RENTON — A day later, the immediate euphoria of simply having won an NFL game wearing off, Pete Carroll’s mood had changed a bit regarding Sunday’s 21-20 victory over the Bengals.
“We were fortunate to get the win,’’ the Seahawks coach said, adding that the game film revealed there is “a lot to learn. A lot to grow from.’’
Here is a look at some of the positives and negatives in my weekly review of the game, recalling what were my keys to the game ahead of time and how they turned out on the field Sunday.
Matchup to watch
What I said: Seattle DEs Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney against Bengals tackles Andre Smith and Bobby Hart.
What happened: Well, Ansah didn’t play, his sore shoulder holding him out at least another week. Clowney, though, did, getting a surprisingly high 48 of the available 77 defensive snaps. And he was every bit as advertised with a sack, a pass defense, two tackles, and according to Carroll, two plays in which he felt Clowney’s rushes helped result in incomplete passes on third down.
“He was a good factor his first time out,’’ Carroll said. “He’s just as rusty as can be, and barely clinging to us, in the assignments he was able to pick up. But, he did it, got through it and was pretty clean. He’ll be better if he can get over the soreness. He’s pretty sore today.”
What I could have said: Cincinnati’s defensive line against Seattle’s offensive line.
This turned out to be an almost more significant battle as Seattle’s touted offensive line — several of its members have said they think they can be the best line in the NFL this season — was too often pushed around, resulting in four Russell Wilson sacks and Seattle gaining just 2.9 yards per carry.
Said Carroll of the play of the line: “Not as good as expected. We thought we would come out more efficient than that in the run game and protection wise. Really, playing off the running game would’ve helped us quite a bit in the pass actions and stuff like that. … Really, it wasn’t as good as we’d hoped, and we’ll do quite a bit better.”
Carroll added that the line issues were a team-wide thing, and the grades from Pro Football Focus — which are on a scale of 0 to 100 with anything under 60 basically pretty bad — largely bore that out. The only Seattle offensive lineman who graded out well by PFF was right guard D.J. Fluker at 75.1. The other four were all at 58.4 or less with center Justin Britt at 28.4.
Player to watch
Who I said: Running back Chris Carson.
What happened: Carson didn’t have a lot of room to run but had 46 yards rushing and a touchdown on 15 carries, and maybe most eye-catching was that he led Seattle with six receptions on seven targets for 35 yards. On the surface, the numbers show Seattle making good on the promise to throw it to Carson more this season — he had 20 catches last season. Worth noting is that three of his catches came on a two-minute drill to end the first half that resulted in a touchdown. Last year, Mike Davis likely would have played in that situation. But Sunday, Carson was playing on both early downs and third downs, on the field for 41 of 53 snaps, 77%, the highest-percentage of his career.
Who else I could have said: Wide receiver Tyler Lockett. In his first game being considered as the team’s No. 1 receiver, Lockett was held to one reception — albeit, the play of the game, a 44-yard touchdown that gave Seattle its winning points — on two targets.
Lockett said later he got double-teamed more than he had in any game since his days at Kansas State. But Carroll said there was nothing to read into Lockett’s day.
“We looked at him a number of times,’’ Carroll said. “The idea was to go there, and we couldn’t get there. We didn’t forget he was out there.”
Coaching decision to watch
What I said: Who will play the nickel spot?
What happened: It turned out to be rookie Ugo Amadi. But the bigger story is that the Seahawks had a fifth defensive back on the field on just 22 of 77 plays, preferring to leave linebackers Mychal Kendricks and K.J. Wright on the field throughout (each played 69 of 77 snaps).
Carroll said Sunday that Seattle wanted to contain the Bengals’ run first, but that he’s also comfortable with his linebackers in coverage.
“We feel comfortable with those guys playing and we can do a lot of stuff with them,’’ Carroll said.
Seattle is expected to re-sign veteran Jamar Taylor, who played nickel in the preseason before being released in the cutdown to 53 players, and that could mean Seattle going with a more conventional nickel look going forward. But the lesson also seemed to be that you shouldn’t be surprised if Seattle doesn’t play nickel as much this season as the roughly 63% of the time it had an extra defensive back or two on the field in 2018 (per FootballOutsiders.com).
What I could have said: Seattle’s pass-run distribution. Much is made of how much Seattle runs and passes and on the surface this was another run-heavy game with the Seahawks running it 25 times and passing 24 times (including four sacks). But Seattle hardly waited until third-and-long to throw it. The Seahawks passed on six of 11 first downs in the first half and nine of 17 until the final series when Seattle was trying to run out the clock, each basically percentages that kept in line with NFL averages a year ago. It appeared Seattle wanted to pass quite a bit more in this game but changed course a little after some of the early pass protection issues.
What I said: Wide receiver DK Metcalf.
What happened: Metcalf was not only the X factor but also the Y and Z factor in his first NFL game with a team-high 89 yards, the most receiving yards for any Seattle rookie receiver in his first game since Steve Largent in 1976. So much for needing the preseason.
Who I could have said: Al Woods.
The veteran defensive tackle was as key to the victory as any other player with his fumble recovery/interception, fourth-down stop and forcing a holding penalty on the series in the fourth quarter when the Bengals had reached the Seattle 4. So far, a more-than-suitable replacement for Jarran Reed.
Wild card player who could surprise
Who I said: Running back C.J. Prosise.
What happened: Nothing. Prosise didn’t play on offense — though he did play three on special teams so it wasn’t a health thing. Instead, as noted earlier, the Seahawks kept Carson on the field on every down, not just early downs. The Seahawks, though, aren’t likely to use Carson on 77% of snaps every week.
Who I could have said: Defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson. In what was the best game of the four-year vet’s career, Jefferson was, as Carroll said, “everywhere.’’ Jefferson entered the game with four career sacks in 33 previous games and got half of that total Sunday.
What I said: 14-0 — Seattle’s record in home games in September under Carroll.
What happened: Make it 15-0 with a chance to add to it a week from Sunday against New Orleans.
What I could have said: Turnover margin. Seattle led the NFL last year at plus-15 and starts out this season at plus-2 thanks to a 3-1 edge against the Bengals. That, as much as anything, turned the tide in the game. The Bengals lost a fumble on the Woods play at the Seattle 12 at a time when they led 17-14 and lost a fumble on a punt at its own 43 when they led 3-0 and had yet to allow a first down. Change either of those and the result might have changed, as well.
The final word
My pregame pick: Seattle, 27-10.
What happened: Maybe we should have known. Despite the glittering September home record, the Seahawks never have really seemed to play their best football in the first month under Carroll. Despite having some really big-time veterans, this is an overall young team with a lot of new parts and some growing pains are to be expected. Suffering them at 1-0 is a heck of a lot better than doing so at 0-1.