After opening preseason play with a win over Minnesota last week, the Seahawks are back at Lumen Field on Saturday night to face the Dallas Cowboys in their second of three preseason contests.
After getting over some early-game sloppiness—as Pete Carroll noted, the defense had seven missed tackles in the first quarter and two the rest of the game—the Seahawks impressed their coach with their effort in the preseason opener, and now he'd like to see them build off of that performance against the Cowboys.
"I would like to see us play really hard again," Carroll said. "I was fired up about the efforts, and the lack of loafs that we count and add up. The effort from the first guys that played to the last guys that played was really consistent. We tackled a lot better as the game went on. I hope that we can start tackling well."
With that in mind, here are five things to watch in Saturday's game against the Cowboys:
1. Will the starters play, and if so, how does it look with the first-string units on the field?
With a few exceptions, the Seahawks held their starters out of last week's preseason opener. Carroll didn't say on Thursday what the plan is for Saturday's game, but if the starters are going to get much work this preseason, the second preseason game has been, for most teams, the time to play starters in the relatively new three-game preseason.
And if we do see Geno Smith and the No. 1 offense take the field, it will be a good chance to see how that unit looks after making a few changes to what was a very productive offense in 2022. Jaxon Smith-Njigba has been outstanding in his first NFL training camp, and whether it's this weekend or in the regular season, it will be fun to see how he, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf all complement each other as a trio. And while the Seahawks won't be at full strength at running back, rookie Zach Charbonnet should be able to give a good look at how the running game as a whole is functioning, led by an offensive line that returns three full-time starters from last season—tackles Abe Lucas and Charles Cross and guard Damien Lewis—as well as Phil Haynes, who split time at guard with 2022 starter Gabe Jackson.
On the other side of the ball, there will be a lot of intrigue about the new-look defensive line—starters Dre'Mont Jones, Jarran Reed and Mario Edwards were all acquired this offseason—and again, we don't know if that trio will play Saturday, but whenever they do take the field together, their play will be very important to deciding the fates of the 2023 defense.
2. Can the run defense build off of an encouraging showing last week?
One of the defensive highlights for Seattle last week was holding Minnesota to 83 rushing yards and a 3.2 yards-per-carry average. And yes, the starters for both teams were held out, with a few exceptions, but that was still a meaningful performance for a defense looking to improve a run defense that struggled in 2022.
As Carroll noted after Thursday's game, those run defense numbers were meaningful even with backups in the game because it showed that adjustments the team made in the offseason, scheme wise, are working as hoped.
"The scheme worked well," Carroll said. "We liked the way we played. The choices we settled in on for the way we basically played, the calls worked out really well tonight. The guys were confident in them. As we played more, we got better. They brought the scheme to life a little bit. It was a good night for us on defense, a really good night, except for the start where we couldn't tackle anybody. It was terrible right up to that."
"We were better (on run defense). We hit a couple pressures, then the balls popped into the secondary. Made a couple errors where that happened. Once we got going, we were really clean."
3. Does Michael Jackson or Tre Brown make a statement in the left cornerback competition?
With Riq Woolen returning to practice and sliding back into his role at right cornerback, the competition is on at left cornerback between Michael Jackson, last year's starter, and Tre Brown, a starter for part of his rookie season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
As Carroll noted Thursday, rookie Devon Witherspoon will be a factor there when he returns from his injury, but Witherspoon has also been working in the nickel corner spot, and until he's back, it's Jackson and Brown battling for a significant role.
Both corners have enjoyed very strong training camp, helping to highlight the depth the Seahawks have at that position, and both will no doubt be looking to state their case for a starting job when they play Saturday.
4. Coby Bryant's development at safety.
In part due to all that aforementioned depth at corner, and in part due to his versatility and playmaking ability, the Seahawks are using Coby Bryant, last year's nickel corner, at safety during camp. With starters sitting the opener, Bryant started at safety and played well, making a huge hit, showing up in run defense and overall looking comfortable at a new spot.
For someone as new as Bryant is to that position, every game situation is a big opportunity to show what he can do.
"He's doing really well," Carroll said of Bryant at safety. "He's looked really apt for the position. He fits well, moves well, reads the quarterback really well. Covers ground really well back there. Good decision making on play-making opportunities. I think it's going to be a good spot for him. He's also going to be called on to play corner for us. He has nickel and dime he is playing. Like I told you earlier in the week, he's doing everything."
5. Which UDFAs strengthen their cases for roster spots?
The Seahawks have an undrafted rookie or two make the team almost every season, and several members of a big 2023 UDFA class have a shot to make the team this year. Last week, receiver Matt Landers had a touchdown reception, outside linebacker Levi Bell had a sack and several pressures, and Jake Bobo led the team in receiving, a performance that included a touchdown catch. Safety Jonathan Sutherland has also had a strong camp, and has even seen work with the starting defense in sub packages. Does one of those players, or another undrafted rookie, strengthen his case for a job on Saturday? Tune in to find out.
The Seahawks practice in at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash. on Aug. 16, 2023.