SMQB: Seahawks 20, Chargers 14

Brian McIntyre of NorthwestFootball.net looks at what went well, and what went not so well, in the Seahawks' 20-14 win over the San Diego Chargers in the 2009 preseason opener.

Seattle Seahawks 20, San Diego Chargers 14
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California


Play Of The Day: Unable to get through left tackle L.J. Shelton, Seahawks defensive end Nick Reed read the eyes of Chargers quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and stepped in front off his pass intended for fourth-round running back Gartrell Johnson to come up with the interception. It was the second straight Chargers' drive to end with an interception in their own territory, and Reed's pick led to a Brandon Coutu field goal that gave the Seahawks a 10-point fourth quarter lead that they would not relinquish.

Handouts to the Standouts:  Reed. The seventh-round pick out of Oregon came up with two splash plays--the interception and a quarterback sack in the 3rd quarter--and his non-stop motor made him a constant presence in the Chargers' backfield. Reed certainly made a strong opening argument in his case for one the 53 spots on the ‘Hawks roster, but so did his competition.

Veteran Baraka Atkins' strip-sack of Whitehurst helped set up Seattle's second touchdown of the night and undrafted rookie defensive end Derek Walker, who recovered that fumble, added a sack of his own at the start of the 4th quarter. Another undrafted defensive end, 6-4, 271-pound Michael Bennett from Texas A&M, lined up at defensive tackle and posted a quarterback sack and made all three of his tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Seattle's first-team front seven played well in their one quarter of work, limiting Chargers running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles to 21 yards on 8 carries (2.6 ypc) and sacking Philip Rivers on the game's first play. Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane controlled the line of scrimmage and if there any questions about first-round linebacker Aaron Curry being up to handle the physical nature of the NFL, they got their answer when he took on Chargers tight end Brandon Manumaleuna in the hole and bent the 290-pounder backwards on a run play that was stuffed for no gain.

After a shaky start where he nearly got third-round wide receiver Deon Butler killed, back-up quarterback Seneca Wallace completed 8-of-12 passes for 40 yards and delivered a perfectly thrown pass to "blocking" tight end John Owens in the back of the end zone for Seattle's first touchdown of the pre-season. Owens doesn't figure to get many of those red-zone opportunities when the regular season starts, so it was nice to see him capitalize on one last night.

Punter Jon Ryan had a net average of 41.1 yards per punt, but his 77-yard punt at the end of the game was a definite highlight even if it did go into the end zone for a touchback. Punters with booming legs can change field position, and Ryan showed that capability last night.

Things That Made Me Go "Blech": Kevin Hobbs and Kelly Jennings, both battling for Seattle's fourth cornerback job, each gave up big plays in the passing game. Hobbs was the closest defender on the scene for a 32-yard play that led to the Chargers' first touchdown, and gave up a 41-yard pass to Craig Davis after Jon Ryan had pinned the Chargers deep in their own territory. Miscommunication in the secondary may have been the cause of the first play Hobbs is linked to, but that won't help his cause.

Jennings was in position to defend a 37-yard pass to Malcolm Floyd, but couldn't make the play. Jennings also whiffed on an opportunity to tackle Vincent Jackson, who outweighs Jennings by nearly 50 pounds. The former first-round pick did show off some out-muscling Craig Davis for inside position and intercepting a Whitehurst pass on third-and-three.

It's only the first game of the preseason, and they were playing without a Future Hall of Fame left tackle, but the Seahawks offensive line wasn't overly impressive on Saturday night. The Seahawks failed to convert an early short-yardage situation and there were too many negative run plays (4) that contributed to the poor 2.8 yards per carry the rushing offense produced. It wasn't all negative, though, as the line kept their quarterbacks clean and second-round center Max Unger got a lot of valuable experience at right guard and center.

Offense: It's the first preseason game and the Seahawks used all four of their quarterbacks, so Greg Knapp's charges deserve some slack for an offense that averaged just 3.7 yards per play, 2.8 yards per rush, and struggled on third-downs (5-of-15, 33%). Two of their four biggest plays of the night were enhanced by personal foul penalties by the Chargers.

Seattle needs to eliminate the negative runs and get more big plays out of the running game. Seattle's lone short-yardage attempt was stuffed for no gain, and their longest run of the night was a 9-yard carry by Justin Forsett, who ran hard all night, in the second quarter. All four of Seattle's running backs looked good, and fullback Owen Schmitt made a few nice lead blocks, particularly on Jones' 8-yard run on the ‘Hawks first offensive play

Seahawks quarterbacks completed 21-of-35 passes (60%) to 16 different receivers on Saturday night, which is the sort of completion percentage and distribution you like in August. One negative was, like in the ground game, the absence of big plays. Sixth-round quarterback Mike Teel hit Ben Obomanu for a 24-yard strike, Seattle's longest play of the night. Later in the third, Teel hit veteran Mike Hass for an 18-yard touchdown.

Obomanu led the ‘Hawks with 31 yards receiving on two receptions.   

Defense: Seattle's defense produced four sacks, three turnovers, and allowed the Chargers to convert on just 31% of their third-down opportunities, with one of those conversions coming via an illegal contact penalty against Ken Lucas.

Seahawks linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill looked good, combining to make 6 tackles with Tatupu and Deon Grant combining to thwart what should've been a successful third-down completion to Floyd. Aaron Curry had an up-and-down night, looking good against the run but getting a bit lost on a crossing route by Legedu Naanee that went for 14 yards on a 3rd-and-7 play. Curry got some reps at right defensive end, and while he didn't get a sack or hurry, he did show the speed and power that has the coaching staff convinced he can be a successful pass rusher in the NFL.   

Throughout the night, Seattle's front seven was solid against the run (55 yards on 21 carries, a 2.6 average) and their blitz packages put solid pressure on the Chargers' quarterbacks, with linebackers Will Herring and Lance Laury laying some heavy hits on Whitehurst on back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter. Surely that can be seen as an encouraging sign that Jim Mora and Gus Bradley can turn that to Curry and Hill laying heavy hits on Kurt Warner, Shaun Hill/Alex Smith, and Marc Bulger in the regular season.

Seattle's secondary played well early, but once starters Lucas, Josh Wilson, Grant, and Brian Russell left, the big plays started happening. Despite Jennings' interception, Chargers backup quarterbacks Billy Volek and Charlie Whitehurst went 23-of-41 for 315 yards and a touchdown against the Seattle's pass defense.

Special Teams: Punter Jon Ryan was the special teams' star of the night, Brandon Coutu looked and was good on both of his 38-yard field tries, while new long-snapper Kevin Houser delivered quick, accurate snaps each and every time.

The rest of Bruce DeHaven's unit has some work to do. As good as Ryan was, five of his eight punts were returned for 30 yards, lowering his net average. Jordan Kent was solid as a gunner, making an excellent tackle on a returnable 59-yard punt. Kent also forced one play that Logan Payne, who had been blocked rather effectively, made a tackle on.

Olindo Mare didn't dress for the preseason opener, so Coutu handled all of the kicking duties. He kicked off five times, and just one reaching the end zone. Touchbacks can be a real weapon, so Coutu will need to show he can put it in the end zone before taking a lead over Mare in the competition for that roster spot.

Third-round wide receiver Deon Butler was back returning kicks and punts, something he didn't do a lot of at Penn State. That inexperience showed, as Butler fair caught one punt at his own 6-yard line and stopped running during one kick return, two things a return man cannot do at the NFL level. Butler did fake out Steven Gregory on one punt inside his own 10-yard line, turning what should've been 1st-and-10 from the Seahawks' 5-yard line into a touchback and much better field position.

The Golden Microphone Award: Curt Menefee replaced Verne Lundquist in the booth, and he and Warren Moon sounded as though they'd been working together for years. As the host of FOX's studio show, Menefee is highly-skilled at setting up an analyst, which he did several times for Moon. Menefee's interviews with the Seahawks players was also top-notch, including getting T.J. Houshmandzadeh to confess that he wanted to go back into the game to go after Steven Gregory, who had laid a big hit on Butler earlier, because he didn't like how Gregory "got up and celebrated like he did something". Then again, Houshmandzadeh probably didn't need a lot of coaxing to come to the defense of a playing he's taken under his wing.

Random Note: Seattle is now 6-4 against the Chargers in preseason play.

Summary: Wins and losses are meaningless in the preseason (Detroit was undefeated last summer) but it's always good to get a win and it's even better to come out of a preseason game without any significant injuries. Matt Hasselbeck and Patrick Kerney looked good in their returns and both sides of the ball showed some new wrinkles that are sure to create some excitement this fall.

Next Week: Seattle hosts the Denver Broncos, their former AFC West rivals, at Qwest Field next Saturday night at 7:30pm PT.

In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre maintains his own blog and writes for FalconInsider.com on the Scout network. If you'd like to e-mail Brian, you may do so by clicking here.


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