What were you expecting? Preseason edition: Game 1, Broncos

DK Metcalf is as bad as you thought he’d be. Rashaad Penny is still a bust. Jason Myers’ 2018 was a fluke. Pass rush is screwed.

Preseason games have a unique ability to make every NFL team look like they’ll be watching the playoffs from home, and if we only had the first quarter of Thursday’s game there would be a cloud of hopelessness in Seattle right now. We’re here to match expectations headed into each game with what the results actually teach us. For the most part, these four August games are about managing expectations and finding which performances have any bearing on the upcoming season, and which ones don’t teach us anything.

Unmet Expectations

First, DK Metcalf. The wide receiver corps as a whole. Geno Smith. If you just tuned in to paying attention to the 2019 Seahawks, I envy you. You possess none of the confusion that most the rest of us are sitting with following Thursday’s contest. The reports coming from all over the place were that Paxton Lynch was getting murdered by Geno. I’ve seen them both throw in person this month and I agreed. It didn’t even look close.

But then an opponent showed up. Smith was so bad in the first half that it doesn’t really feel fair to evaluate the receivers involved in most of the plays where he was involved. Meanwhile, as awkward as it is to write this, Paxton Lynch looked like the best backup QB Seattle has had since…Russell Wilson I guess.

What this means is that we really didn’t learn anything with real certainty about a single Seahawks receiver, save maybe Jazz Ferguson. Gary Jennings going 0-2 is not good, and Metcalf 1-4 is unfortunate, but Smith was worse. He showed an impressive ability to turn open receivers into near pick-six victims.

So without Wilson or a hopefully-better-than-what-we-saw offensive line, figuring out this year’s most interesting position group is like trying to figure out which lane of i-5 is better leaving Seattle at 5:30pm.

Truth: DK Metcalf will get behind people.

Truth: People like making comparisons way too much.

He made one catch, folks.

But really, we do need to talk about Jazz Ferguson. We need to talk about him because two years ago Kasen Williams caught four passes for 119 yards in the first preseason game and never saw the 53-man roster. We need to talk about him because like Williams, his strength on Thursday was his jump ball and contested catch ability. We need to talk about him because the Seahawks have been known for undersized receivers, and now there’s two guys making noise who are at least 6’3”. We need to talk about him because like Williams in 2017, there’s a sort of unofficial WR hierarchy this year that does not include Ferguson. This will be something to keep tabs on this month.

But man was that fun to watch. He actually ran routes. He fights tackles, he fights for pylons, he lets his quarterback fight mascots. Because he most benefited from actual NFL throws from an actual NFL-looking backup, it’s sort of a catch-22 that nobody else really got to show much of anything this week in the WR department. Good news for Ferguson, though.

As We Expected

Marquise Blair almost killed a guy. His hit on Nick Williams in the 4th quarter was exactly as advertised coming out of Utah. The play was flagged, then reviewed, then deemed not excessive enough to cause ejection. It was exactly the type of hit that earned him more than one targeting call in college, some deserved, some questionable. However, it’s exactly the type of play that will endear him to Seattle, as fans have been longing for someone to hit with even a fraction of Kam Chancellor’s power.

What’s more, on the next play he got his fingers on a pass it didn’t look like he could reach. A couple plays after that, he destroyed a receiver down the left sideline while flying over from not-in-camera range. While he looked more like Earl Thomas than Chancellor on the play, it demonstrated another potential Preseason Truth.

First, Blair probably does fit in somewhere between the LOB’s legendary safeties. He’s faster than Kam – 4.48 40 compared to 4.69 – but won’t ever have the poundage behind his hits. But as good as Bradley McDougald is, he doesn’t really remind me of either player, so why not a rookie who sometimes feels like both?

Second, the potential for Blair’s power to be harnessed is tantalizing. What he demonstrated during the hit on Williams and subsequent hit on another guy who won’t make the roster is great football awareness, and a speed/power combination that he’s not afraid to use in the NFL. However, he’s still a couple of tweaks away from turning all of that into a complete package. As noted by commentator Brock Huard, if Blair used his other shoulder he wouldn’t have been penalized. As noted by me watching on my couch, Blair could have prevented the ensuing sideline reception from happening altogether, if he’d used his power to push a little farther out of bounds.

Blair had several other plays that contributed to an as-expected first rookie performance.

Anyone who says they know what the Seahawks’ secondary will look like after the first game in August is lying. But I’m not sure I really need to see Tedric Thompson or Lano Hill playing in front of Marquise Blair right now.

Exceeded Expectations

DeShawn Shead.

This is more than just a nostalgic homecoming for a good defensive back. Two things stood out about Shead’s play. He really does look like he’s in fantastic shape, but more importantly, this is a Ken Norton approved blitz – one of FOUR (4) dialed up in the first preseason game. Ugo Amadi got called for one, as did Akeem King – which forced an interception. Marquise Blair’s attempt turned into a run play which he stopped for a one yard loss.

An example of the preseason lying to you: Shead could have linked arms with Poona Ford and D.J. Fluker and the three of them could have trotted through the hole created by Denver’s offensive line on that play. Assuming Shead will be Seattle’s go-to surprise blitz specialist would be a bad assumption.

An example of the preseason showing something useful: four blitzes called for four different non-linebackers, all of which being highly effective. Bobby Wagner has already shown his prowess on blitzes when they let him loose (4.5 sacks in 2016 and 5 in 2013). Even K.J. Wright registered four in 2016. But to see this being tested out from multiple spots even further back reveals that Pete and company are not going to sit around and let four guys rush five blockers, especially as this year feels like that will accomplish very little.

The Seahawks have been in the bottom third of the league in blitz percentage for seven years. This is absolutely the time to blow some things up and experiment a little. An NFL team does not particularly need sacks to be effective. But somebody has to make the QB do… something other than what they’re trying to do, even if it’s just be a little nervous.

For all that Seattle’s coaching staff was criticized over this offseason, with regards to inflexibility in its approach to the Dallas playoff game, hopefully this hints at more creative thinking going on behind closed doors.

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Tyler Alsin
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