By Danny O’Neil
The Seahawks have outscored their two preseason opponents 71-20 this month.
It’s not just this year, though. They’ve outscored opponents 98-34 in the second half in the past six preseason games, which is testament to the depth this team has developed. And Seattle has won seven consecutive preseason games, the longest streak in franchise history.
But the most important lessons of preseason don’t come from the final results, but by applying a microscope to critical positions on this team. So let’s divine what we can from what we’ve seen so far.
Three things we learned:
1. Brandon Browner will remain the starting right cornerback.
Brandon Browner’s stat line against Denver included three tackles, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a 106-yard fumble return for a touchdown. (AP)
Walter Thurmond and Byron Maxwell have earned so much praise that some have wondered if there might be a coup atop the Seahawks’ depth chart. Not after watching what Browner did in the first quarter of Saturday’s preseason game. This has nothing to do with his 106-yard return of a fumble, as impressive as that was.
The Broncos and Peyton Manning targeted Browner, throwing to the man he was defending each of the first two plays from scrimmage. The result? Two incompletions. When Manning did complete a pass against Browner on Denver’s second possession, Browner stripped the ball for a fumble. Then on Denver’s third possession, Browner had industrial-strength adhesive coverage on Demaryius Thomas on a crossing route, deflecting the pass.
Browner’s not going anywhere on the depth chart. There’s a reason he was a Pro Bowler in 2011.
2. Bobby Wagner can be a wrecking ball in the backfield.
Speed was the reason Seattle drafted him out of Utah State in the second round in 2012, and speed is the reason he was able to cover so much ground laterally last season when he had the second-most tackles of any rookie in the NFL.
Well, he’s just as fast coming forward, and he showed that when he stuffed Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman for a 2-yard loss in the first quarter and again on a third-down blitz when he beat the running back and clobbered Manning. Hard. In his chest. And while Manning completed the pass, he felt that hit. It’s going to be exciting to see how Wagner’s game expands this year.
3. Steven Hauschka will be kicking for the Seahawks this season.
He was the NFL’s most accurate kicker inside of 50 yards in 2012, but leg strength has been a concern. His first four kickoffs went for touchbacks against Denver, and when a 15-yard penalty forced him to kick off from his own 20 in the second quarter, Hauschka responded by sending the ball 75 yards in the air. Add in a couple of field goals he made from more than 40 yards out and the fact that Carson Wiggs missed a 43-yard attempt in the third quarter and this is a competition in name only. Hauschka is Seattle’s kicker.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. Is Seattle’s third-down defense any better?
Tough to tell not because this was a preseason game, but because Seattle was facing Manning. He’s an expert at finding the weakpoint in an opponent’s defense, and the two times the Seahawks blitzed in the first quarter, Manning made them pay to the tune of two completions for 43 yards and a pair of first downs. The Broncos converted five of the first six third-down plays they faced in the game, and Seattle forced Denver to punt only twice on the five possessions Manning was in the game.
Then again, Seattle was playing without Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin, who are three of the team’s top four pass rushers, so it’s premature to draw any conclusion. But third-down defense – which was the top bugaboo a year ago – remains a concern.
2. What is Seattle’s plan at defensive tackle?
The Seahawks spent the first quarter in a variation of their nickel defense, using two big-bodied defenders and two pass rushers on the defensive line. That formational wrinkle made it tough to draw any conclusions about Seattle’s plan at the three-technique defensive tackle spot occupied by Alan Branch the past two years.
In fact, rookie Jesse Williams was barely on the field in the first half while Tony McDaniel didn’t play as he’s coming back from a groin injury. At one point in the first half, the Seahawks even paired Clinton McDonald and Brandon Mebane, Seattle’s two nose tackles.
The starting defensive line remains the single biggest question on this team heading into the final two weeks of the preseason.
3. What are Benson Mayowa’s chances of making the roster?
The undrafted rookie from Idaho had another sack, giving him a team-high 2.5 so far, but he had a big chunk of playing time in the first half and didn’t make much of an impact. If this game was a litmus test to see how he fared against NFL starters, it became clear Mayowa has some work left to do. That shouldn’t minimize what he’s accomplished so far in training camp, but it should caution anyone from pencilling him onto the 53-man roster just yet. Considering Mayowa had all of three sacks as a senior at Idaho, just making the practice squad would be a pretty significant step forward in his career.