Special Teams Excels and Other Takeaways from the Seahawks' 16-15 Win at San Diego

Observations from the Seahawks' third preseason game of the season, a 16-15 victory in San Diego.

At halftime of what would eventually finish as a 16-15 Seahawks victory over the San Diego Chargers, the Seahawks were being outgained by 100 yards, had six fewer first downs than the Chargers, and had punted on their first four possessions.

The Seahawks also had a 10-6 lead, which served as a good reminder that special teams play can make a big difference in a game. A big night for Seattle's special teams units leads off five takeaways from Saturday night's game in San Diego.

1. Special teams play should be much better in 2015.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has always put a big emphasis on special teams play, regularly using starters and even Pro Bowl-caliber players to do the dirty work in the third phase of the game. But in 2014, the Seahawks weren't as good on special teams as they have been in the past, in part because of injuries to some key special teams players, and in part because they struggled to fill the return roles after losing Golden Tate in free agency and trading Percy Harvin.  

In an attempt to upgrade their return games, the Seahawks moved up in the third round of the 2015 draft in order to pick Tyler Lockett, and so far Lockett is exceeding expectations. Two weeks ago, Lockett returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown, and on Saturday night he had a 67-yard punt return for Seattle's only touchdown in the game.

"Just another incredible run," Carroll said. "He's for real and has the factor that we'd hoped. That's really exciting for our team."

And it isn't just Lockett making special teams play better. Cassius Marsh, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, was all over the place making tackles on kick and punt coverage Saturday. Kevin Pierre-Louis and Derrick Coleman, two core special teams players, were also sidelined by injuries late last season. Carroll has repeatedly talked about how much he likes the depth on this year's team, and that depth is really showing up on special teams. 

"Special teams has really been a great factor for us this preseason," Carroll said. "They're all over the opportunities, I'm really fired up. It doesn't matter who's out there, they're all doing some good stuff."

Fittingly, the game was won by a big play on special teams, with Steven Hauschka hitting a 60-yarder in the final minute of the game to secure a one-point victory.

Of course any mention of special teams play from this game has to include punter Jon Ryan, who had an outstanding game, both booming big punts to change field position, and also showing perfect distance control to pin the Chargers inside their own 20 three times.

2. The first-team offense still has work to do.

Russell Wilson and Seahawks' first-team offense put together a nice drive at the end of the first half to get a field goal just before halftime, and they opened the second half with another long drive that ended in a field goal, but what had happened up to that point was less encouraging for the offense. Up until that last drive of the half, the Seahawks had just one first down and had punted four times, and after playing all of the first half the week before, and two series in the opener, the starting offense has yet to produce a touchdown.

"We didn't do as well on offense as we wanted to," Carroll said. "… Just in general our whole offense doesn't feel as smooth as it needs to, not functioning as well as we'd like on third down.

"We're just not as sharp. Russ missed a couple tonight."

There are plenty of reasons not to panic about the offense, from the fact that the current starting line has only had two weeks together, and left tackle Russell Okung didn't play, to the fact that Marshawn Lynch has barely played, to the fact that, like any team, the Seahawks are holding back plenty of their playbook in the preseason. But with all of that in mind, Carroll still said, "It just wasn't as good as it needed to be."

But even if Carroll doesn't like what he has seen so far, he believes there's still time to get the offense going.

"We've been frustrated by it," Carroll said. "I'm a little frustrated by it, but I'm not worried about it for the long-haul. I just want to get our offensive linemen enough turns and enough reps together so they can go and make the calls and be really sharp at the things we need them to do. We need more time, we're not there yet."

3. Brock Coyle is quietly having a very solid preseason.

Brock Coyle was one of the breakout players from last year's preseason, winning a roster spot as an undrafted rookie out of Montana, but this year he has been going about his business with less fanfare. That does not, however, mean that Coyle isn't playing well, but rather it's just a reflection of him playing behind one of the best middle linebackers in football, and also just not being a new face in camp anymore.

On Saturday, Coyle tied for a team-high with 6.0 tackles, and most significantly in a game decided by a single point, he stuffed Branden Oliver in the backfield on a two-point conversion attempt at the end of the third quarter.

And on a related note, a tip of the cap to Chargers coach Mike McCoy for going for two points in that situation, rather than kicking a game-tying extra point, greatly reducing the odds of a preseason game going to overtime.

4. Earl Thomas is missed.

It's probably pretty obvious that a defense would miss having a first-team All-Pro free safety on the field, but in the case of Thomas's absence, what really shows up isn't so much defensive plays not being made, but rather the big gains that are.

Seattle's defense played pretty well overall, holding the Chargers' first-team offense to a pair of field goals, but as much as the Seahawks focus on explosive plays—both having them on offense and preventing them on defense—it stands out when teams have long runs or pass completions. Thomas is so good at turning a potential huge play into a moderate gain that that ability can almost be taken for granted, but when a short pass turns into a 70-yard touchdown with the last line of defense missing a tackle, that's when you really notice Thomas' absence.

The good news for Seattle is that Thomas, who had offseason shoulder surgery, is practicing and likely to be ready for the season opener, and in the meantime Seattle's backup safeties are getting valuable experience that will make the team's depth better in the long run.

Seahawks fans came out in droves on Saturday in San Diego.  

5. Marshawn Lynch is ready for the regular season.

Marshawn Lynch made his first appearance in the preseason, playing only for the three plays that made up Seattle's first possession. Lynch also made what will be his last appearance in the preseason Saturday night. Lynch finished with two carries for 6 yards and also had a 3-yard catch, and that was enough game action for the preseason, according to Carroll.

"It was good to see Marshawn," Carroll said. "He took off and hit the first run real nice, got the ball a couple of times. We didn't block anybody on the short-yardage play. He's ready to go now, that was it. Don't hold your breath waiting for him next week, OK? Even though he'll likely be a captain next week, he isn't playing. He has made it through preseason, he's ready to play football, which is really the goal.  

Photos from the Seahawks' 16-15 win over the San Diego Chargers.  

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