Dare I say, the second and third game of the Seahawks’ preseason might be more intriguing than the second-to-last and third-to-last game of the Seahawks’ regular season.
Las Vegas gets things wrong sometimes, but the eternally-expanding-and-developing strip tells you that its consensus prediction that Seattle wins no more than six of its 17 contests next season has some merit.
But the usually-irrelevant preseason — one that rarely saw Russell Wilson on the field over the past few years — is stocked with legitimate suspense. It features a quarterback battle between Geno Smith and Drew Lock that is still at least 50 hash marks from being decided.
I’ve said before that Lock has more potential. I stated two Saturdays ago that he was loads better than Smith in the mock game, and I think he looked better in Saturday’s preseason opener vs. Pittsburgh, too. But I don’t think he pulled away as the clear front-runner; and if he doesn’t, he won’t get the starting job.
In other words: Tie — or anything close to a tie — goes to Smith.
The raw stat line from Saturday is as follows: Smith went 10 of 15 passing for 101 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 85.7. Lock finished 11 of 15 for 102 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 131.1. A cursory glance would suggest that Lock outperformed Smith far-and-away. But a cursory glance ignores the part that likely made Lock and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll curse.
As just about all Seahawks fans know by now, Lock fumbled the ball after being sacked on first down from the Steelers’ 47 with 1:10 remaining in the game and the score tied. His earlier boons had been reduced to a bust, and Pittsburgh went on to win the exhibition 32-25.
There is perhaps no coach who preaches ball control more than Carroll. It was his MO during the Seahawks’ Super Bowl runs — win the turnover battle and you’ll usually win the game. Moreover, Lock appears to be one of the more turnover-prone quarterbacks in the NFL.
He tied for the league lead in interceptions with 15 in 2020 despite playing just 13 games. He had eight fumbles that season, too. Joe Mahoney of milehighreport.com, meanwhile, wrote a piece showing that, from 2019-2020 — which included Lock’s rookie season when he went 4-1 — Drew ranked 33rd among 39 quarterbacks for most turnovers per snap.
In other words, that late-game fumble likely wasn’t viewed as a pimple on an otherwise Brad Pitt-face of a game — it was likely viewed as emblematic of why the former second-round pick was relegated to backup in Denver last year.
Both Carroll and Lock said after the game that the fumble was Lock’s fault — Lock doing so more directly.
“I could have handled that better,” Lock said. “As a quarterback, you’re always able to fix those things and I’ll always take it on the chest, and I could have been better there.”
As Seattle Times Seahawks writer Bob Condotta pointed out, there was an array of factors that went into how one might have evaluated the two quarterbacks’ performances. Smith — who ran for a touchdown — played behind the Seahawks’ starting offensive line, whereas Lock played behind the second-stringers.
Smith had two passes dropped along with a should-have-been completion had Noah Fant gotten both feet inbounds, although Lock threw a strike to tight end Colby Parkinson in the end zone that was knocked out of his hands by a Steelers defender. It’s a toss-up, which will likely put a lot more Seattle eyeballs on the TV screen when the Seahawks host the Bears on Thursday.
Here’s where I think things stand now, though: Smith is the veteran who, yes, has been a longtime backup but has also been in the Seahawks’ locker room since 2019. He commands respect among teammates that Lock is still developing. Lock is also not a first-round pick or major trade acquisition that Seattle feels is the key to their future. Nobody will say it out loud, but the front office is likely looking to 2023 to find their long-term signal caller.
There is no built-in advantage for Lock. If anything, his being a brand-new face puts him at a slight disadvantage.
I’ve said before that fans are likely rooting for Lock to win the job simply because he has more upside. But his penchant for turnovers gives him a lot of downside, too.
There is no clear leader in the QB competition right now. And if by the end of the season there is no clear winner, I suspect it is Smith who will win.