Seattle Seahawks: 8 Lessons Learned in Week 1 Loss at 49ers
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The Seahawks opened the season on the road with a 33-17 loss to the 49ers. Seattle dug themselves into a 16-0 halftime hole and managed to pull within two at 19-17 with 3:56 remaining. Two Ted Ginn return touchdowns later and the Seahawks' second-half work, if judging by score, was erased.
For the second year in a row, the Seahawks went to San Francisco and walked away disappointed; in 2010 they were thoroughly beat and on Sunday they scratched back, only to fall apart in the end.
At least this time around Seattle was competitive in the fourth quarter, which merely serves as a silver lining. After a tough defeat, this young team has a lot of information to digest heading into Week 2.
The Seahawks Offense Wasn't Balanced and Balance Is Key
Get me in the offense!
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One of the main concerns heading into the season was if offensive coordinator Darell Bevell could create a balanced attack for the Seahawks, helping Tarvaris Jackson be the game managing quarterback Pete Carroll wants.
Though the time of possession battle was was barely won by the 49ers (31:07 to 28:53), they were a significantly more balanced offense and controlled the game. Jackson had 37 pass attempts and was sacked five times, and Seattle had 22 carries. By contrast, Alex Smith had 20 pass attempts and wasn't sacked once with the team recording 32 running attempts.
The difference here was the Seahawks having three turnovers and creating zero—a major concern heading into the season being whether they could create a positive turnover margin. The 49ers could execute their game plan while the Seahawks were scrambling.
Seattle was strapped by stagnancy in the first half; seven possessions, 25 plays, 37 yards, three first downs. The second half saw better ball movement, but the passing game reigned supreme as the offense played from behind.
A couple of things I would like to see change next week:
1. One of the most telling statistics is the distribution of carries at running back; Marshawn Lynch had 13 carries, Justin Forsett had three and Leon Washington had zero—his only carry was offset by a penalty.
Nearly 70 percent of the touches in the backfield is too high for Lynch; I'll continue to maintain the Seahawks need to mix and match the running backs, a split 50-50 type split between Lynch and Washington/Forsett is in the best interest of creating a dynamic, balanced attack.
2. Earlier in the preseason Jackson revealed that a major difference between his college and NFL experience was learning how to execute full-field reads instead of one-side-of-the-field reads. Early in the game it looked as though Seattle was trying to keep him comfortable by calling plays, pass or run, that would play to that strength of one-sided reads.
Consequently, they failed to horizontally stretch the field; the 49ers defense was able to contain the offense to one side of the field, rolling their coverage and taking away the deep ball. A major key heading in was getting Mike Williams involved early; he was targeted zero times in the first half and the defense did a good job matching up with Seattle.
The theme here; next week, the Seahawks need to start with a more balanced game plan, using the entire field and all of their backs.
The Center of the Defense Is Strong and the Pass Rush Is Lacking
Carroll has nicknamed him "banger"
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I don't think either of those facts are a surprise, but the lack of pass rush proved to be a problem.
We saw over the course of the preseason that Seattle has unique size and athleticism with their big men up front to stop the run. They held a run-game focused 49ers team to 2.7 yards a carry. I continue to really like what is happening with those three up front; the rest of the defense needs to fall into place, but on to new topics
Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor could be special.
Watching Earl Thomas strike like lighting around the field —one of the coolest parts of being at the game was seeing Earl Thomas has Ted Ginn-like speed—was awesome. He showed power when throwing Vernon Davis to the ground on the sideline, explosiveness in run support and obvious leadership on the field. Kam Chancellor led the team in tackles and really is quite a unique player with his size.
They proved to be an aggressive duo around the line of scrimmage, registering 19 tackles and four tackles for loss combined. "Flash and Bam" will provide a lot of big plays this season.
But no matter how you cut it with the run defense, registering zero sacks and allowing Alex Smith to complete 75% of his passes and hitting him once is not good enough.
As noted pregame, the Niners fans booed Alex Smith in Week 14 after one bad pass; they booed the offense off the field after Jim Harbaugh's first possession. Though the 49ers offense was impressive, the reason they were able to dink and dunk the football down the field was because the Seahawks were not able to rush passer; when there was pressure, Smith made smart decisions. The 49ers were 1 for 12 on third down, but less a result of Smith's ineptitude and more because of the run-heavy third down package.
That strategy kept Seattle in more base defense and hindered their ability to manufacture a rush. Even though the 49ers were inefficient the red zone—one for five with four field goals—they didn't give the Seahawks opportunities. Smith was well protected and the Seahawks were unable to disrupt passing lanes.
Smith was able to efficiently move the ball with a 6.4 yards per attempt and also ran for a short score. The Seahawks' run defense will get a stiff test next week versus Pittsburgh, and they are also facing a quarterback who is known for his strength and scrambling ability. The Steelers are an offense that will test the big play and are nearly unbeatable when Roethlisberger is knocked down only once. The defense kept Seattle in this game and they may have to do it again.
Penalties Are a Problem
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Because the preseason is the preseason, penalties are to be expected and it's not as much of an issue as teams are simply working out the kinks. But the Seahawks averaged about nine per game in the preseason and the trend continued.
The Seahawks 11 penalties, though a few were questionable, had a major effect on the game: Brandon Browner had a questionable pass interference called against him in the end zone—in my opinion, a no call as Braylon Edwards latched his left hand on Browner; Leon Washington had a long punt return called back and Red Bryant jumped on a fourth and one, the result of a "tackle eligible" sixth lineman flinching before going into motion.
Interestingly enough, Carroll was on the radio Monday morning and offered some insight as to how the inconsistency of the referees is to an extent affecting how special teams are being played.
Carroll noted that guys are getting away with stuff; two Seahawks—Matt McCoy and Richard Sherman—were blocked flat on their face on the final Ginn return to the tune of no calls, while other times the referees were all over questionable calls. This hinders teaching the younger players, as the gray area surrounding penalties is growing—despite the league's attempt to make the rules more clear.
An obvious issue here is the youth and discontinuity the team, as there hasn't been enough time for the team to gel and cut down on rusty penalties. Seattle must play cleaner football.
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1. I really liked seeing Brandon Browner rushing off the edge on field goals, a couple times he was close to blocking the kick—his roughing the kicker penalty was an egregious call. He was physical in run support, adequately disciplined in coverage assignments—notably on an unsuccessful play-action double move by Ted Ginn early in the fourth quarter—and looked the part of a safety or linebacker playing cornerback. He needs to do a better job with his contact in coverage, but the physicality of his game is what Carroll covets. A work in progress, but the upside is there.
2. If it wasn't clear already; I am on the "Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have the ability to be one of the top safety duos in the NFL" bandwagon, if they can reach their ceiling. Watching Thomas quickly creep to the line in run support and Chancellor clean up in the secondary was impressive to see in person. Though Chancellor's size and tackling ability stands out, watching Thomas throw Vernon Davis out of bounds was surprising.
One play I'm curious about; when Josh Morgan leaped between Trufant and Chancellor for his 26-yard catch early in the fourth quarter, Chancellor hesitated before delivering the blow. It was one of those plays where I wondered; without the crackdown and fines for defenseless receiver hits, does Josh Morgan get blown up there?
Watching them grow as a duo is one of the more interesting story lines of the 2011 season.
3. After the game Carroll said the feeling on the sideline was they were right back in it before the Ginn kickoff return; one observation that stuck with me after the game was the fact that the fans were much more charged in the first half and as the 49er offense stalled in the third quarter, there was much less energy in the stadium.
The most shocking move of all was fans began to leave after the 49ers' final field goal to go up 19-10. In the end it didn't matter, but the Seahawks were building momentum; had Seattle stopped the kickoff return, this would have been a very interesting finish.
4. The Seahawks' linebackers played well considering the absence of David Hawthorne. K.J. Wright filled in admirably for his first NFL start. Minus a couple plays where Vernon Davis was able to make strong catches in the vicinity of Aaron Curry, the third-year linebacker's motor was on high and he looked more instinctive that he has the past two seasons.
Leroy Hill showed rust—the facemask penalty on Frank Gore comes to mind—but also showed the physicality makes him an asset. Matt McCoy carried over some momentum from a strong preseason finale, registering two tackles on the goal line stand after the Browner roughing the kicker penalty. It's not only the front line that deserves credit for holding Frank Gore under three yards carry, these guys were solid.
5. No secret here, but the offensive line play was underwhelming. We saw them get better push in the second half, but Jackson often saw the pocket collapse around him and a veteran defensive line took advantage of Seattle's youth—Jackson was sacked five times and was hit eight times. Justin Smith created both sacks with a strong motor and second effort.
The 49ers were able to overwhelm both sides of the line and were the aggressors for the majority of the day. If Robert Gallery returns, there are options for the Seahawks at right tackle, but if he remains out, I think this group stays together to create familiarity.
Halftime Adjustments Not Enough to Overcome a Slow Start and Poor Finish
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One of my main keys for Seattle heading into the game was starting fast, making strong adjustments at halftime — because of the unfamiliarity with Jim Harbaugh — and finishing strong; accomplishing two or three of those goals was needed for the Seahawks to break their string of regular season losses by 15 or more points under Pete Carroll.
Seattle was able to be accomplish one of the three objectives, unfortunately extending the streak to nine.
The defense came out flying around the field and there was decent energy on special teams; the offense was sleepwalking. A 16-0 halftime deficit put Seattle in a bind, but they responded; 15 of their 18 first downs, four of their five third down conversions and obviously all of their points came in the second half.
Interestingly enough, Pete Carroll noted on Monday they didn't make any halftime adjustments. Carroll said they simply ran the same offense that they intended to run in the first half, but with better tempo and confidence.
In watching the game live and re-watching the game, there was certainly more energy and a better tempo for the offense—Marshawn Lynch in particular was running with new attitude.
But going into the game I was watching for adjustments after halftime. Both times through, this looked like an altered offense; if it wasn't, it's possible the better tempo helped develop the plan.
They made an effort to spread the field horizontally and attack both sides as opposed to shrinking the field. The Golden Tate touchdown was possible because the play-calling had put the 49ers on their heels and the Seahawks were able to create a massive clear-out on the slant from the outside; this type of play was set up by involving Ben Obomanu in the run game and Mike Williams in the passing game. The Seahawks used the whole field and it paid off.
Throughout the half Jackson took a few shots downfield, Mike Williams became more involved in the offense and Zach Miller saw time at fullback/H-Back and split out wide. Doug Baldwin's catch-and-run came on a well designed two-man combination where Miller drew the corner and opened the hole for Baldwin. They used more balanced four receiver sets instead of bunched trips on the short side of the field.
The issue was they couldn't finish as a team; the feeling on the Seahawks' sideline was the defense could stop the 49ers' offense, giving Seattle one more shot. The Seahawks were much more disappointed about how they finished the game than how they started it and Carroll will use this game as a "clear illustration" of why playing a full 60 minutes is crucial.
Against any team, it will be difficult for Seattle to accomplish one of the three objectives and win. Against the Steelers, taking the crowd out of it early is a must.
The Tarvaris Jackson Experience Leaves Mixed Feelings
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Watching Jackson's first regular season game as a Seahawk in person was, not surprisingly, one of the most compelling aspects of being at the game.
There is a sequence early in the second quarter that helped me gain a better understanding of Jackson's potential.
My perspective was with the Seahawks offense coming towards me, the sight line to Jackson being directly over the back-left Pylon.
It was third and nine at 13:04 and counting in the second quarter; over the left side of the 49ers' secondary I could see where the giant hole in the zone was for Doug Baldwin to sit and catch a potential first down.
Seeing this all pre-snap, I hoped it was obvious to Jackson as well; he stood in there and delivered a solid throw to the right spot.
Baldwin ran about 12 yards, planted and turned towards sideline, dove and made a very nice catch on a ball that was thrown where only the receiver could make the catch.
The next play was the first Jackson strip-sack. One of Jackson's strongest plays to that point was followed by his worst.
The point here is that seeing Jackson in person helps me understand why Carroll believes in him as the starting quarterback. He's got the arm, he's mobile, tough and is capable of getting the offense in a very strong rhythm. At times in the second half, the offense looked more than capable; both touchdown throws came on well thrown slant patterns, past defenders. He threw a solid block on the Obomanu reverse, always good when a quarterback takes out a defender.
But Carroll also has said the reason he picked Jackson is because he is the quarterback who makes the team most competitive. Jackson was strip-sacked twice and also fumbled the snap on a crucial third down on the 20, a third and 13 during a 65-yard drive.
A handful of times he lacked anticipation with receivers and missed some throws. The misfire on the deep ball to Golden Tate would have been a big play, too.
I don't see Carroll making a switch right now. He simply wants his team to get playing time together and get to learn each other. However, first and foremost, Jackson needs to take care of the football and furthermore it scares me when he makes funky-formed throws into tight coverage.
Jackson needs to be more decisive and responsible with the football from the start of the game against Pittsburgh. To neutralize Pittsburgh's blitz packages, they need to get Jackson in a rhythm with quick throws, put him on the move and continue to utilize the screen game.
The Seahawks needs to see what worked and what didn't for Jackson heading into Week 2. Troy Polomalu will take advantage of Jackson locking onto his receivers and hesitating. Jackson needs a sharp week of practice and a game plan that plays to his strengths, allowing him to play comfortably over what could be an angry defense after giving up 35 points to Baltimore. Another turnover-filled performance and Week 3 could be a tenuous situation for Jackson.
Special Teams Was NOT Special; Injuries Hurt This Unit
The concern going into the season was whether or not Seattle could replace valuable veteran leadership on special teams. The unit's play was marginal through the fourth quarter, having to juggle the loss of co-captain Michael Robinson and rookie special teams ace Byron Maxwell to injuries throughout the game.
The two fourth quarter return touchdowns within a minute of each other was the result of a patchwork unit tiredly covering and simply not being able to make up for the loss of two of their best players. Unfortunately, Ginn had the type of game where it appeared he was primed for a big play and missed assignments by the Seahawks created the opportunities for him.
He was sharp with his cuts, often getting by the first defender with ease—Dexter Davis was his victim on a couple punt returns—and looked like a hungry veteran who just had his salary cut, which he did heading into the season.
On the first return, Earl Thomas was the player who appeared to lose outside containment and thus should have been the guy chasing Ginn down—the other side of the story when learning about Thomas' speed. On the second return, as noted earlier, Matt McCoy and Richard Sherman were both blocked from behind flat on their faces, no penalties called.
Seattle needs to remedy their problems on special teams in practice, finding who fits where without Maxwell and Robinson. Inexperience on special teams may be a problem for Seattle and it has already played a major role in the outcome of one game.
The Week Ahead
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In listening to Carroll's comments, it's clear he believes more time together will lead to growth. The issue for him is not if, but when; it's an answer he doesn't know . As per his comments before Week 1, this is a group he likes, a hardworking and serious team that wants to get better
I don't expect to see too many changes with the team, as Carroll believes that they need time to play together and gain continuity. I think the goal this week will be to appreciate the comeback attempt and harness the strong play of the second half.
But also, the Seahawks suffered from breakdowns and lack of true "teamwork" in the end versus the 49ers. The message is you lose as a team and learn as a team, everyone has to play their part and Carroll said during the Monday press conference that the message about finishing the whole 60 minutes was made clear to the players.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times tweeted this picture of a rope sitting in the Seahawks' auditorium. As described in this "quarterback controversy" article from earlier in the preseason, Pete Carroll introduced his "buy in" philosophy through a nighttime practice game of Tug-O-War in the Coliseum.
Carroll currently has a young team with a lot of fresh, hardworking faces. My guess is he'll do whatever is necessary to teach this team what needs fixing heading into Week 2. There is a lot of work to be done.