With the return of Pete Carroll to the NFL coaching ranks, much was made over the summer debating whether or not he can make the leap back after coaching the USC Trojans. If you asked the members of the San Francisco 49ers this week, they might suggest that so far, it hasn’t been a problem for him. After destroying SF 31-6, Seattle is off to a good start. Considering that the first play of the game was a sack of Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle quickly settled in and made the plays when they needed to on both offense and defense. Denver fans will note the pattern that was fast to show itself - SF moved the ball well down the field, but couldn’t punch it into the end zone. San Fran played a mistake-ridden game, and Seattle had less, but managed to rack up a few of their own, starting with the first play of the game. Matt Hasselbeck threw an INT when Nate Clement, SF CB, jumped a route and brought in the ball.
Seattle took a while to get their game in gear, but later in the second quarter, they found the traction that they’d been missing and started to put points on the board. While SF had stalked down the field only to have their red-zone chances blown, from 49er Josh Morgan’s almost-TD catch (his feet were out of bounds), to a missed fullback block that would have sprung Frank Gore for the first down on 4th-and-short inside the 20. Both mistakes created field goals out of touchdowns. That gave Seattle the chance in the last 4 minutes of the half to finally get things going.
After receiving the kickoff following the SF FG, they drove the ball downfield for 86 yards and a TD. SF got the ball back with plenty of time on the clock, but on 3rd-down-and-5, Michael Crabtree ran the wrong route and the ball was grabbed for an INT. Seattle only took 2 plays to score again and went into the half leading 14-6.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the game was that Tyler Polumbus did give up a sack, but looked surprisingly good for much of the game, which may also say something about how SF played that day. Seattle also pushed the SF offensive line around like a batch of schoolyard bullies. SF just had one of those days - it was so bad that Mike Singletary thanked the Seahawks for kicking their butts so thoroughly that there was no getting around the fact that SF played terrible. It gives the coaches lots of film to go though and find exactly who was out of position, out of gas or just out of it during the game. In a way, I can see his point. It’s hard to find something good in a smackdown like that, but you have a week to start looking at the problems and starting to implement solutions.
Matt Hasselbeck played a very nice game and walked out of it with a QB rating of 108.3. However, he only managed 170 yards passing. Much of the Seattle production was from the multiple mistakes that the 49ers kept making. They did achieve consistency - unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind that you want. Unless you’re playing them, in which case, you like their consistency just fine.
By the way, it might surprise folks, but Jeremy Bates is running a very different kind of passing/rushing offense than he did in Denver. Perhaps he learned some lessons there. His bread and butter is a 4-wideout formation that uses an under/over to create spaces for Hasselbeck to fill. Like any NFL team, though, they mix in almost everything. Against SF, they used a 3-TE spread (which seems to be becoming increasingly popular around the league), a single WR on a go route with everyone else faking the run. They also showed a fondness for trips packages, and both ran passes and rushed off of them. Bates looks like a very different coordinator than the one who was invited to leave Denver. I’d bet that he’s thought more than once about how to even the score, figuratively and literally.
Justin Forsett is the lead running back for the Seahawks and he accumulated 43 yards rushing during the game, while returning 3 kicks for a total of 15 yards, with a long run of 12. As is true each year in some degree or another, the Broncos aren’t the only team with RB issues. Forsett isn’t that big, but he’s very fast. Julius Jones is next in line, and he’s a similar player - not that big, but very quick. Seattle has struggled to find the right guys - and they even brought in and quickly tossed LenDale White, who was a RB under Pete Carroll at USC. It’s fair to say that this is not a vote of confidence in White, but that’s a non-issue this year, since he’s both recovering from an injury and serving out his suspension. Nice to get a two-for-one, at least. We’ll see if we have football in 2011, and if we do, if White can come to OTAs in playing shape. That’s long been a problem for him. You could say that it’s been a ‘sizable’ problem for him.
Mike Williams was out of football for two years, but Pete Carroll has brought him back and he’s already showing some production even though he did have two drops - two years away from the game does tend to collect some rust on you, but he’s the kind of big-play guy that Seattle has needed. He contributed 4 catches for 64 yards and a 16.0 YPR. In this case, Denver will probably keep a close Champ on Williams, but Andre’ Goodman has been excellent in coverage as well, and Nate Jones plays the nickel well. Perrish Cox has also been playing well, so the Denver secondary is currently in good shape.
One thing that stood out to me was that Seattle has publicly said that they want to get away from the passing game and move to more of a run-based system. It’s tough timing that just as they made that decision, Alex Gibbs decided to move to a new place in his life - he’s as good as they come when coaching the ZB scheme. Even more startling was that Seattle only made 77 total yards rushing, and Forsett only had 43 of them. That’s not much of a running game, but as Denver fans know - you can’t remake a team overnight.
Are there cracks in the Seahawks’ armor? Absolutely. Can Denver take advantage of them? Sure - if they keep from following in SF’s footsteps and giving away the kinds of gifts that turnovers and mistakes create when you’re trying to win a football game.
The first crack in the wall is obvious - Russell Okung has a high ankle sprain and he’ll be temporarily replaced by Tyler Polumbus. Chester Pitts was his understudy, but he is recovering from a microfracture procedure on one of his knees. Tyler is an old Colorado alumnus, seems like a very nice guy and played left tackle in college. His transition to RT to cover for Ryan Harris was a disaster, and when he covered LT for Ryan Clady in preseason, he didn’t look any better. Left guard Mike Gibson missed half the SF game with back trouble - he’s expected back, but Seattle is hedging its bets by bringing in Mansfield Wrotto as a backup.
He did do a much better job against SF than many (and I’m looking in the mirror here) expected. However - the Seahawks offensive line can be had. This would be a very good time for the Denver front 7 to show how well they can play - it could be the difference between winning and losing our home opener. Ben Hamilton may be moving into the RG position due to an injury, and he may also be sharpening his knives as Denver prepares for the Seahawks to come to town. Seattle runs a ZB scheme, even though zone-blocking guru Alex Gibb just quit - a circumstance that several teams, including Denver, have gotten to experience. At least both Hamilton and Polumbus will be playing a ZB scheme again, and that may help them as players. Right guard Max Unger is done for the season: he’s been placed on injured reserve with a left toe injury, making room for Hamilton.
One of the other cracks in Seattle’s armor surprised me. I haven’t keep close track of all the draft picks from the last two years, and I was taken aback when I read repeatedly in Field Gulls that Aaron Curry has been a huge disappointment to Seattle. That’s just their opinion, I grant you, but they had quite a few plays to show exactly why they aren’t thrilled with him. If I recall, one of the things about the 2009 Draft was the lack of real, true, first-round players - although he’s coming around somewhat, the kind of $$$ that KC laid out for Tyson Jackson is an example - there were no real top-drawer 5-techniques that year, and danged few high-quality defensive line players (a fact that was made up for in 2010). Curry was touted as the best LB in a decade, but the Field Gulls writers don’t seem to agree. Lofa Tatupu is playing well, as usual, however. Linebacker David Hawthorne (who has been battling back problems) also should be ready to play on Sunday.
When it comes right down to it, Denver has a lot of advantages for this game. Our run defense hasn’t been impressive - Seattle’s run offense has been downright quiescent. Seattle’s OL is very vulnerable - in theory - and Denver might take this opportunity to prove that the moves made in the offseason were well-placed. Demaryius Thomas should be able to play his first NFL game in his home field with 75,000 or so screaming fans cheering him on - if he claims that he doesn’t get goose bumps from it, I’d doubt him.
Kyle Orton is currently tied for the league lead on passes of 25 yards or more with 6 - Thomas, Royal, Gaffney and Lloyd may push that number much higher for him this weekend. It’s too early to say whether or not Orton has made the kind of leap that he made in his first year in Denver over the year before in Chicago, but there’s little question that he is capable of making a lot of the throws that he was constantly accused of not being able to make. What it all comes down to will be the lines. If Orton has time to set up and throw, and the OL opens some holes for the running game, Denver could walk out at the end of the day with a 1-1 record and the good feeling of a win under their belt.
It’s another game that may be won or lost in the trenches, and this is where Denver has a large advantage on defense and a serious problem on offense. The first year that Ryan Clady played in Denver, I was stunned. Not so much by his size, agility and skill, not that those weren’t remarkable in their own right. No, I was stunned because a rookie lineman could have the kind of year that he had, eventually setting an NFL record for consecutive games to start a career without allowing a full sack (20 games). JD Walton did a good job for a rookie playing his first game at center. Zane Beadles was beaten several times, but as a rookie playing a position that he was essentially unfamiliar with (At times, they had him playing RT for the scout team, just to give him the feel for it during training camp). LG Stanley Daniels also was schooled at times, but showed the ability to move on to the next play without letting a mistake break his concentration. And, Dan Gronkowski, the newest Bronco right now, did a nice job of blocking and caught a 2-yard pass the only time he was targeted.
So, there it is. It’s kind of odd to say this early, but this, while not a ‘must win’, is certainly a ‘should win’ for Denver. Seattle’s weakness is similar to ours, but our front 7 should be better than theirs. That may be what the game comes down to. We need to get the running game going - that will require the OL to step up. The passing game is starting to meld - the veterans last week played well, and should again this week. If we win the tussle in the trenches, Orton has enough time to throw, Hasselbeck won’t, and we win the game. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Let’s make enough noise that they hear it back in Seattle.