Preseason Preview: Seahawks at Broncos
(Note: Mike and I will both be indisposed for this game, me because of work and him because he forgot to pack a television and a couple miles of coax and extension cord for his camping trip. I’ve got my VCR set to record (yes, VCRs still exist), but the usual after-game notes post will be delayed until I can sit down and watch it. Until then, feel free to chime in below with your observations.)
There’s a very good chance that the quarterback competition will end tonight. Last week, both Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson lived up to their billing, Flynn as the calm, decisive West Coast passer, and Wilson as the flashy young highlight reel in the making. Pete Carroll might not come out and say it, but a strong showing from them versus Denver will likely secure their spots at the top of the depth chart, with Flynn being the favorite to win top honors. Wilson still has an opportunity this preseason to earn the starting job this preseason, but he’ll need some truly spectacular performances to leapfrog Flynn.
Of course, good news for those two is bad news for Tarvaris Jackson. I have to admit, I did not like Jackson when he came to Seattle last year. As a Viking, he was nicely mobile and he occasionally made some pro-quality throws, but mostly he was jumpy and made lots of bad decisions, and I expected more of the same in a Seahawks uniform.
Through the preseason and the first few weeks of the regular season, he did a lot to justify my low opinion of him, but then a funny thing happened. As the season wore on and the offensive line finally began to figure out how to pass protect, Jackson started to play like an NFL quarterback. He’s tough, he’s got a decent arm, he’s got one of the best quarterback ratings in the league in the red zone, and he’s a born leader. Really, once you get to know the guy, you can’t help but root for him. I know I do, and that’s something I never expected to hear myself say.
But despite that improvement, Jackson is never going to be mistaken for Drew Brees or Peyton Manning. When a play breaks down or the pass coverage is particularly stingy, he tends to freeze in place and take sacks he shouldn’t. He’s got enough velocity on his throws to rifle passes through tight windows, but rarely does so because he doesn’t anticipate openings well and is too cautious with the ball to attempt riskier throws like that. And then there’s his inability to stage a late game comeback, his interceptions, his much lower QB rating outside the red zone, etc.
In short, he bears a striking resemblance to Trent Dilfer, a thoroughly likeable guy whose understanding of the quarterback position far outstrips his ability to play it. Jackson is an average starter, but he would be an above-average backup option, and if Wilson hadn’t been drafted we might have seen Jackson get signed to an extension to play that role for a couple more seasons for the Seahawks. But he was drafted, and the better he performs in the preseason, the more likely it is that Jackson no longer has a place on the roster.
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The other big question mark on offense, wide receiver, still doesn’t have a clear answer. In the game against Tennessee, Braylon Edwards and Deon Butler made some nice catches, and Charly Martin and Lavasier Tuinei showed off some great blocking skills, but beyond that everyone else pretty much faded into the background. Granted, a lot of the problem can be blamed on the absence of Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin, but I expected to see a great deal more from the other guys on the roster.
That’s bad news for Ben Obomanu, Kris Durham, and Golden Tate (and even worse news for training camp standout Phil Bates); every second they spend not showing up on film is another opportunity for Edwards and Terrell Owens to replace them on the depth chart. Tonight, Owens will be getting the chance to play early and prove that he’s still got what it takes. Here’s hoping that the younger wideouts can prove they belong, too.
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At tight end, the question isn’t one of performance, but of injuries. It’s still too early to tell if Cameron Morrah’s hamstring issues or Zach Miller’s concussions are simply bad luck or a health problems that will recur with increasing frequency, but the possibility is there. Kellen Winslow, Jr. has surprised everyone by not missing a single game for the last three seasons, but his knee is the orthopedic equivalent of a time bomb. Anthony McCoy is relatively healthy and can block (note: I’m not terribly pleased with his blocking, but my opinion seems to be in the minority) but hiss receiving leaves much to be desired.
Put all that together, and Sean McGrath has a very, very strong shot at making the final roster. McGrath has reliable hands, he runs excellent routes, and from what I saw last Saturday his blocking is underrated (not perfect – he whiffed a time or two – but much better than advertised).
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The Seahawks’ offensive line can run block with the best of them, and tonight’s game should give us a good indication of what we can expect from them in pass protection. The Broncos’ defense has some definite weaknesses, but rushing the passer is not among them. In particular, be sure to watch the interior line to see how well the guards hold up.
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Last year, the Seahawks were able to field a top ten defense with an exceptional secondary unit and stout run defense. If they want to move into the top five, Chris Clemons cannot be the only guy who can rush the passer. All through training camp, we’ve heard about how unstoppable Bruce Irvin, Jason Jones, and Jaye Howard (and to a lesser extent Clinton McDonald, Gregg Scruggs, Cordarro Law, and Pierre Allen) have been at getting to the quarterback, but that means nothing if their successes in practice don’t translate to game day. Tennessee has a great offensive line, so there’s not necessarily any shame in getting stonewalled against them, but Denver gave up the tenth most sacks in the league in 2011. If we don’t see better results tonight, it’s time to start worrying.