play in 2013, the Seahawks will unquestionably miss his on-the-field services at the start of the regular season.
In spite of the injury, Seattle's wide receiver situation will breed a number of opportunities. The question is of course, who will step up in Harvin's absence?
The most likely answer is wide receiver Sidney Rice who totaled 50 receptions for 748 yards last season. Rice, who is poised to have a season like his 2009 campaign, will be complemented by fellow receiver Golden Tate. Tate is entering his fourth NFL season and is also on the brink of a huge year.
Tate will also be a free agent in 2014 which provides further motivation for a breakout season.
While Rice may be the favorite to start 2013, one cannot look beyond Tate's abilities as well.
Seattle's offense under Carroll emphasizes the running game. Running back Marshawn Lynch dictates that as well as any other back in the league. Yet with quarterback Russell Wilson's dynamic abilities grabbing more attention this season, the passing game may also be a critical component to the Seahawks offense.
Here is where Tate fits in.
As written by Yahoo Sports columnist Doug Farrar, Harvin's injury could be the opportunity that finally allows Tate to blossom. Farrar writes:
If Tate shows what he did last year and is able to expand on his 45-catch, 688-yard, seven-touchdown season, it could very well happen. It's a little-known fact that in 2012, Tate matched up with some of the best receivers in the game when it came to deep efficiency. Part of that has to do with the ways in which defenses must adapt to Seattle's running game, and it's just one reason he'd love to stay in Seattle after this season.
The situation is perfect for Tate and is one that has been understood by Carroll who recently spoke about Tate's abilities. He stated via Yahoo Sports:
He's played inside and outside—he can do all that stuff. There are no restrictions on what Golden can do—we can get him downfield, he's tough on catches up the middle, he makes plays in traffic, and he's a terrific guy with the ball in his hands. We'll do everything with him.
If Carroll's plans emulate his words, Tate should be poised for a breakout year.
Yet Tate was not a major factor in the matchup with San Diego as he had only one reception for three yards.
Nonetheless, Tate will have his opportunities when the regular season arrives. There is little doubt surrounding that. If he showcases enough talent, Seattle would then be on the brink of having at least three commendable receivers on offense: Rice, Tate and Harvin upon his return from his hip injury.
Rice and Tate will likely be backed up by Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Stephen Williams and rookie Chris Harper. Harvin's eventual return shall also assist the position.
Wide receiver Stephen Williams cannot be ignored after the preseason opener.
Another wide receiver story that is garnering attention surrounds Stephen Williams.
While much of the headlines regarding Seattle's wide receiver situation surrounds players like Sidney Rice and Golden Tate and the absence of Percy Harvin, Williams is keeping himself in the mix.
Tate was not much of a factor in Seattle's preseason opener. Williams, on the other hand, was a dominant presence. He had two receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers which lends credence to him being a very likable element to the Seahawks offense during the regular season.
Granted, both of those receptions were from second-string quarterback Tavaris Jackson, but Williams' presence is a good sign.
At 6'5" and 199 pounds, Williams is a huge target and will benefit from Seattle's additional receivers spreading the field around him. Quarterbacks love to have big targets available when their other top receivers are drawing the majority of the attention.
This fact has not gone unnoticed by Pete Carroll. In a recent interview published via Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, Carroll stated:
[Williams has] been very intriguing these first four days. He gives you another big-guy presence, and I've always liked having guys like that. I kind of have a good eye for guys like that, and we're always looking at guys with different dimensions. So we're excited about him.
While Williams may not have the stat record that would impress at the NFL level entering the 2013 season, his early showings are certainly pointing him in the right direction.
Over the course of his three-year career, Williams has struggled to get on the field and has logged only nine receptions for 101 yards.
Similar to Tate, this year could be the one where Williams is presented with a tremendous opportunity. The only question is whether or not he runs with it.
If he does, that means only good things for Seattle.
Depth will be a critical aspect to Seattle's 2013 chances.
The Seahawks are deep.
Seattle's depth may be highlighted by the nature of their wide receiver situation. The loss of Percy Harvin certainly affects the depth chart, yet unlike the nature of the previous two slides, depth is not only a factor in the receiving corps.
Starting off with the wide receivers, the Seahawks can benefit from the services of Golden Tate and Sidney Rice. The addition of Stephen Williams is also a bonus in the wake of Harvin's hip surgery.
If all three can perform up to expectations, Harvin's loss does not seem as critical.
In addition, Seattle's star running back Marshawn Lynch will also not be expected to carry an over-burdening load.
Lynch, who spent most of Thursday's game on the sidelines, will likely be spelled by backs Robert Turbin and rookie Christine Michael.
Michael had the most impressive performance of any Seahawks backs against the Chargers, carrying the ball 16 times for 89 yards.
This is a good sign for Seattle's offense and also shall provide an added insurance policy in case the hard-running Lynch suffers an injury at any point during the season.
Granted, Michael's preseason debut came late in the game; an element which skewed his statistics. This point was argued by MYNorthwest.com writer Danny O'Neil who wrote:
He was productive, but the majority of that came in the second half when Seattle was playing against the nether regions of the Chargers' defensive depth chart. No doubt about how hard Michael ran on Thursday, and he showed he was willing to go headfirst into the briar-patch of the defense, but he also got a little overly ornate. The next two games will provide a better idea of how he'll fare against the upper rungs of an opposing defense.
Regardless, Seattle's depth at running back is a good sign.
The defense also has a plethora of options, especially in the backfield. Seattle's secondary, led by the hard-hitting All Pros Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, will be backed up by cornerback Antoine Winfield and safety Chris Maragos. Cornerback Walter Thurmond also hopes to have a breakout 2013 season.
The secondary also includes safety Kam Chancellor who had 100 tackles last season.
As far as the offensive line is concerned, there is plenty of depth especially on the interior. With the exception of backup tackles Alvin Bailey, Mike Person and Michael Bowie, backups on the line have plenty of NFL experience and flexibility.
That facet alone provides insurance for injuries along the offensive line.
What is most reassuring is how Seattle's backups fared during the preseason debut. While the starters did not exactly shine—they probably were not expected to—the backups and depth players were a key component to the 31-10 victory. This element is argued by The News Tribune writer Eric Williams who highlighted efforts from many of the Seahawks' role players.
As fans can attest, the rigors and attrition can affect the best NFL teams at any point during a season. Good teams provide legitimate depth and can overcome such adversity when it develops.
Quarterback Russell Wilson hopes to emulate his 2012 rookie season.
There are plenty of words to describe the playmaking abilities of quarterback Russell Wilson.
Fans and analysts around the NFL know what he did last season as he helped Seattle reach their first winning season since 2007.
En route to a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie year, Wilson posted a 100.0 quarterback rating with 252 completions on 393 attempts, good for 26 touchdowns. He also rushed for 489 yards and four touchdowns as well.
Simply put, Wilson is here to stay and epitomizes the new hybrid-style of quarterback becoming popular in today's NFL.
As great as Wilson is and will continue to be, Seattle has another reliable quarterback in Tarvaris Jackson.
The former 2006 second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings already had a stint with Seattle back in 2011 when he started 14 games and went 7-7 over the season. After a year in Buffalo, Jackson now returns to the Seahawks where he will be the unquestioned backup to Wilson.
Jackson made that case during Seattle's preseason opener.
Wilson did not see much on-the-field time during the game, completing only two passes on six attempts for 23 yards, all within the first half. That much is expected. There were few reasons to leave Wilson on the field. He has already established himself as the Seahawks' starter.
Yet when Jackson entered the game, he was still in competition with the newly arrived Brady Quinn for Wilson's immediate backup.
After the game, it is evident that the job is Jackson's to lose.
Jackson completed eight passes out of nine attempts for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson threw a 42-yard scoring pass to Stephen Williams on the first play of the fourth quarter and hit Derrick Coleman on a 6-yarder in the final minutes.
After the game Jackson commented on his returning performance and the team's efforts in an interview published via Fox Sports.
''It's been a long time, but it was fun out there,'' Jackson said. ''Guys have more experience and guys aren't making as many mistakes and are on the same page. It showed in practice and in the game."
Looking forward, fans can be excited about the Wilson-Jackson tandem.
Without taking anything away from Wilson and his abilities, it is reassuring to know that Jackson can provide legitimate backup services if and when they are needed.
The one-two punch is a scary combination and shall be a tremendous asset moving forward.
Cornerback Richard Sherman highlights a tough Seattle defense.
In 2012, Seattle's defense ranked first in the NFL in total points allowed.
The defense hopes to emulate that success heading into 2013. After all, it was one of the primary reasons behind the Seahawks' success last year and will be a critical element this season as well.
One year removed from allowing a league-leading 245 points—15.3 per game—Seattle was forced to make some changes to its defense during the offseason.
Cornerback Marcus Trufant and linebacker LeRoy Hill both left via free agency yet the Seahawks supplemented their departure by drafting defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams in the second and fourth rounds respectively.
They also brought in defensive end Michael Bennett to bolster the pass rush.
Under the tutelage of Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Seattle's defense figures to be as tough and aggressive as they were a year ago.
Some of those elements were on display against the Chargers.
The defense forced two interceptions last Thursday and sacked San Diego quarterbacks four times. While three of those sacks took place in the second half when Seattle's backups were in the game, the same aggressive-style of play was visible.
Veteran defensive tackle Brandon Mebane likes what he sees on this Seahawks team and feels that success in years prior can continue into this season. In a recent interview published via Eric Williams of The News Tribune, Mebane elaborated on this by saying:
First of all, as a group we want to be the best defensive line in the NFL, and we want to be the best defense in the NFL. That’s something we’re striving for every day. We’ve had some talented groups in the past, and this is one of them. I think we can do a lot of great things, but we’ve still got to go out there and prove it. Because we can have a great unit, but you still have to go out there and show that you’re capable of doing what you’re supposed to do.
Mebane, who is one of Seattle's longest-tenured players, has high hopes for the defense this year. Given their nature of play and expectations, the defense will continue to be a developing storyline.
Yet Danny O'Neil of MYNorthwest.com remains concerned about the defense, and most importantly, their pass rush.
[The pass rush] wasn't evident in the first half. Now, some of that's understandable as Cliff Avril didn't play after missing more than a week with a sore hamstring, linebacker Bruce Irvin was out because of a sore groin and Chris Clemons is still coming back from knee surgery. But at the same time, defensive tackles Bennett and Jordan Hill were acquired for their interior pass-rush ability and Seattle was unable to make Chargers starting quarterback Philip Rivers uncomfortable in the one possession he played.
While the lack of the pass rush is a question heading forward, the sample size remains small. What they did show, especially as the game drew on, is that the defensive scheme employed by Quinn works against offensive-minded NFL teams.
Over the course of Thursday's game, Seattle allowed only 262 yards of total offense along with only 10 points.
If that is an indication of what to expect heading forward, the Seahawks defense is in excellent shape.
In conclusion, there are a number of question marks still remaining. Injuries, as with every team, have played a factor early into the preseason and shall continue to have their impact. Yet injuries can often create opportunities and Seattle will make their adjustments.
There is plenty of depth within the team and given the nature of the NFC West, that depth should be an asset.
If the Seahawks hope to repeat and exceed the level of success they had last year, all of these elements will need to continue their development.
As of now, and as shown by these takeaways, the said elements are developing nicely.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.