It wasn't just Mora as a new face – offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley now play the roles of Mora's able lieutenants while a new coaching staff implements the new plans and concepts.
The Seahawks started out with unfamiliar schemes on both sides of the ball – an effective three-man front with eight men in coverage which ended San Diego's first drive, and a shotgun/bunch right combination on Seattle's first drive. Mike Holmgren had the same affinity for the shotgun that Keith Olbermann has for Bill O'Reilly, and no early set could more definitely indicate that this ain't your father's Seahawks. Instead of John Marshall's Cover-1 Free disasters, you'll see defensive coordinator Gus Bradley do just about anything. The base is an attacking front four with linebackers that read and cover, and a secondary that will play man or zone or a hybrid depending on the situation. The variations are where Seattle will find defensive success this season.
|SAN DIEGO - AUGUST 15: Malcolm Floyd #80 of the San Diego Chargers catches the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the preseason game on August 15, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jacob de Golish/Getty Images)
San Diego tested the Seattle front seven early and often at the start, with Philip Rivers throwing screen after screen and only occasionally going deep. Later in the second quarter, what looked like a zone coverage fluster led to cornerbacks Kevin Hobbs and Kelly Jennings trailing their receivers too slowly. Backup quarterback Billy Volek exploited Hobbs with a corner route to tight end Kris Wilson for 32 yards, which put the Chargers at the Seattle 7-yard line with 10:39 left in the first half. Two plays later, running back Michael Bennett scored from two yards out for the game's first touchdown.
Kelly Jennings continued to struggle with bigger receivers in general, giving up a 37-yard catch to Malcom Floyd down the left sideline just before the two-minute warning. The secondary depth chart has changed with the re-acquisition of Ken Lucas, and with Josh Wilson as the nickel corner and Jordan Babineaux as the jack-of-all-trades, Jennings may find himself on the outside looking in if he can't make up for his diminutive stature with some coverage moves, though he did get inside position on Buster Davis for a third-quarter pick.
New offensive coordinator Greg Knapp showed confidence in the team's new zone-blocking system, running play-action deep in his own end zone as the line combo-blocked and covered areas with aplomb. Matt Hasselbeck went 3 for 5 for 27 yards, though one incompletion was an easy drop by John Carlson. In the second half, second-round pick Max Unger switched from right guard to center and showed the ability to take steps to the left or right from the snap – at Oregon, Unger ran inside and outside zone, giving him a familiarity with the new Seahawks blocking concepts that some of his teammates with much more NFL experience may lack.
In general, the differences with the offense were clear – while Holmgren preferred more traditional West Coast Offense sets, Knapp showed tight twins formations, a lot of H-back looks, and more power formations than we've seen in the past. The Seahawks lined up in the shotgun formation on 14 of their 68 offensive plays (20.6%), which was definitely a different approach. In 2008, Seattle was the only NFL team to go shotgun less than 10 percent of the time (6%).
While first-rounder Aaron Curry was still playing catchup from his extended contract negotiations, other new players stood out. Defensive end Nick Reed, who has impressed his coaches in training camp with his (cliché alert!) non-stop motor, impressed again with two sacks and a very nice interception early in the fourth quarter. Reed came of the right side with a bull rush, only to redirect after reading the play. He backed into the flat and picked off the pass intended for running back Gartrell Johnson, finishing off a great day.
Receiver Deon Butler brought in two catches for seven yards, but another catch was interrupted by Chargers cornerback Steve Gregory at the Seattle 38 with 9:20 left in the first half. Butler tried to take a short pass in from Seneca Wallace, but Gregory de-cleated him for an incompletion. Butler's size might be a concern from a durability standpoint, but he jumped right up from that play and looked ready for more.
Blocking tight end John Owens came up with Seattle's first touchdown, a reaching fingertip catch of a pretty 3-yard Wallace touch pass with 2:20 left in the first half. Wallace used to throw everything as a frozen rope, but he's really developed the arc and timing on the other throws in his repertoire.
Seventh-round quarterback Mike Teel started his NFL career auspiciously in the second half, with a dig route to Ben Obomanu that covered 24 yards. Two plays later, running back Justin Forsett got flipped completely around by safety Kevin Ellison – the Chargers were bringing their physical game on defense from the start. Teel threw a deflected interception late in the third quarter, but drove downfield on the next series of plays for Seattle's second touchdown. The touchdown pass over the middle to Mike Hass showed Teel's ability to look defenders off as he sold the play to the left with his eyes and threw the other way.
The Chargers scored a late touchdown to make the score 20-14 as the second teams gave way to the Future Practice Squads of America, but punter Jon Ryan put the Chargers in the hole with a 77-yard touchback punt as the clock ran down past the two-minute mark. Whitehurst started to move his team, but the Seattle defense clamped down again for the win and the 20-14 final.
Doug Farrar is the Publisher of NorthwestFootball.net. He also writes for Football Outsiders, the Washington Post, and ESPN.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.