It started early and Jackson was on his back often.
The Seahawks managed to hang tough in a last-second loss on a field goal, a 23-20 defeat in Denver. They were significantly out-gained in total yards, continued to be plagued by penalties and showed this team has improvement to do before Week 1 of the regular season.
Based on Pete Carroll's postgame comments, this team will be made aware of the fixes it must make going into the final week of the preseason. Getting better going forward falls on both the coaches and the players, especially heading into a short week, preparing to host Oakland on Friday.
Here are six lessons learned from the loss in Denver.
We finally saw Red Bryant, Alan Branch and Brandon Mebane play together for an extended period of time. While they did not generate much pressure against the pass and allowed a short rushing touchdown, as a group they're stout and disruptive against the running game.
Bryant was back to his beastly ways of early 2010, compiling four tackles. He was making plays along the line of scrimmage and swallowing up ball-carriers—he stopped a rush attempt on 4th-and-short. He showed the attitude that the Seahawks need along the defensive line.
The thing that has impressed me the most about Branch this preseason is his balance, especially for a guy who is 6'6", 330. He fills the need I hoped the Seahawks would be able to find in the draft—another Red Bryant-type player with long arms and good feet.
He has applied pressure against the running game–he caused the pressure that made Knowshon Moreno trip on the five-yard run early in the game, when the Broncos were backed up against the goal line—and showed great balance in pursuit of the screen game, moving along the line of scrimmage. He has also managed to deflect a pass in each game.
Mebane had a tackle for loss and allowed Branch and Bryant to get to the ball. They held a respectable Broncos rushing attack under four yards a carry in the first half—they were also without their starting middle linebacker.
They may not generate much pressure against the pass—though I wouldn't be surprised to see some tweaks in the game plan to see if Seattle can generate more pass rush using three big linemen—but their main objective is to stop the run. The upside is exemplified by Chris Clemons' interception when he dropped into coverage; the big three allow for wrinkles to be added to the defense.
If they can stay healthy, this defense will have a lot of versatility, but this trio must continue to gel and prove capable of being the base of the run defense.
Marcus Trufant and Earl Thomas appear ready to step up as the leaders of the secondary in 2011.
Trufant agreed to restructure his contract this season, not surprising considering he was making $5.9 million year; he's now making $3 million.
However, he looked much more like the veteran corner the Seahawks signed to a massive extension in 2008. Trufant registered a sack after executing a blitz while lined up covering in the slot, and he made some strong plays against the run.
Thomas I noticed in the very beginning of the broadcast; he was leading the huddle in a pregame ritual, bobbing up and down and extremely focused. Upon seeing this, my expectations for his performance rose a bit; I can't say he disappointed.
On Brandon Browner's biggest gaffe of the game—overall, Browner provided solid coverage and gave up a few plays on great throws, "holding his own" against tough assignments Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal—Browner pointed to Thomas when at the 25 as if to say "my bad." In the end zone, Thomas make sure Lloyd didn't make the catch.
Thomas tackled well and in general looks like he's ready to step up as a leader with Trufant. Knowing that both of these guys appear to be rounding into regular season form is comforting, but they'll need to help the young secondary along and make sure communication continues to improve in the entire back end.
As highlighted before the game, Tarvaris Jackson stated last Thursday the goal was to improve as a first unit, "move the ball and put some points on the board." They also needed to minimize penalties, not turn the ball over and simply gain a rhythm as a first team.
The results: a grand total of two first downs and 39 yards of offense in the first half.
Their first possession started with a run that was stopped for a short gain; on second down, Jackson held the ball too long and ended up having to throw the ball away as the pocket collapsed around him; from the shotgun on third down he bobbled the snap, evaded Von Miller's rush and got dumped to the ground as he threw the ball away. The first possession set the tone for the evening; he was sacked five times.
Jackson held on to the ball too long and failed to recognize favorable one-on-one matchups at times but also had few fair chances to throw. Mike Williams slipped on a nice comeback route, throw and drop. However, 16 passing attempts for 44 yards sums up Jackson's first half. No turnovers, though.
Fast-forward to 2:39 left in the third quarter; the Seahawks got the ball on their own 17-yard line. They then drove 83 yards in the next three minutes and 23 seconds against Denver's second-stringers. Not surprisingly, Carroll gave Jackson and the first-team offense a chance to score that much-needed touchdown, even if it meant playing into the fourth quarter and scoring against the second team.
A few thoughts on the skill positions: The tight ends continue to show they will be a major part of this offense, Dominique Byrd scoring this week's receiving touchdown. Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu are acquiring a tiny bit of chemistry with Jackson. Leon Washington is continuing to show why he should be part of the offense. Michael Robinson had a couple of very nice blocks, notably setting the edge on a Justin Forsett run in the third quarter.
The offensive line was unimpressive—James Carpenter got beat continually by the pass rush, proving his adjustment to a new position will have road bumps in the present and future—but Robert Gallery looked meaner versus an AFC West foe.
Discouragingly, Seattle averaged 1.6 yards per carry in the first half; Russell Okung is certainly missed, and the line showed it has a lot of growth to do. We saw Breno Giacomini and Pat McQuistan come in for a few series during the second quarter on the right side; is change brewing?
Carroll said after the game they will do whatever is necessary to get the play right up front, as a lot of the teams' offensive problems stem from the lack of continuity up front; as mentioned previously, this is a situation that wasn't settled heading into the preseason and shouldn't be too surprising given the youth up front.
Tom Cable said before the game that the offensive line was somewhere around a C+; after the game, it's hard to imagine their grade improved. As a whole, the first-team offense has a long way to go before opening day, and it's becoming more reasonable to question whether or not the 11 "starters" from the preseason will be the same 11 who start Week 1 of the regular season.
We are approaching the final roster cuts, and this is the time in the preseason when people begin to question whether or not certain players should have been picked or signed.
On the whole, Seattle's draft picks have played decently; it's also gotten contributions from some undrafted rookies. A quick rundown of how the notable rookies played in Denver:
Richard Sherman continues to be used on defense and special teams and has performed solidly. However, he was overshadowed in Denver by...
Byron "Menace" Maxwell, who provided pressure blitzing on multiple occasions, had three special teams tackles and forced a fumble on punt coverage. His physicality and toughness is impressive, and he is a tone-setter the Seahawks need; each game, he's become more of a menace. I'd be surprised to see the Seahawks let him go.
Jeron Johnson continues to impress as an undersized safety that manages to find himself around the ball often. He was penalized on special teams against Denver, however. Nevertheless, I think he's in the running for a roster spot.
Mark LeGree stood out more than he had in prior games. He made a strong hit in coverage and led the way blocking for Doug Baldwin on his 105-yard kickoff return for the touchdown...
Which was a very impressive play. Baldwin showed good speed, vision, cutback ability and general savvy. Add two targets and two catches to the mix, and even Carroll himself said postgame that Baldwin is making a legitimate case for the final roster.
K.J. Wright started for David Hawthorne and had an underwhelming one tackle but registered two quarterback hits. He wasn't around the ball much with the first team; it was a a good learning experience.
Malcolm Smith forced another fumble and had a sack. He continues to flash.
John Moffitt made another nice pull block to spring a Leon Washington run from the shotgun.
Von Miller had four tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and four quarterback hits; those mostly came while attacking James Carpenter's side.
Pep Levingston had two sacks, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hits—another solid game and a strong preseason for Pep.
Ricardo Lockette had a false start on a kickoff.
This group continues to grow; the Seahawks will have a handful of first-year contributors that add playmaking ability to this roster and also have found a few players to potentially develop on the practice squad.
Heading into the game, I hoped we would begin to see answers from this group; notably, I wanted to see Jeff Reed kick and continued improvement from special teams as a whole.
It must be acknowledged that they had multiple penalties and endured sloppy play. However, the improvement should be highlighted here.
As noted already, Maxwell had three tackles and gets the award for special teams' grunt work performer of the game.
Jeff Reed may have been the special teams player of the game with two field goals from outside of 50 yards.
But Doug Baldwin's 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown is perhaps the Seahawks' play of the game. It was their only attempt at returning a kickoff, and they gave a solid effort as a unit.
Against Minnesota they caused a turnover, and against Denver they scored a touchdown. As this unit gels, they are proving to be an opportunistic group. Reed's strong performance also makes him a virtual lock, barring an absolute collapse.
The special teams staff is proving to be a solid group of coaches, and we are learning that they will find a way to field a group of players that can make things happen.
Ben Obomanu had a respectable return to the field with three catches, but his major contribution came in a sideline interview late in the fourth quarter.
When asked about the offense, he offered that they realize the regular season is right around the corner, and while some people don't make a big deal of preseason games, the Seahawks look to them as tone-setters for the regular season. He noted, "We haven't gotten a chance to see what we really have on offense," which has been frustrating.
The more intriguing question came next. When asked about the difference between having Matt Hasselbeck as the quarterback as opposed to having Jackson as their leader, Obomanu offered:
"With Matt it was kind of an implied confidence or implied swagger, the quarterback position was taken care of. Now, around the locker room and around the organization, we have to keep encouraging Tarvaris, let him know he is doing well. Just those little things to make sure he's confident as the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks."
As highlighted last week, part of Carroll's plan to put Jackson in the best position to succeed is putting him in an environment conducive to success. In listening to Obomanu's comments, it's apparent that Carroll is making sure the message is clear around the organization: Tarvaris is the starting quarterback, and we publicly support him.
If Charlie Whitehurst was able to connect with Golden Tate on the third down, go-ahead touchdown throw late in the game—which was just out of a striding Tate's reach—does that message remain clear among the players? Insert Sidney Rice, Mike Williams or Obomanu for Tate, and is that ball caught?
The point here: Leadership at quarterback is clearly still settling for the team as a whole. For the third week in a row, the gap appears to have closed, to a degree.
Whitehurst may have failed to close the gap as strongly as he had hoped, but his support to start, at least from outside opinion, likely didn't waver. Just speculation, but if there is a hidden dissension in the locker room, it's unlikely that changed given their performances.
What were the players thinking as they watched Whitehurst chomp at the bit to go into the game, late in the third and early in the fourth, as the first unit stayed on the field and Baldwin later scored on special teams, further delaying his entrance into the game?
We've learned that a team effort is needed for Jackson to comfortably fit into the starting quarterback spot, and the perception that Charlie Whitehurst wants to be the starting quarterback for the Seahawks is continually being reinforced by his actions.
The locker room is potentially in a tricky position; what happens if the quarterback position continues to remain under duress—from opposing defenses and the fans—and the direction of the team effort towards supporting Tarvaris begins to waver?
This week we learned Carroll is trying to give the quarterback leadership baton to Jackson, but in reality it may be up for grabs.