SMQB: Vikings 24, Seahawks 13

SMQB: Vikings 24, Seahawks 13

Seattle Seahawks first-round safety Earl Thomas' 86-yard interception return for a touchdown was the highlight of the team's 24-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings 24, Seattle Seahawks 13
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Mall of America Field at HHH Metrodome
Minneapolis, Minnesota


Play of the Day: With the Vikings marching deep into Seahawks' territory, wide receiver Bernard Berrian couldn't handle a quick slant from Brett Favre. The ball popped out of his hands into the arms of Seahawks rookie free safety Earl Thomas, who returned it 86 yards for a touchdown

Saw Some Positive Things Out There

Thomas was one of the few bright spots for the Seahawks on Saturday night. In addition to his 86-yard interception return, Thomas added a pair of tackles—including an impressive takedown of Vikings rookie running back Toby Gerhart on a screen pass—dropped another interception off a tipped pass, and demonstrated a physicality that belies his smallish stature. Seattle appears to have found a keeper in the 14th overall pick.

Pressure was not brought consistently, but Chris Clemons' posting a pair of quarterback sacks, including one with a forced fumble, is a good sign. If the Seahawks can force opponents into 3rd-and-longs, Clemons has enough pass-rushing moves, particularly a nice jump-step to the inside, and could post 7-8 sacks this season.

Lofa Tatupu got his first action of the pre-season, making five tackles and breaking up a pass—the one Thomas should have intercepted--in one half's worth of action. Tatupu also had a sack/forced fumble negated by an illegal contact penalty on Will Herring.

Speaking of returns, Marcus Trufant is erasing any doubts about his ability to bounce back from a rough 2009. Now healthy, Trufant is back to his Pro Bowl form, intercepting his first pass of the pre-season on an overthrown pass by Favre.

Big plays in the passing game were a rarity for the Seahawks in 2009, and Deion Branch, Mike Williams, and Golden Tate each notched a 40+-yard reception against the Vikings. Williams & Branch's catches involved considerable YAC, another component that was lacking during the Greg Knapp era.

Matt Hasselbeck escaped without serious injury. Playing behind a makeshift offensive line, Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates kept Hasselbeck out of harm's way.

Offense

Despite the big plays in the passing game, this was not a game that Bates will be proud of. Seattle could not run the ball against the Vikings' defensive front, gaining just 44 yards on 15 attempts (2.9). Leon Washington got the start, and managed just 16 yards on six carries. Julius Jones was the second back in the rotation, and he carried the ball twice for six yards, while Justin Forsett led the ‘Hawks with 20 yards on six carries.

Due to the ineffective ground game, the Seahawks held the ball for less than 10 minutes in the first half, and only 22:52 for the whole game. Seattle struggled mightily on 3rd down, converting just 2-of-13 (15%) attempts, and were 0-for-3 inside the red zone.

Having to keep additional bodies in to pass protect limited the number of options Hasselbeck had in the passing game. With the plan requiring quick decisions, Hasselbeck was 9-of-17 for 126 yards, was sacked twice, and finished with a 77.1 passer rating. Hasselbeck moved well, was accurate with this throws, though he's still getting used to some of his newer targets, including Williams, whose size is certainly something Hasselbeck appears determined to take advantage of.

Charlie Whitehurst finished the game, and with the ‘Hawks trailing, attempted 26 passes, completing 12 for 138 yards, and was intercepted once.

Third-string quarterback J.P. Losman did not appear in the game.

Seattle also hurt themselves with costly penalties.

Immediately after Branch's 42-yard reception, left tackle Mansfield Wrotto was flagged for a false start. Earlier, an illegal formation flag on Max Unger nullified an Olindo Mare field goal. Mare, who is still recovering from a sore calf muscle, would miss the re-try, costing the Seahawks three points.

Not to be outdone, Sean Locklear was flagged for an egregious holding penalty on a tight end screen, and was beaten badly by Ray Edwards for a sack on third down late in the second quarter. Locklear's struggles are a major concern. Chris Spencer was also flagged for a holding call, and was beaten for a sack in the third quarter that helped end Hasselbeck's night.

Wrotto and Gibson didn't distinguish themselves on Saturday night, but both played well considering the absence of high expectations placed upon them.

Defense

Several Seahawks had stellar individual performances—Thomas, Tatupu, Trufant, Clemons—and it's never a bad night when the first team creates three turnovers and multiple sacks, stuffs the NFL's best running back on a goal-line stand, and holds the opponents to 10 points through three quarters.

But this unit has a lot of problems, primarily its inability to get off the field on third down. The Vikings were 8-of-16 on 3rd down, but that doesn't tell the whole story. They were 4-of-7 in the first half, and one of the three "wins" for the ‘Hawks was a 3rd-and-16 where they limited the Vikings to a 15-yard completion. Minnesota converted the 4th-and-1 and would go on to add a field goal with 1:16 to play in the first half.

The positives are the Seahawks' front seven might be difficult to run against. Red Bryant, Colin Cole-Kevin Vickerson, and Brandon Mebane have played well, and if Seattle can clean-up some of the gaping holes created on the "Leo"/weak-side linebacker side, the defense could force some 3rd-and-long situations.

Of course, this could mean very little if the Seahawks can't create consistent pressure on the quarterback. Clemons was the only player to get close to the Vikings' quarterbacks on Saturday night. Aaron Curry has shown some speed and power coming off the other edge, but we may not see how effective this pass-rush is—or isn't—until the starters play a few games, and get to set their opponents up during the course of a game.

Special Teams

Mixed bag from the Seahawks' special teams units on Saturday night.

Jon Ryan looks like a Pro Bowler, posting a gross average of 55.2 yards, with a net average of 41.7 yards. Two of his six punts were inside the Vikings' 20-yard line. Mare had a rare miss from 43-yards out, but hit from 38- and 34-yards, and handled all the kickoff duties, putting two of four kickoffs into the end zone, one for a touchback.

Clint Stitser dressed, but did not play, and the first-year kicker from Fresno State may be among the handful of players released before Tuesday's 4pm ET deadline to cut the roster down to 75 players.

Long-snapper Clint Gresham continues to be inconsistent. His snaps on punts appeared to have a bit more zip, but the rookie struggled on field goals and extra points. Gresham's snap on Mare's miss was low, and on Mare's first field, it took some quick hands from Ryan to get an errant snap from Gresham down in time to meet Mare's foot.

After Thomas' electrifying interception return for a touchdown, Seattle's kick coverage unit ceded momentum back to the Vikings, allowing Darius Reynaud to run through a gaping hole and juke Mare for a 73-yard return that set-up a two-play, 23-yard touchdown drive. Poor spacing and blown assignment(s) may have cost a player or two their jobs, but Kam Chancellor and Roy Lewis atoned by hitting Reynaud so hard on a later kick, that the returner took a few moments to pick himself off the Metrodome's new SportExe surface.

Because Chris Kluwe is one of the best punters in the business, and Seattle's defense couldn't force many punts, the Seahawks were denied an opportunity to evaluate punt returns. Golden Tate fair caught one, but the Seahawks only have had three returnable punts this pre-season.

The Seahawks did get to look at Cord Parks as a return specialist, and while there's little question about his speed, it's hard to imagine a scenario where he's kept to do a job that Josh Wilson, Leon Washington, and Golden Tate are fully capable of doing.

Summary

It's the pre-season, so it's not as though the Seahawks have game-planned for their opponents. They're also installing new systems on both sides of the ball, and in case you haven't heard, there's been quite a bit of roster turnover this off-season.

Still, a lot of work is needed in all three phases of the game before this team can seriously be mentioned as contenders, even in an ever-weakening NFC West.

On the bright side, Seattle has gotten through the meat of the pre-season with its' starting quarterback intact, and while Russell Okung, Ben Hamilton, and Leroy Hill are banged up, all three are expected to return in the early part of the 2010 season, with Okung and Hamilton perhaps playing in the season-opener against San Francisco.

In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football Blog. You can follow Brian on Twitter, and if you'd like to e-mail him, you can always do so by clicking here.

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