DANNY ONEIL

O’Neil: Run game moves forward, but Seahawks’ pass rush still concern in preseason loss to Vikings

Aug 24, 2018, 8:44 PM | Updated: 10:02 pm
The Seahawks didn't get a pass rush going against the Vikings until after starters left. (AP)...
The Seahawks didn't get a pass rush going against the Vikings until after starters left. (AP)
(AP)

The Seahawks took a step forward on the ground.

That was the most encouraging development from Friday’s preseason game in Minnesota.

Rost: Takeaways from Seahawks’ loss | Recap | Photos | Stats

Seattle’s pass rush couldn’t make the Minnesota Vikings take a step back, though, and that will be the team’s biggest concern entering the regular season.

The Seahawks finished 2 yards short of their first exhibition victory, losing 21-20 at Minnesota in a game that went down to the final play. They’ve got an awesome punter in Michael Dickson, a promising backup quarterback in Alex McGough and a second-year receiver in David Moore who solidified his spot on the regular-season roster with a fourth-quarter touchdown.

But in terms of regular-season readiness, the two biggest questions facing the Seahawks were their pass rush and their ground game – for two very different reasons. How much better would the run game be after an offseason overhaul of the coaching staff? How much worse would the pass rush be after losing Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril?

On Friday in Minnesota, the Seahawks’ ground game did indeed look better, but the pass rush can now be considered an official concern. And while it might not merit flashing lights and blaring horns just yet, there’s a pretty clear reason to be worried. We’ll get to that in a second.

First, let’s start with the positive part of the progress report, which is that there was demonstrable progress made when Seattle handed the ball off close to the goal line. Chris Carson scored from 6 yards out in the second quarter, and while that might not sound like much, it’s more than the Seahawks managed over 16 regular-season games last season when they didn’t have a single rushing touchdown from a running back from inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. In fact, the Seahawks had only one rushing touchdown from someone not named Russell Wilson.

And to be honest, the Seahawks hadn’t exactly gotten off to a running start in getting things going on the ground. Rookie Rashaad Penny – the team’s first-round draft pick – suffered a broken finger in practice. Then, Carson was stuffed on back-to-back runs at the goal line last weekend in Los Angeles, losing a fumble on the second of those runs.

But on Friday in Minnesota, in the most meaningful of the meaningless games this preseason, the Seahawks finally found their footing.

It wasn’t just Carson’s touchdown run. It was the fact that Seattle ran the ball on first down six different times in the first half in Minnesota, and the Seahawks gained 24 yards. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was encouragingly effective for a team that found itself facing second-and-long with shocking regularity last season.

As encouraging as the ground game was for Seattle’s offense, that’s how alarming the Seahawks’ pass rush was for the defense, or more precisely the lack thereof. The Seahawks failed to record a sack in the first half. It was more than just that, though. The lack of pressure helped explain how the Vikings converted five of their first six third-down opportunities.

Seattle’s pass rush improved in the second half, but running roughshod over backups doesn’t make up for the fact that it was stymied for so much of the first half. Rookie Rasheem Green has been a bright spot, too, but of his three sacks so far this preseason, two have come in the second half after the opposing starters have departed.

Now comes the requisite disclaimer that this is August when teams don’t want to show all their cards. In fact, the official hack’s manual “How to Write About NFL Preseason Games” suggests using the words “vanilla” and “exotic.” As in, this is the time of year when defensive coordinator keep their calls vanilla, saving the more exotic looks for when it counts.

But there is demonstrable cause for concern about the pass rush. First of all, Avril and Bennett are responsible for one-third of this team’s sacks over the past five seasons, which is an awful lot of pressure to make up for. Then there’s the injury to Dion Jordan, who showed promise with four sacks in the five games he played last season but has been out with a leg injury.

The fact that the Seahawks are hurt by the absence of Jordan, who has missed 2 1/2 of the past three seasons with either injury or suspension, tells you just how thin the Seahawks are at defensive end.

So while it was encouraging to see Seattle’s run game take a step forward on Friday night, there’s a very real possibility that the pass rush will take a step back this season.

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