So the Seahawks opened the season with a 17-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers? I’m unfazed. You hear me? My emotions are totally in check. I didn’t freak out at all. SO WHAT? Is what I would say, calmly and rationally if you were to ask me about this game in person.
Okay, I might have gotten worked up during the game, but I refuse to freak out after a hard fought loss on the road to a really good opponent who benefitted from some true nonsense in the flow of the game. Instead, I’m calmly and rationally going to say that despite the loss to the Packers the Seahawks are still going to win the damn Super Bowl.
That’s right. In defeat the Seahawks showed me enough to make me even more sure that they should be the NFL’s Super Bowl favorites. Why?
Let’s start with the obviously good: the Seahawks defense. Coming into this preseason I had some questions for the defense. Namely, with some of the superstars on the squad getting older and coming back from serious injuries, was there a case to be made that the unit was at risk of serious regression? Defensive effectiveness usually varies wildly season to season, but over Pete Carroll’s tenure as head coach, as long as Earl Thomas has been on the field we’ve been consistently spectacular. In order to keep that going we need Thomas to look great and a few new people to step up.
Well we got that today. First of all, Earl Thomas was somehow faster than he’s ever been, filling holes in the running game and playing his trademark center field. The only time he was beat all day was when he was providing help for Bobby Wagner on Jordy Nelson on some Aaron Rodgers trickeration that we were doomed to get beat on. Otherwise Thomas showed no lingering ill-effects from his broken leg. Thomas is at full capacity, meaning the defense has every chance of being a very good unit.
But in order to be a great unit, guys will need to step up. And we had three in particular do that today. The first was obvious: newly acquired defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was a monster. He made huge hits in the run game, and was capable of pressuring a QB as elusive as Rodgers both by collapsing the center of the pocket and from bending around the outside of the pocket. What’s it like to have two Michael Bennetts on the field? Only one of them is an even more freakish athlete than Bennett? Well now we know, and the results are superb.
Also crucial was the play of our two young cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Shaquill Griffin. Both were challenged often by Rodgers, especially after Jeremy Lane was ejected from the game for the heinous sin of getting dragged to the ground by his facemask. Coleman was fine, which, given that he’s a fourth corner pressed into service on the road against Aaron Rodgers with a week of practice, is way good. Griffin was better than fine, with a few exceptional pass break ups on Jordy Nelson. Was Griffin Richard Sherman 2.0? No. But he looks to be the sort of quality cornerback that can do enough to fit into an otherwise stellar defensive unit.
Finally, all praise to rookie defensive tackle Nazir Jones, who had an early interception returned for a tackle turned into a mere interception due to two ghost penalties. Jones also came up with a few stops in the run game, replacing dearly departed Ahtyba Rubin. With Naz clicking alongside Jarran Reed, and Richardson, the Packers really couldn’t get anything going in their run game.
In all the defense was great. 17 points is more than they would have liked to given up, but given that the two touchdowns came after a fumble left Green Bay with an extremely short field, and on the aforementioned Aaron Rodgers tricky quick snap, there’s not much to complain about. Add in the brutal non-TD, and it was nearly a banner day for a Seahawks defense I expect will prove to be the best in the league by year’s end. If everyone stays healthy and coalesces as the year goes on? This could be a top-20 all-time defense.
TL;DR on the really good stuff? Aaron Rodgers is great, but so is the Seattle defense, and they largely played to a draw, so stop freaking out.
The less obviously good was Russell Wilson. He missed on one big throw early to Tyler Lockett that could have broken the game open, but otherwise did the best he could given the obscene lack of protection he had and a few big dumb calls not going our team’s way. He ran when he had to, and made no egregiously bad decisions. His one turnover came on a strip sack from a defensive tackle somehow getting guard Luke Joeckel into a position where he could bend him like Cliff Avril bends tackles. It was a weird play, and the result was weird and not at all Wilson’s fault.
Also, while we’re talking about small good things from Sunday’s game, let’s talk new kicker Blair Walsh. He was fine! Which for a kicker is great! Also great? Punter Jon Ryan! Special teams as a whole played really well for Seattle, which is great as they were uncharacteristically middling last year. Also fine were running back Chris Carson and receiver Paul Richardson whom I expect will have big impacts for the team going forward.
So what was bad? Hmmm… can I pinpoint one thing? One particular Seahawks unit that wasn’t good? Hmmmmmmm. Well…
Okay, let’s talk about the offensive line. Wilson’s protection? Awful. Abysmal. Even worse? The running game could get no consistent purchase against a good but unexceptional Green Bay front. We Seahawks fans have grown used to poor offensive line play, but this was extreme. At the beginning of the game it looked like the problem was the tackles, Germain Ifedi and Rees Odhiambo who were both dominated in such a humiliating fashion they should consider writing Dan Savage this week to discuss how to play that way safely. Then things got worse inside with Packers tackle Mike Daniels eviscerating our guards at will. Justin Britt was the best offensive lineman we had, but he didn’t get much push in the run game, he just didn’t fail quite as obviously as the rest of them did.
Whatever the Seahawks are doing in terms of scouting and developing offensive linemen isn’t working. There are no excuses anymore. They have had the resources to make things better with three top picks, an extension for Justin Britt and a big free agent contract for Joeckel. My instinct is to blame Tom Cable, but because it’s his job and because he’s a repugnant human being. That said, if the team is sure that he’s not the problem, they should figure out who is the problem and remove them from the coaching room/front office.
Also awful? The refereeing on Sunday. The Jones touchdown was the most egregious example, but another handful of crucial calls went against the Seahawks. This is more or less to be expected when playing in Green Bay, but that doesn’t make the situation any less frustrating. It’s hard enough to win in Green Bay under the best of circumstances. When the refs are taking points off the board on specious grounds, it’s nearly impossible.
Which again, is why I think this Seahawks team is still really good. They need to figure out how to work with or around this offensive line for the fourth year in a row. Otherwise? This is as talented a roster as they’ve had in a longtime. And if we have to play in Green Bay again, I would imagine it’ll be for a berth in the Super Bowl. Frankly? I think we’ll be able to manufacture a different result that time.