Quick Hits: Seahawks 20, Buccaneers 6

It's been a while since the Seahawks looked anywhere near strong in an opening game, but they managed to do so after a very iffy beginning. Doug Farrar reviews the highs and lows of Seattle's first win of the 2007 with these "Quick Hits".

Quick Hits - Seahawks 20. Buccaneers 6

Last season, the Seahawks beat the Detroit Lions, 9-6 in their opening game, returning to the scene of the crime at Ford Field and laying several dinosaur eggs on both offense and defense. It was an ugly win in which Seattle couldn't find the end zone with a map and were dominated by Detroit's interior line. In that game, they looked every bit the 9-7 team they would eventually become.

In 2005, the Seahawks opened their season with a discouraging 26-14 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, in which they received a lesson in underestimating old receivers from Jimmy Smith, and another lesson in defensive interior dominance from Jags monster tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. In that game, they looked nothing at all like the 13-3 Super Bowl team they would eventually become. 

The moral? Opening games tell us a little bit about the teams we follow, and not a great deal more. Still, here are a few things I took away from the Seahawks' 20-6 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

  1. Meet the New Boss (Same as the Old Boss): Eight solo tackles. Two forced fumbles. His tattoo all over the ribs of Cadillac Williams, At least one stopped third-down conversion. Lofa Tatupu, far more than last year and at a level that this defense will require all season, looked free and easy, disrupting every which way as opposed to sitting and waiting for blocks to be shed and holes to open up. In 2006, Lofa seemed tentative and reactive too often, as part of the Seattle coaching staff's apparent mission to make ALL their linebackers do things they weren't built to do. On this day. Tatupu did it all well. This guy is a Lamborghini engine attached to a brick outhouse, and God help you if you get in his way. Any questions? Ask Cadillac Williams.
  1. Slow Start, Good Finish. The Seahawks could only manage 21 yards of offense in the first quarter. They looked jittery, as if they were afraid to let plays develop behind an offensive line they couldn't trust. While this line still isn't a patch on the 2005 version, there seems to be more to is than there was in 2006. Through the second half, things started to slow down in Matt Hasselbeck's hands, opportunities presented themselves, and the Seattle offense looked like the one we're used to seeing. Shaun Alexander rushed for 105 yards on 27 carries, and he did so while looking like the Shaun of old - occasionally fretting maddeningly behind the line of scrimmage for negligible gains, then breaking out for beautiful runs when needed.  And speaking of running backs…
  1. Is the Screen Back? After two seasons of "Screen? What Screen?" and Alexander's receptions declining every year since 2002, the Seahawks made a concerted effort to get the ball to their backs through the air much more often in 2007. It was a tough go at first, but Alexander, Mack Strong, and Maurice Morris all caught passes in this game. Six receptions for 67 yards and the only receiving touchdown (by Morris in the fourth quarter) - those stats have to make Hasselbeck feel good. It really helps a quarterback to have those bail-out options to his primary side, and the Seahawks might just have that ready for their quarterback this season. Now, if they can just clean up the drops a bit…
  1. Deion Branch's MasterCard Commercial.

Your new top receiver: $39 million over six years, at least $13 million guaranteed, and your 2007 first-round draft pick.

Watching your new top receiver, after working out all the kinks with his new team and being switched to his preferred position, not catch a single pass in the opening game: Apparently, priceless.

  1. The Other Guys: Nate Burleson set up Seattle's first touchdown with a 56-yard punt return in the second quarter, though his returns were very boom-or-bust in terms of productivity. D.J. Hackett left the game early with an ankle injury. Bobby Engram was Mr. Reliable, leading all Seattle receivers with 63 yards on 3 catches, and Marcus Pollard caught five tight passes for 43 yards. I'm thinking that Tim Ruskell will be watching tomorrow night's Arizona-San Francisco game hoping that Darrell Jackson doesn't have a 10-catch, 150-yard performance.
  1. DEEEEEEE-Fense!: We're taught to believe that defense will generally out-perform offense early in the season, and this played out for Seattle. The defense was a swirling, whirling cavalcade of quarterback whupass at its best, knocking Jeff Garcia into next Sunday on a Julian Peterson/Leroy Hill sandwich and sacking Tampa Bay quarterbacks five times. The Bucs were limited to 4 of 12 third-down conversions, 90 yards rushing and 3.9 yards per rushing play - the latter two numbers obviously being a concern for the Tubbs-less version of the defense. If they can maintain this level of intensity all season, the team will be in very good shape. It will be especially important over the first few weeks of the season, as Mike Holmgren's Seattle offenses always seem to take a few games to round into shape.
  1. A "Large Whistle?" Well, yes. Late in the third quarter, Tampa Bay punter Josh Bidwell was set to punt, when everything stopped. After talking to both coaches, head official Larry Nemmers made a ruling that the play would be a do-over because someone was confused by a "large whistle" blown in the Qwest Field stands. Nemmers' crew also refused to call Alexander's first foray into the end zone a touchdown (apparently, Shaun's shin does not resemble a football), but in the grand scheme of things. Nemmers and his bunch were no goofier than any other crew.

All in all, a solid win. This team, as it played today, will not go to the Super Bowl - in fact, they might not break the conservative win projections that many have for them. But it is a start, and it was a far more solid performance than we have seen from this team in an opener in a while. Now, it's on to Arizona, and a meeting with the Cardinals next Sunday.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007. Feel free to e-mail him here.

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