SMQB: Seahawks 27, Broncos 13

Brian McIntyre of NorthwestFootball.net reviews the Seattle Seahawks' 27-13 win over the Denver Broncos on Saturday night.

Seattle Seahawks 27, Denver Broncos 13
Saturday, August 22, 2009

Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington 

     
Play Of The DayMatt Hasselbeck's two-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. What was so impressive about a six-foot play in the preseason? How about the way Houshmandzadeh sold the fade route, accelerating at just the right time to create separation between himself and Broncos cornerback Andre Goodman. Then there was the perfectly thrown ball by Hasselbeck, placed where only Houshmandzadeh could make the catch.

  Handouts to the Standouts: Hasselbeck was 16-of-23 for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns, posting a 120.0 passer rating in a full half of work. He was also sacked for the first time (ok, three times) this preseason, getting those crucial hits out of the way.

Deon Butler, the receiver not the kick returner, got the start at split end for an injured Nate Burleson and showed he could play with the big boys. First, he beats the aforementioned Goodman down the left sideline for a 34-yard touchdown, and he followed that by beating Champ Bailey for a 13-yard grab on 3rd-and-8. Butler also broke up what could've been an interception. As a receiver, Butler looks like a third-round steal.

Justin Forsett only had 18 yards rushing on 7 carries, but he added a team-high 7 receptions and 58 yards, with 41 of those yards coming on a pair of third-down screen passes. Forsett impressed in week one with his ability to pick up the blitz, and with his receiving effort last night, he's proving that he can be this team's third-down back.

We knew that Nick Reed has a non-stop motor and against San Diego, he even flashed some decent hands with an interception. So what would he do for an encore? How about combining his motor and hands to disrupt a punt, setting the ‘Hawks offense up with excellent field position that led to a 53-yard field goal by Brandon Coutu. Once again, Reed was all over the place, making 4 tackles, recording 1 ½ sacks and a forced fumble, and making it nearly impossible for the Seahawks to not find a place for him on the 53-man roster.

Second-team defense. We'll get to the first-team defense in due time, but the Seahawks' second-team defense held the Broncos to 74 yards on 34 plays (2.2 yards per play), sacked Broncos sixth-round quarterback Tom Brandstater four times, created four three-and-outs and forced a fumble on the second play of the Broncos' first drive in the second half. More than just the numbers, this unit appeared to play much faster and without the mental errors and missed tackles that plagued the starters.

Things That Made Me Go "Blech": I wrote in this week's game preview that "it would be unfair to expect Locklear to be ‘Walter Jones in his prime' good", but it's not unfair to be unimpressed with Locklear's performance tonight. When he wasn't being pushed around by 5-11, 260-pound Broncos linebacker Elvis Dumervil, he was slow to switch off blocks with Rob Sims and committed a false start penalty on a 3rd-and-3. Again, Locklear is being asked to fill shoes that are simply impossible to fill, so some slack needs to be given, but as far debuts go, Locklear as the left tackle for the foreseeable future got off to a pretty inauspicious beginning. If he had given Hasselbeck a half-second more on Kenny Peterson's sack, Hasselbeck would've had time to hit Houshmandzadeh, who had beaten his man on a deep crossing route.

Last week, the Broncos' run defense gave up 136 yards to the San Francisco 49ers. Tonight, the Seahawks' ground game mustered just 72 yards on 23 carries, a quarter of which coming via an 18-yard scramble by Seneca Wallace, who led the Seahawks with 20 yards on the ground. Ok, so Walter Jones was out and Julius Jones didn't get a carry, but this ground game isn't predicated on a Hall of Fame left tackle or starting running back.

Denver didn't bring their first-round running back or Pro Bowl wide receiver with them to Seattle, so how exactly did Kyle Orton and Co. rack up 208 yards of total offense in the first-half?

Offense: When Greg Knapp took over as offensive coordinator, he was to bring balance and a run-first mentality to the offense. After struggling to run the ball last week against San Diego, it's surprising that 10 of the Seahawks' first 13 plays were passes, including a razzle-dazzle play where Deion Branch threw a pass to Butler.

Julius Jones didn't play, which may have played a factor in the pass-heavy play-calling, but the ‘Hawks lack of depth at the position is providing a glimpse of what the Seahawks will have to do to move the ball if Jones were to get injured in the regular season. T.J. Duckett isn't nearly as effective running laterally and he doesn't appear to have the speed to reach the edge on the toss plays that are to be a staple of Seattle's ground attacks. Forsett has that speed, and his lower center of gravity makes him harder to bring down, so he may be a better option as the #2 running back behind Jones.

Seattle's starting receivers Houshmandzadeh and Butler combined for 7 catches, 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns, which combined with Burleson and Branch, gives Seattle an impressive quartet of wideouts. Courtney Taylor was the only other receiver to catch a pass, making a nice adjustment on the ball to convert on a 4th-and-2 play on Seattle's second scoring drive. Tight end John Carlson had 21 yards on two catches, but for the second week in a row, it's apparent that he and Hasselbeck still need work on their communication. Backup tight end Joe Newton continued to put some separation between himself and Cam Morrah, making an acrobatic catch for a 1-yard touchdown from Wallace in the third quarter.

Seattle's offensive line was delivered a blow when center Chris Spencer left the game with a quadriceps injury during Forsett's 30-yard catch-and-run. Seattle's first and second offensive lines yielded three sacks, though one should be credited to the Broncos' secondary. Second-round center/guard Max Unger was a workhorse again, logging 44 snaps at right and left guard.   

Defense: It was a "Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss" night, as far too often the Seahawks' first-team defense looked as hapless as they did in 2008. The pass rush couldn't get near Kyle Orton, except of course, when the Broncos line let them on one of the many screen passes that Seattle appeared unable to defend. Seattle played well against the run (31 yards on 11 carries), but there were far too many missed tackles and blown assignments from what's supposed to be the strength of this team.

Three players on the first-team defense who did distinguish themselves were Corey Redding, Darryl Tapp, and Ken Lucas, whose heady interception in the end zone improved the team's field position for their late second quarter touchdown drive.

Seattle's second-team defense was dominant, forcing four three-and-outs and sacking Broncos quarterback Tom Brandstater four times. But for two untimely penalties, a 15-yard personal foul on Reed and a defensive holding call on Baraka Atkins, the backup defense would've pitched a shutout.

Reed's prowess has been covered, so it's time to shine some light on Red Bryant and Michael Bennett, a pair of young defensive tackles from Texas A&M who are doing outstanding jobs this summer. Bryant's size makes him an ideal backup to Colin Cole at the nose, while Bennett's size, athleticism and violent style of play has him looking like Corey Redding, Jr. Seahawks backup linebacker Will Herring played very well last night, with three tackles for a loss and recovering a fumble on a punt return. Cornerback Kelly Jennings also played well, breaking up a pass and forcing a fumble on a tight end that outweighs by 75 pounds.

Special TeamsOlindo Mare kicked the extra point after the touchdown on the opening drive and handled the ensuing kickoff before giving way to Brandon Coutu for the rest of the night. Coutu was 2-for-2 on field goals, showing plenty of leg while nailing a 52-yard attempt towards the south end zone. He also had decent depth on three of his four non-squib kicks, though the deepest he put the ball was the Denver 3-yard line.

Punter Jon Ryan had another outstanding game, finishing with a 41.3 yard net average and putting three punts inside the Broncos' 20-yard line.

Auditions for the kick and punt return jobs continued, with "The Surprising Adventures of Deon Butler" on kick returns and Ben Obomanu, Michael Bumpus, and '08 return man Forsett handling punts. Butler muffed one kick before breaking off for 37 yards, but on two of his four returns, he couldn't get the ball back to the 20-yard line. Some of the struggles in the kick return game can be attributed to poor blocking, perhaps with the players still adjusting to the two-man wedge, but some of it needs to fall on Butler, who as a return man is still "green as grass" as Mike Holmgren might say.

Obomanu, who is fighting for one of the final receiver spots that are likely to be determined by special teams play, got an extended look as a punt returner, averaged 4.7 yards per return and failed to waive for a fair catch on one punt he shouldn't have tried to return. Bumpus had seven yards on his one return and Forsett gained six on his lone attempt.

Seattle's coverage units played well, with C.J. Wallace forcing a fumble on a punt return, Jordan Kent making a nice open-field tackle at the Denver 10-yard line on a late fourth-quarter punt, and Courtney Greene knocking Broncos cornerback Alphonso Smith (who'll forever be linked to whoever the Seahawks take with the Broncos' first-round pick next April) out of the game with a "lower extremity injury" during a third quarter kick return. Seahawks undrafted rookie running back Devin Moore added a pair of special teams tackles and linebacker David Hawthorne was routinely the first guy downfield on kickoffs.    

Random Note: This was Seattle's first ever preseason victory over the Denver Broncos.

Summary: Let last night be Exhibit A in the case against shortening the preseason. While the Seahawks had success in the passing game, it's clear that they still have some work to do in that department and in the run game, which isn't anywhere near where it needs to be for this team to reclaim the NFC West. Defensively, the Seahawks' first-unit was lethargic and sloppy, both physically and mentally, which is almost inexcusable considering where they were playing, against whom they were playing (and who the Broncos were playing without) and with all the money and high draft picks used to boost that side of the ball. If the Seahawks are relying on their defense to win this season, last night was an ominous sign.

Minor injuries kept Julius Jones, Burleson, and first-round linebacker Aaron Curry on the sidelines, and this morning we're left to wonder about the health of center Chris Spencer and defensive tackle Craig Terrill, who both left the game with injuries, as well as Kelly Jennings, who appeared to jam his right shoulder into the turf.

Next Week: The 2-0 Seahawks have a couple of days to rest up before returning to practice on Tuesday. On Saturday, they'll visit a recently renovated Arrowhead Stadium to face Todd Haley, Matt Cassel and the Kansas City Chiefs, which will be the third week in a row where the ‘Hawks face a 3-4 defense.

In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football 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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