An NFL team’s third preseason game each year historically has been regarded as the “dress rehearsal’’ for the regular season, a contest in which the starters play into the second half.
But with teams ever vigilant about injuries, starters are playing less and less in the preseason.
So it was for the Seahawks on Saturday night in a 23-15 victory over the Chargers in Carson, Calif., as the starters mostly played until the final five minutes of the first half, then called it a night. That was more than many of the Chargers did, though, such as quarterback Philip Rivers, who is sitting out the entire preseason.
And for Seattle’s most vital players, such as Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner (who saw his first action of the preseason with 23 snaps Saturday), the snaps they got Saturday will probably be it for the preseason as Wilson has not played in the fourth game each of the past two seasons and wouldn’t seem likely to break that trend now.
Wilson also didn’t play in the first preseason game, but got two series last week against Minnesota.
So far in the preseason Wilson has played five series, getting 45 snaps, leading the Seahawks to two touchdowns, one field goal and two punts. He has completed 12 of 18 passes for 155 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions, and rushing five times for 30 yards.
Those totals are indeed down quite a bit from the past few years. Wilson threw 47 passes in the preseason last year, completing 28 for 354 yards, and was 29 for 41 for 447 yards in 2017.
Wilson hardly seemed like he needed any more work, though, and there’s no question that at this stage of his career being safe in the preseason makes more sense than ever.
But as stars continue to play less and less in the preseason the NFL is going to have a situation on its hands at some point.
Here’s more of what we learned Saturday night:
Pete Carroll wasn’t ready to give up on C.J. Prosise
Seahawks fans have been understandably frustrated that Prosise has played so little in his career — just 16 of a possible 48 regular-season games since being drafted in the third round in 2016 — especially because a few of his performances were so tantalizing, such as the night in New England in his rookie season when he gave the offense a much-needed boost to grab a memorable victory.
It’s games like that that the Seahawks kept in mind as they kept Prosise around even as he continued to miss games and practices the past few years. It also didn’t really hurt anything to keep him on the roster because he was on a rookie contract.
Saturday night, Prosise again showed his vast promise, leading the Seahawks with 32 yards on five carries, one a hard-fought 1-yard touchdown, and also had one reception for 15 yards.
Prosise did all that in just 12 snaps, with coach Pete Carroll apparently having seen what he needed to see.
“I don’t give up on guys very quickly,’’ Carroll said after the game about sticking with Prosise on the roster the past few years despite his injuries. “Knowing what his situation has been and the circumstances. He has been staying with it every step of the way. There comes a point if a guy can’t stay healthy maybe he won’t be able to play, but he’s bouncing back. Fingers crossed that he’s able to do that. He’s such a versatile player and he adds so much. We’ll see what happens.”
What seems likely to happen, though, is Prosise again making the 53-man roster out of training camp and then the Seahawks hoping that this is the year they can get a full season out of him.
Prosise acknowledged he had “something to prove’’ to the team and everyone else.
“I want to make the most of my opportunities,’’ Prosise said. “So every time I got out there I’ve got something to prove and I want to show that every time I step on the field, I am showing somebody something.’’
Seahawks aren’t going to stop running
The game Saturday did prove to be a dress rehearsal in one sense — the way the Seahawks called the game on offense.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said on his pregame radio show on ESPN 710 Seattle that the team wanted to emphasize running after having thrown five more passes than runs the previous week against Minnesota.
That balance tilted greatly against the Chargers as Seattle had 42 runs for 185 yards while throwing it 27 times (obviously, it also helped that Seattle had the lead most of the way)
When the starting offense was in the game, the Seahawks had nine passes while running it 18 times.
Seattle’s devotion to the run is the topic of much analytic discussion as the league in general moves each year to more throwing.
But Carroll made it clear again after the game that the Seahawks are not going to apologize for wanting to play the way they play — and Seattle might view the running game as more important than ever at the start of the season with the receiving corps suddenly dealing with some injuries, and it remaining unclear how long David Moore might be out other than that it will apparently be a while.
“We had some objectives that we wanted to attend to,’’ Carroll said. “We really wanted to run the football tonight and happy that we were able to get that done. The first group ran for 120-something (officially, 125) in the first half, which is just what we had hoped.’’
In fact, Seattle rushed for 6 yards per carry in the first half with four separate players each having a run for 10 yards or more.
That was a stark contrast to last week when the Seahawks had just 36 yards on 10 carries in the first half against the Vikings.
The caveat is that while the Vikings played a lot of their regulars, the Chargers sat five of their listed starters on their front seven, and also are without star safety Derwin James, who had foot surgery last week.
But, setting a tone is setting a tone however it gets done.
Ursua beginning to stand out from the crowd
The injury to Moore as well as the uncertainty over exactly when DK Metcalf will return — Carroll is hoping for Week One but there’s no guarantee — makes it even more vital that the Seahawks get some production out of receivers at the bottom of the roster.
First, though, Seattle has to decide who those receivers will be, as that position has been among the most heated throughout training camp.
But after Saturday night, seventh-round draft choice John Ursua is beginning to look like a lock.
Ursua had two receptions on two targets for 52 yards and now has four receptions in three games in the preseason for 100 yards, the latter total leading the team.
“Ursua is awesome out there,’’ said Wilson. “He’s always been open. You see him. He’s got this catlike reflex. He’s got this ability that kind of make people miss. It’s pretty special. He’s the guy that led the NCAA in touchdowns (last season at Hawaii with 16). There’s a reason why he scored so much.”
As Ursua is stepping up, though, others appear to be stepping back.
Most notably, Jazz Ferguson, the star of the first preseason game, did not have a target despite playing 43 snaps, by far the most of any receiver.
And it’s hard to know what to make of Malik Turner, who was officially the other starter in three-receiver sets with Moore out. Turner has yet to make a catch in the preseason but had two targets Saturday, and was wide open for a potentially big gain on a third-down play on the first series with Wilson’s throw sailing too far for his reach.
Turner has consistently played with the starting unit of late, and basically just got starter’s snaps Saturday, on the field for 17 snaps early on before calling it a night.
The way he’s being used suggests he’s just about a lock to make the roster, too. But that could make for a log jam trying to also fit in the three drafted rookies, and also if the team decides to keep Moore on the roster to start the season so he could return later in the year.
Jason Myers can boot it
Myers set an NFL record last season with five field goals of 55 yards or longer, hitting six of seven from 50 or beyond overall.
He’s picking up where he left off having made two field goals of 55 yards or longer so far in the preseason, including a 58-yarder near the end of the first half Saturday night, which would have tied a Seahawks franchise record had he done it in the regular season (Stephen Hauschka and Josh Brown each made one 58-yarder in their Seattle careers).
There was, however, a missed PAT. The hope will be those are being flushed out of the system in August.