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Doug Baldwin emerges from this opener smiling

Posted Sep 9, 2013

Monday metatarsal musings: What a difference a year, and being healthy, can make. Just ask Doug Baldwin. And also review what the third-year wide receiver was able to deliver in Sunday’s season-opening win over the Panthers.

Last year, Doug Baldwin lost his two front teeth in the season-opening loss to the Cardinals in Arizona.

Sunday, the third-year wide receiver helped put some bite in the passing game during the Seahawks’ season-opening 12-7 victory over the Panthers in Carolina.

Look up “what a difference a year makes” in your cliché dictionary and there should be a picture of Baldwin’s smiling face – with replacement teeth in place.

“I’m healthy,” said Baldwin, who also played through a shoulder injury last season. “I haven’t felt this good in a long time.”

Breaking down Baldwin’s feel-good performance that included seven catches for 91 yards only makes it more impressive: Five of his receptions produced first downs, and he was 4 for 4 on third downs – highlighted by his 25-yard reception on a third-and-3 play and a pair of 13-yarders on third-and-8 and third-and-3.

“Doug made a couple of terrific reads on routes,” coach Pete Carroll said. “The last big one he caught over the middle (the 13-yarder on third-and-3) was an incredible read by him and Russell (Wilson, the QB). That’s from months and months of throwing the ball to each other.”

That chemistry is what was missing last year, when Wilson had just become the starting QB and Baldwin was sidelined by hamstring injuries during training camp and the preseason.

“It’s a collaboration,” Baldwin said when asked if this opening-day performance was a sign of his improved health or his improved rapport with Wilson. “If you think about it, going back to last year at this point, I was just coming off the hamstring injuries, I didn’t have any time in the preseason with Russell and Russell also was taking only a third of the first-team snaps.

“So right now, we got all of the preseason together, all of the training camp, all of the minicamp. You could see that rapport and that chemistry building.”

Sunday, you could see Wilson looking for Baldwin in the most crucial situations.

With that said, here’s a look at three other things that definitely worked in the victory over the Panthers and three things that need work this week as the Seahawks prepare for Sunday night’s nationally televised home opener against the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field:

WHAT WORKED

Earl Thomas And when it comes to the Seahawks’ All-Pro free safety, make that a heavy emphasis on worked. What didn’t Thomas do against the Panthers?

Yes, he forced the fourth-quarter fumble that defensive tackle Tony McDaniel recovered at the Seattle 8-yard line just after the Seahawks had scored to take the lead. But it also was Thomas who had a game-high 10 tackles, including eight solo stops. And it was Thomas who made two of the Seahawks’ first three tackles on the Panthers’ game-opening drive. And it was Thomas who broke up Cam Newton’s third-down pass that tight end Greg Olsen appeared to have caught for a first down in the first quarter.   

Thomas was there from start to finish in a performance that showed why he was voted All-Pro last season and has been to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.

“Of all the good things about their defense, that free safety is the best,” Eugene Robinson said before the game.

That’s the same Eugene Robinson who was a two-time Pro Bowl free safety for the Seahawks (1992 and 1993), was voted to the 35th Anniversary team and is now the analyst for radio broadcasts of Panthers games.

The Kid QB – Wilson took a beating against the Panthers, but rarely missed a beat. He’d go down, only to get up and make a play during his first 300-yard passing performance in a regular-season game.

Wilson was 25 of 33 for 320 yards, including the game-winning 43-yard TD toss to Jermaine Kearse in the fourth quarter.

“After the first five or six passes, he was on fire. He made a ton of great plays,” Carroll said. “He played great under the circumstances and came through for us in great fashion.

“But we don’t need him under pressure like that.”

McDaniel – Who steps in at the three-technique tackle spot where the departed Alan Branch started the past two seasons? It was McDaniel, and his Seahawks debut showed that the free-agent addition is a playmaker.

In addition to his recovery of the Thomas-forced fumble, McDaniel’s five-tackle effort included stopping Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams after a 1-yard gain on a second-and-2 play in the third quarter and then stuffing him for no gain on third-and-1. He also combined with linebacker K.J. Wright to make the first tackle of the game and with Thomas to make the tackle on the Panthers’ first play of the second quarter.

“I made a few tackles,” said McDaniel, offering understatement as large as his 6-foot-7, 305-pound body. “I kind of did a good job of getting coached up on knowing what kind of play they were going to run. When I got to the game, it slowed it down for me and made it easy for me.”

WHAT NEEDS WORK

The blocking – Pass blocking. Run blocking. All-the-way-around-the-block blocking. This was not what we’ve come to expect from the Seahawks’ offensive line.

The Seahawks averaged only 2.7 yards on 26 carries for 70 yards. Until Marshawn Lynch broke a 14-yarder on his last carry of the game, thanks to moving-his-man block from left guard James Carpenter, the Beast Mode back had averaged 1.8 yards on his first 16 runs.

“We did not feel good at all about the way we ran the football,” Carroll said. “We need to go back, take a look and see what happened here.”

The good news? Line coach Tom Cable will fix this.

Penalties – After a preseason filled with penalties (league-high totals of 42 for 419 yards), the unnerving trend continued as the Seahawks were flagged nine times for 109 wrong-way yards.

“I thought all the calls were legit,” Carroll said. “We gave them a little too much, we helped them too much. We’ve got to keep working on that.”

Starting better – We all know it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. But even after Sunday’s finishing plays by the offense and defense, the Seahawks need to start better. The offense had a net of 1 yard in the first quarter, while the defense allowed the Panthers at least 5 yards on their first five plays.

No matter how you slice it, that won’t cut it against the 49ers.

Game Rewind: Seattle Seahawks