SMQB - "Setting 'Em Straight!"

After an impressive showing in Green Bay and a less than dominant performance against Denver, the Seahawks traveled to San Diego in search of the team that so many have predicted great things for. Mission accomplished?

Friday, August 27, 2004
Seattle Seahawks 26, San Diego Chargers 20
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California

Although the concept of a “revenge performance” seems a bit much in the preseason, you had to think that the Seattle Seahawks were looking to redeem themselves after the horrid “thwack!” delivered to them by the Denver Broncos last week in a 19-3 yuck-fest. And with Seattle’s starters set to play the entire first half against a team that had the first pick in the 2004 NFL draft, the San Diego Chargers might have felt like the unlucky recipients of Seahawk momentum. The first half was everything a Hawk fan could hope for, but the Chargers showed spirit and fire, coming back in the second half (albeit against the second unit and quite a few guys who played their last game in a Seahawk uniform) to make the game look closer on the scoreboard than it was on the field.

Still, this was the first consistent 2004 sighting of the Seahawk Offense Of Doom, as well as a few new wrinkles on the defense. And a pretty sight it was…

Offense (First Half – A, Second Half - Incomplete): Wow. Short of a couple deep throws by Matt Hasselbeck that just missed their mark and a sack/fumble combo to end the first half, the starters played an opening thirty minutes that was about as perfect as could be expected in the third game of the preseason. What the Seahawks showed the Chargers tonight was what they showed several teams last year…when this offense is firing on all cylinders, it’s nearly impossible to stop.

Hass, for his part, continues to show the accuracy, maturity and pocket presence that were the hallmarks of the quantum leap he took in 2003. There were some rusty moments when the timing wasn’t quite all there, but overall, Hass and Mike Holmgren have to be very encouraged with this effort.

The quarterback certainly knows how to spread it around – Hasselbeck hit eight different receivers in a little more than one half. Koren Robinson (who led all takers with 5 catches for 59 yards) looks like a completely different WR than the somewhat inconsistent player we saw in 2003. He can take on a team’s better DBs, isn’t afraid of contact, and has been one of the key players who seems to “get” the new sense of mission that started in training camp. Darrell Jackson caught the ‘Hawks’ first TD of the night (set up by a Ken Lucas INT) when he came back in the end zone to grab a tipped pass. So far, this is NOT the WR unit that dropped an infuriating number of easy catches last season.

RB Shaun Alexander ran well (62 yards on 15 carries in the first half) behind an offensive line that provided good protection despite the absence of tackles Walter Jones and Chris Terry. All in all, the first half showed why this offense is everything it’s cracked up to be.

Unfortunately, the second half showed why it’s a very good idea NOT to count preseason games in the standings – with the starters gone, QB Trent Dilfer (seeing his first action of 2004) and the second and third units did little more than mark time.

Defense (First Half – B+, Second Half - Incomplete): There was little doubt among the observers in Cheney that CB Ken Lucas was the star of training camp. There’s been NO doubt that Lucas has carried this excellence into the preseason. After some very impressive pass defenses in Green Bay and a solid performance at home against the Broncos, Lucas hit the motherlode with a 44-yard interception return of a Drew Brees pass on the game’s first play. Good news? Lucas wound up in the end zone. Bad news? An illegal block penalty nullified the touchdown. Still, this is a guy who wound up sharing reps with Shawn Springs last year and was expected to be the nickel corner this season with the team’s acquisition of Bobby Taylor. That plan was altered as Lucas played himself into an undeniable starting role. Look for big things from #21 this season – quarterbacks, you have been warned. CB Marcus Trufant and S Ken Hamlin also grabbed picks in this game (both from Charger QB Philip Rivers, making his NFL debut) to continue the momentum of their fine 2003 rookie campaigns. All three Seahawk sacks (by Rocky Bernard, Anthony Simmons and Anton Palepoi) were predicated by fine coverage.

The star of this game, however, may have been Simmons. With the Chad Brown injury and the game of musical chairs going on at MLB, not much has been heard from #51…until now. Simmons not only pursued relentlessly and grabbed a sack, he also single-handedly came up with a defining play of the game – the MacKenzie Hoambrecker field goal attempt that Simmons blocked, recovered and ran back for a 67-yard touchdown. Just a reminder of what this guy can do…and hopefully a portent of a Pro Bowl season for Mr. Simmons.

The aforementioned MLB Derby saw its third and final contestant in fourth-round pick Niko Koutouvides. Koutouvides showed a couple of very encouraging traits –he has a fine instinct for pursuit and he has the size and aggressiveness to shed blocks, blow up the occasional fullback and stop his man. While I can’t see Koutouvides flying above Solomon Bates and Orlando Huff in the depth chart just yet, he certainly didn’t hurt his case in his starting debut.

Another position competition doesn’t seem to be quite as hard to suss out – Chad Brown’s replacement until DD Lewis returns from his injured shoulder. Tracy White used his speed to lead the team in tackles and deflect a touchdown pass, while Isaiah Kacyvenski just flat-out whiffed a tackle on Charger RB Jesse Chatman. If Kacyvenski wasn’t a special teams…erm…specialist, he might be looking at a late cut. So far, White’s performance this preseason has certainly put him in the lead.

Overall, the 2004 version of the Seahawks defense seems to be defined by a few new factors – speed, aggressiveness, and the instinct to go for the man with the ball rather than hanging back, “reading and reacting” and getting burned too often in Hesitation Mode. It is a young defense and it will get fooled (even the first-team defense seems out of place at times when adjusting to pre-snap shifts), but there is enough talent to overcome much of this. Is it possible that Ray Rhodes needed quicker players before he could implement his schemes to their greatest effect? Too many square pegs in too many round holes? Quite possibly. What we do know is that it will take a top ten defense for this team to be in it next January. With DE Grant Wistrom set to practice for the first time this week and DT Marcus Tubbs getting himself into shape after a late start, the defense seems to be getting ready to define itself.

Special Teams: A decent overall effort, but there’s enough here for Coach Holmgren to keep his yelling in shape. Josh Brown missed an extra point late in the second quarter, and the team was offsides twice on kickoffs. Brown redeemed himself by nailing field goals from 50 and 52 yards, and the Simmons blocked field goal and score was a stellar individual effort.

Summary: It’s always dicey to take too much away from any preseason game, good or bad. But for one magic half of football, the Seahawks showed just about everything they’re capable of. The first cuts (to pare the roster down to 65) happen on the 31st, and the final preseason game finds the Minnesota Vikings coming to Qwest Field next Thursday, September 2.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. You can reach him at doug@seahawks.net.


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