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Monday metatarsal musings
How is it that the special teams units guilty of major foibles in each of the Seahawks’ first two preseason games were suddenly able to contribute an almost-flawless performance to Friday night’s 44-point outburst in Kansas City?
It’s all about getting the right players in the right places.
“We had our starting special teams out there, so we were a lot more successful than in the first two games,” kicker Steven Hauschka said in the locker room after the Seahawks had run their preseason record to 3-0 by running the Chiefs off their home field.
“The special teams were great tonight. It was a good all-around effort.”
Yes, Hauschka was wide right on a 51-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter, snapping the Seahawks’ string of consecutive scoring drives at six. But it was surprising the kick wasn’t short, rather than wide, after everything he’d already done.
It was Hauschka who capped each of the first three scoring drives, with field goals of 36, 39 and 45 yards. It was Hauschka who produced touchbacks on each his first three kickoffs, and four of his first five, by driving the ball deep into the end zone.
“I just ran out of steam,” he said through a slight smile. “I haven’t had that many kicks in a while; I don’t think ever.”
But there was a lot more to the Seahawks’ special teams than Hauschka’s right leg.
Golden Tate returned a punt 92 yards for the touchdown in the third quarter. The Chiefs’ longest kickoff return was 29 yards, and their longest punt return – their only punt return – was 10 yards. Jon Ryan did not punt until the fourth quarter, averaging 55.5 yards on his two attempts, with a net average of 50.5.
Definitely a quantum leap from the first two games, when the Seahawks failed to contain the right side of the field on an 85-yard punt return for a score in the opener against the Tennessee Titans and then had two punts blocked or deflected the next week against the Denver Broncos.
“We really did have a big night on teams,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We did make a move this week to put some guys in positions we think that they would play in the (regular-season) opener, and didn’t play with all the young guys where we’ve had our issues.
“We tried to minimize their factor in specials teams and more likely would be suited for the real games. It showed up. It was significantly different.”
With that said, here’s a look at three other things that worked against the Chiefs and three things that need work in this short week to prepare for Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders at CenturyLink Field:
One. Russell Wilson. Ho-hum. Just another impressive preseason performance by the rookie quarterback. Except that this one came in his first NFL start, and against the Chiefs’ No. 1 defense. It was the needed step in determined that Wilson will be the starter on Sept. 9 against the Cardinals in Arizona.
All he did against the Chiefs, in addition to directing those six consecutive scoring drives to open the game, was complete 13 of 19 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns and also run twice for 58 yards.
As Carroll said on Sunday night in announcing that Wilson would be the starter, “He’s earned this job.”
Two. The No. 1 defense. The Chiefs had 3 net yards in the first quarter, and 11 after their first four possessions. By that time, the Seahawks were up 9-0 and about to make it 16-0. That works, no matter how you stack the stats.
“It’s crazy how many strides we’ve made since last season,” said Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas, well aware that the Seahawks ranked in the Top 10 in the league in average points and yards allowed in 2011.
“Everything we’ve learned in the classroom we’ve taken it to the game. A lot of guys love this game of football and you can tell. It means so much to them. We’re hungry and we’re young. And we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
Three. Heath Farwell. This guy is blowing his cover. The primary reason he’s here is to play special teams, as he demonstrated in leading the league in coverage tackles last season despite playing in only 11 games. He also joked after the opener that hopefully the team never would need him to play linebacker.
But against the Chiefs, Farwell had five solo tackles to share game-high honors with starting strongside linebacker K.J. Wright and backup cornerback Phillip Adams.
The rapid development of rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner allowed the team to trade veteran Barrett Ruud to the New Orleans Saints last week. But Farwell’s ability to be counted on, if needed, also factored into the decision.
What needs work
One. The two-minute defense. The Chiefs drove 80 yards in 17 plays to a touchdown in the final two minutes of the first half, as QB Matt Cassel converted five third-down situations – including the 9-yard TD pass to running back Dexter McCluster on third-and-8.
The week before, the Broncos drove 66 yards in 12 plays to a field goal just before the half. In that one, Peyton Manning was 4 of 4 for 57 yards.
This defense is better than that, as they had shown prior to those late scoring drives.
“We need to get clean there and be more effective,” Carroll said. “We’ve got to get that worked on.”
Two. Playing physical, but not too physical. Against the Broncos, it was too many unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Against the Chiefs, it was four pass interference penalties. They only totaled 27 yards, but they gave the Chiefs four first downs.
Three. Bruce Irvin’s stat line. In three games, the Seahawks’ first-round draft choice has yet to register a tackle. The rookie rush-end has pressured the QB a couple of times, but he needs to get there at least once before the regular season gets underway.