BY Doug Farrar 05:07PM 09/19/2010

Seahawks burn up in return to earth

On the road in and in the heat, the Seahawks stumbled quickly and reverted to ’09 form

Practice did not equal perfection for Seattle's new-look offensive line (Rod Mar/Seattle Seahawks)

For a second consecutive week, the Seattle Seahawks started slowly and took a disturbing amount of time to get rolling on offense. But the outcome on the road in Denver was far different than the home opener against San Francisco.

Unlike the 49ers, whose red zone woes forgave Seattle’s own miscues in a 31-6 Seahawks win, the Broncos were much hotter in the near-tropical conditioons of Invesco Field. The 31-14 loss was more distressing and revealing than the opening-day win, because the Seahawks showed that they are still a team very much under construction.

There were a few positive stories, mostly among the receiver corps. Second-year man Deon Butler caught four passes on Seattle’s first drive, and second-round rookie Golden Tate looked explosive on a punt return, as well as his first regular-season NFL catch. But the drive that saw Butler tearing Denver’s defense to bits was upended by consecutive penalties – a false start on right guard Stacy Andrews and a holding call on right tackle Sean Locklear – and the first of three Matt Hasselbeck interceptions, this one to Champ Bailey with 8:50 left in the first quarter at the Denver 4-yard line.

The second pick came with 6:20 left in the first half, as Hasselbeck tried to get a pass to John Carlson that was intercepted by safety Brian Dawkins. At times, Denver’s veteran pass defenders seemed more in tune with Hasselbeck than his own receivers – on several throws, Hasselbeck seemed to be either waiting too long for routes to develop, or reacting late to routes run incorrectly. Tight end John Carlson, Hasselbeck’s ostensible security blanket when things aren’t going his way, caught just five passes on 10 targets. The final pick went to rookie Perrish Cox when the game was well past over.

An 0-4 turnover deficit killed any chances the Seahawks had of pulling out this game. Coach Pete Carroll would be the first to tout the value of a positive turnover margin; his USC teams were 53-0 when they were +1 in giveaway/takeaway ratio. Add Walter Thurmond’s muffed punt return in the first quarter to those two interceptions, and the Seahawks were in a hole fast. That fumble came on the drive following Hasselbeck’s first pick gave the Broncos new life at the Seattle 13, and set up Denver for the game’s first touchdown, a 13-yard pass to receiver Eddie Royal.

Seattle’s defensive adjustments and ability to stand strong in key situations informed their win over the 49ers. But against Denver, the defense seemed one-dimensional and bland. Instead of moving to multiple fronts and making intermediate adjustments, the defense played a lot of passive zone, which left Denver quarterback Kyle Orton open to bust those zone looks with clear-out routes and quick stick passes. On Correll Buckhalter’s 1-yard touchdown with 10:34 left in the first half, the Seahawks outsmarted themselves by taking out several of their larger players on a goal-line package, which simply made Buckhalter’s job easier.

As in the 49ers game, the Seahawks lost the time of possession battle to an extreme degree (37:27 to 22:33),. This time, the offense wasn’t dynamic enough to make up for it. All that time on the field in 90-plus degree air temperatures that turned into on-field temps of more than 110 degrees caused the defense to melt away. The Broncos were 14 of 20 – an astonishing 70 percent – in converting third down opportunities, 3 of 4 in the red zone, and 2 of 3 on goal to go opportunities.

The story of this game was simple: Regression to the mean. As much as the Seahawks didn’t play up to the score of their opening-day win, it was time for fate to turn things back down to reality.

Part of it was location – the Broncos are 24-3 in home openers since 1984, which tops all major sports franchises – but most of this sad song was a slow blues about opportunities lost.

Running back Justin Forsett looked very strong early on, but as the game went away from the Seahawks, the running game was no longer a factor. Tate’s 63-yard punt return set up an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ben Obamanu in the third quarter.  But the Broncos scored 14 unanswered points. Tate’s 52-yard catch-and-run was followed by four incomplete passes in a row, and a four-and-out that ended the third quarter (and the game) for Seattle’s offense.


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