Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley, should they declare as expected, would be two of the most hyped quarterback prospects we've seen in several years. They were coached by Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, two college coaches who recently bolted for the NFL. As it turns out, those coaches coached against each other in a game today. Wouldn't you know it, this was that game!
Based on popular national opinion, Seattle has been a hot tip to be in the hunt for the #1 pick next April. If there was such a thing as an AP poll for draft position, Seattle would be in the top 5 right now. That doesn't mean it will happen that way of course, but I'm just saying that's the prism the media will view our season through, especially if Seattle struggles early.
While its never fun losing, there is a certain rush to being in a sweepstakes of sorts. As a Mariner fan, I'll never forget the M's blowing a 1.5 game "lead" in the Strasburg sweepstakes in the final 3 game series. They drafted a guy named Dustin Ackley instead. Ackley has already become a very good hitter at a premium defensive position on a terrible hitting team. I say this with no disrespect to Strasburg's bright future, but 2 years later, I don't think Seattle would take that pick back even if they could. Its funny sometimes how things work out, and that's why it generally isn't a great idea to get too caught up in the draft position stuff.
This was a game between two division rivals, a game that could very well decide the division at the bitter end. A game that, unfortunately, the Seahawks lost. And yet, before the game and during it, I couldn't help but muse: "wouldn't it be something if Luck landed in San Francisco and Barkley in Seattle (or vice versa)?" Watching the game didn't alleviate those thoughts much, as both teams looked like top 10 locks in the 2012 draft. Its improbable, especially with the 49ers making a mild investment with Colin Kaepernick, but its fun to think about anyway.
As far as the game itself, I took copious notes by quarter. Since I've already shamelessly ripped off Lookoutlanding with their win chart idea and zany title, I might as well use bullet points too. This is by no means a "tale of the tape", but a quick collection of some random observations during the game:
- First of all: Dick Stockton. It feels like he's called at least half of the Seahawks games I've watched since 2009. Probably more. I actually like Stockton. I enjoyed his fumbling with pronunciations like "Olindo Mah-rey." Which is technically correct, if comically drawn out (To his credit, he did well correctly pronouncing fellow Italian Breno Giacomini today). Anyway, it can't be easy covering Seahawks games so often. Joe Buck barely cares enough to cover the Eagles, Packers, and Saints. If he had to cover a Seahawk game more than once in a blue moon, he'd probably fall asleep and never wake up. Especially if he was working the first half of this game. Excluding first downs by penalty, there were 3 total first downs in the first half by both teams combined. Three! There were more first half first downs by penalty (4) than otherwise. Dick Stockton deserves a medal.
- I played both offensive tackle spots in high school and college, and after games, we'd have film reviews just like any team would, so I'd get a chance to see what kind of things I could work on. Watching Breno Giacomini today, it felt like watching a much better NFL version of myself. I could never play in the NFL even for an instant or anything, but on a level, I can relate to the guy. Giacomini isn't just a warrior, he's a bloodthirsty berserker. He plays angry and aggressive. A few times, I caught him doing run blocks on pass blocking plays to establish dominance, which was a favorite "cheat" of mine as well. Giacomini does not have great pass blocking technique, but still, he was able to keep pressure to a relative minimum today, and for just today, that's a win. Despite all his tenacity and seeming competence, he left a little something to be desired as a run blocker. On two different instances, he overextended and lost his block, which directly led to a tackle for loss on 3rd and short. He has his faults, but in at least the short term, he looks capable enough to man the right tackle spot until Carpenter is ready.
- I failed to notice John Moffitt and Max Unger all game long, which is probably more of a good thing than a bad thing.
- James Carpenter started only his 2nd game ever at left guard today, with the other being in the Senior Bowl. Carpenter is left handed, which caused some, including Pete Carroll, to speculate that he might just be more cut out for the left side in general. Unquestionably, Carpenter looked much better at left guard than he ever looked at right tackle during the preseason. He still gets walked back into the pocket by a bullrush a lot more than I'd like, but the outside edge rush that plagued him at tackle wasn't an issue today, and he flashed some surprising pulling ability too.
- Russell Okung had a pretty rough game. He allowed a sack on 3rd and 2 in the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, he had a false start. And on the final play of the first half, he had a holding penalty that the 49ers declined. Of course, he stayed healthy for more than 5 snaps, so its feels hard to complain about the final result. Okung had 3 mistakes out of 64 total snaps. Being a lineman is hard.
- Aaron Curry didn't finish with great statistics, but he was a strong presence against the run all game long and, if memory serves, actually managed to avoid a big mistake. He was particularly strong on the 49ers opening drive, registering two tackles and forcing a quick 3 and out. Curry will never justify the price Seattle paid for him, but he's improving, and it wouldn't totally shock me if he was one of the Seahawks 5 or 6 best defenders by the end of the season.
- A 1st quarter punt whizzed by a bedazzled Leon Washington, and from one camera angle, the ball did appear to lightly brush Washington's left shoulder pad. The officials made the right call not overturning it, as the bulk of evidence just wasn't good enough. Only God knows if that ball actually touched a few fibers on Leon's jersey, but I couldn't help but feel Seattle caught a big break there.
- The best move of the offseason wasn't signing Rice, Gallery, or Miller. It was re-signing Brandon Mebane to a reasonable deal and then putting him back where he belongs, plugging the middle. Mebane repaid the Seahawks generously for their wise decision today. Time after time, especially on 3rd and short, he was blowing lineman into Frank Gore and killing the run game dead. There are times I just cannot express how awesome Brandon Mebane is. The 49ers game today was one of those times.
- Seattle had 47 yards of total offense at halftime, and that's not even counting a declined holding penalty on the final play. The team had also had been penalized 38 yards. Had it been possible for that last holding penalty to be accepted and the yardage marked off, Seattle would have had more penalty yards than total offense going into halftime. It was far from the worst half of football I've ever seen, but it might have been the most impotent.
- Earl Thomas fires off like a rocket and hits like a missile. Its part of what makes him a good player, but looking at his size and body type, should I be the only person worried about his future health? Lofa Tatupu was another small guy that laid the lumber, and we all know what happened to him after just 3 seasons.
- The boneheaded play of the game award goes to Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane for trying to draw a false start on 4th and 1 when a tight end went in motion. That's stupid on any play, but 10 times more so on 4th and 1. In fairness, it was just about the only thing Mebane did wrong all day.
- A great return by Leon Washington was nullified by a hold/block in the back, called on #21. You might recall that #21 is Kelly Jennings' old number, and that Kelly Jennings is no longer a Seahawk, nor has his jersey number been given to anyone else. That's right, one of the most critical penalties in the game was literally called on the ghost of Kelly Jennings.
- I'm pretty sure the refs actually meant either #31 Kam Chancellor (who had a great game) or #39 Brandon Browner, the latter of whom has a massive "flag me" sign on his back. His block that sprung Washington was a good one, with much more shoulder contact than back. A chippy call at best, a possible game changing blown call at worst.
- Browner was victimized by touchy officiating all game. Smith's critical touchdown to take a 16-0 lead seconds before halftime was after a questionable pass interference call on Browner, who to me, looked like he was just playing good defense and made minimal contact with the WR. Later on, Browner would be a victim of a crucial roughing the kicker penalty in which its doubtful he made any contact at all.
- Seattle's defense had a stellar game, or at least a much better game than a 33-17 final score would indicate. As bad as Seattle's offense was on the whole, they actually outgained San Francisco 219 to 209. San Francisco only had one scoring drive (a field goal) that began in their own territory. They ran the ball 31 times and averaged 2.75 yards per carry. According to NFL.com's official statistics, the 49ers were somehow an impossible sounding 1 of 12 on 3rd downs. Excluding the final kneel down, the 49ers had ten possessions today, and six of those were 3 and outs. This is a team that won a game today. By 16 points.
- After Ted Ginn's 2nd return touchdown, the broadcast fixed their cameras on Seahawks special teams coach Brian Schneider. Schneider was standing on the sideline, silently scratching his throat and blankly looking off into space, completely unaware he was on television. It kind of made me wonder. It was one of those moments where you ask yourself "what were they expecting him to do?"
- Marshawn Lynch had a tough game, but I appreciated that he seemed to run with added urgency in the 2nd half. He had 27 yards on 6 carries in the 2nd half compared to a paltry 6 yards on 7 carries in the 1st half. Lynch's progress in the Seahawks running game is, to me, one of the bigger stories of the 2011 season looking forward. If he struggles as much this year as he did last year, its very possible the front office could move in a new direction at running back.
- Finally, I can't end these random notes without talking about Doug Baldwin. I was an outspoken critic of Baldwin's early in the preseason. Today, I think he proved me wrong in just about every way possible. Its a lesson in the folly of making judgments too hastily. Baldwin entered today's game as a rookie, 6th on Seattle's WR depth chart. And yet no other Seahawks reciever was targeted as often, caught more balls, posted as many yards, or scored more touchdowns. Think about that. Baldwin's 55 yard 4th quarter touchdown was a revelation. He probably isn't going to be the next Marques Colston, but its abundantly clear that he isn't a fringe NFL WR.