Given the off-season attention devoted to it, the running game was surprisingly absent from the Seahawks’ opening 27-24 loss in Denver. Or maybe it wasn’t surprising.
As has been said around the Seahawks for years, they can’t rely on Will Dissly to carry the team all the time.
Wait. Scratch that. Not even his University of Washington coach, Chris Petersen, said that about his tight end.
It was said about QB Russell Wilson. Was it ever true Sunday in Denver.
Had it not been for Dissly’s three catches for a club rookie-record 105 yards, the Seahawks would still be gathering their scattered parts from the Mile High Stadium sod.
In the 2018 debut of a team rebuilt in part to take pressure off Wilson, he was sacked six times, picked off twice and missed other opportunities. He had some splendid plays as well — including touchdown passes of 15, 20 and 51 yards — but the 27-24 loss (box) to the Broncos was largely a function of having no answers when Wilson is mediocre.
Coach Pete Carroll owned up to the fact that deja vu was a theme carried over from last season.
And parts of 2016 and 2015 as well.
“We didn’t run the ball as well as we wanted to, and we got sacked a bunch of times. Those are similar issues” from recent history, he said. Even after flushing six assistant coaches and turning over chunks of the roster, some habits are hard to break.
The Seahawks ran only 16 times for 64 yards, of which eight belonged to first-round draft choice Rashaad Penny — in seven carries. Wilson gave back 56 yards in sacks, at least half of which coming when he pivoted into trouble instead of out of it.
Contributing to the woes was Broncos All-Pro rush end Von Miller, who a few times overwhelmed RT Germain Ifedi. Miller had three sacks, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and four QB hits. Next to Ifedi was J.R. Sweezy, a veteran from the Super Bowl days who nevertheless didn’t play a lick in the preseason (sprained ankle) and became a starter because of J.D. Fluker’s balky hamstring.
Not only was the rush stymied, at halftime the wide receiver group had one reception for two yards. Wilson connected downfield only with the surprising Dissly, who evoked some deep memories from Carroll.
“Dissly was on fire,” he said. “I was shouting, ‘Ditka!'”
Part of the paltry production was the absence of WR Doug Baldwin, who in the second quarter had a defender accidentally roll up on his right, or good, knee, from behind, spraining his MCL. Carroll had no forecast for Baldwin, but he already missed the preseason with a left knee injury.
The reason the offensive problems were so odious was that it has to carry the defense this season, particularly Sunday. The Seahawks started two rookies, CB Tre Flowers and LB Shaquem Griffin, among eight defenders who did not start the Seattle opener a year ago.
When Griffin faltered, a third rookie, Austin Calitro, replaced him on first and second downs. The Broncos found short-pass success on their side early and often.
QB Case Keenum sliced up the defense with 25 completions in 39 attempts for 329 yards and three touchdowns. The first two TDs, a 29-yard pass in the flat to rookie RB Phillip Lindsay and a 43-yard crossing route to veteran Emmanuel Sanders, vexed Carroll.
‘Those are really easy plays to not let happen,” he said. “They were big plays . . . really frustrating. I can see the newness of us. We made some mistakes on defense that are easily cleaned up. We got a lot of work to do.”
True. Yet despite all, the Seahawks led 24-20 inside final 12 minutes after Wilson hooked up with WR Tyler Lockett on an elegant 51-yard touchdown pass.
“I don’t know if you could see a more beautiful pass than that,” Carroll said. “Perfectly handled by both guys and the front. That play should have won the game for us.”
It did not because the Broncos answered with a 75-yard drive that concluded with a four-yard TD pass to WR Demaryius Thomas, one of four holdovers from the Broncos team that was humiliated 43-8 by the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Seahawks three more possessions, but netted three yards. The Wilson miracles of the past were nowhere to be seen.
The winning drive was abetted when the Broncos, facing third-and-10 at the Seattle 31, completed a 22-yard pass. It reflected the almost game-long absence of a pass rush. The rush has been a worry since DEs Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were not brought back, and the Seahawks did not upgrade the spots in any way that was evident Sunday.
The best news on defense was the return of FS Earl Thomas. He came back Monday from his futile holdout, started and had the first of three Seattle interceptions, along with five tackles and two passes defensed.
By design, he was taken out of a few series.
“We rested him as much as we could,” Carroll said. ‘We couldn’t play him the whole time.
“He and the players handled the return perfectly. He worked real hard, and they embraced him. We knew he couldn’t play the whole game. But we wanted to give him a great chance to contribute immediately, and he did.”
With the pending return of LB K.J. Wright (knee) next week for the Monday night game in Chicago, it’s possible to see an uptick in defensive production.
The offense is another story, especially in the likely absence of Baldwin. WR Brandon Marshall had three catches, including a touchdown, for 46 yards, and may rise suddenly from walk-on to go-to guy.
But somebody else is going to have to block for the run and help protect Wilson. Or was that what previous eight months were about?