By Mike Salk
Terrell Owens never made it onto the scoresheet on Saturday because he didn’t have a single catch in Seattle’s 30-10 win over Denver. It sure wasn’t for lack of trying.
In his first live action since 2010, Owens started with the first-team offense and was targeted five times in the first half. His timing with Matt Flynn was clearly not where it needed to be. And while some will describe his night as quiet, others will say that his lack of timing spoke loudly enough.
Personally, I’m not ready to commit either way.
In fact, I think his first action in a Seahawks uniform raised more questions than it answered.
Terrell Owens had no catches despite five targets in Seattle’s preseason win over the Broncos on Saturday. (AP)
Question 1: Was T.O. targeted so often because the coaching staff wanted to get a good look at him or because his presence attracts quarterbacks?
Clearly, Flynn forced the ball to Owens on at least two (if not three) of the passes he threw that way. But why? The optimist will argue that Pete Carroll and the Seahawks’ brain trust needed to see how Owens looked in game situations. It makes sense that Carroll called for a few plays designed to see how Owens would look against a tough cornerback like Champ Bailey.
The pessimist sees this as a harbinger of disaster. T.O., he argues, has always demanded the ball be thrown in his direction, at the expense of the team. Was Flynn already being influenced by Owens himself? Maybe. Or was he preemptively throwing the ball to the wideout to avoid a problem later?
The cynic has his answer: I’m not sure yet.
Question 2: Was his timing off with Flynn because he ran wrong routes or because Flynn misread the coverage?
The answer to this question will be decided in the film room when Carroll and company review the game. The first pass to Owens was behind him. Was he in the right spot or did Flynn put it where he was supposed to be? Their mishap down the far right sideline was even tougher to determine. Clearly, Flynn thought Owens was going to stop short while T.O. thought the play called for him to keep running. Owens has only been with this team a short time but he has years of experience in this offense.
Again, the optimist and pessimist can go to war on this one.
Question 3: Which is more telling: Owens beating cornerback Drayton Florence on the deep route or dropping the ensuing pass?
The good news is he still had enough speed to get past a legitimate NFL cornerback. The bad news is that he couldn’t haul in the pass that hit him directly in the hands. Despite 1,078 receptions in his 15-year career, Owens has always been known to drop plenty of catchable balls. Go figure. Should we be shocked to see him drop another one? No. But that won’t stop the pessimists from using it as evidence against him.
So, what did we learn about Owens?
T.O. is an incredible talent. He is a 38-year-old freakshow athlete that can still play at an NFL level. No, he didn’t always gain the separation he needed to get away from elite-level corners like Bailey, but he also showed a tremendous burst on the long ball he dropped.
Carroll said after the game that Owens needed more time — that we should be patient with a player that had played less than two weeks with this team after missing a full year. Were his mishaps a result of age and injury or simply rust?
One other thing to note about his performance: it came without the benefit of Sidney Rice. Remember, Rice was brought to Seattle to be the top receiver, the player that dictates coverage. With Rice on the field, Bailey likely covers him, leaving Owens matched up against a lesser player. No, it won’t help if he is problematically demanding the ball (or dropping easy passes). But it will matter quite a bit if you are judging his ability to get open.
After one game, we need to see more from Terrell Owens. With zero catches, it’s difficult to say he helped his case for a roster spot. But Carroll is fond of saying he doesn’t need to make a decision until he needs to make a decision. I think he’ll welcome a few more looks at Owens before he decides.