The Seahawks open up their 2022 season on Monday night when they host the Denver Broncos. A game that will feature both teams unveiling new looks—Seattle on defense and Denver on offense—and that, of course, will also see Russell Wilson return to Lumen Field with his new team.
Here are five things to watch when the Seahawks and Broncos face off on Monday night:
1. The chess match between a new-look Seattle defense and a very familiar opposing QB.
On one hand, the Seahawks could not possibly be more familiar with an opposing quarterback than they will be when Russell Wilson takes the field to lead the Broncos offense.
"I do have as much as information as you could have—I probably haven't known a player any closer than knowing Russ, his quarterback play, his mentality, and all of that," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, before adding, "He knows me too, he knows us. We will see what happens."
On the other hand, the Seahawks aren't entirely sure what the Broncos offense will look like even if they know the quarterback well, not with the Broncos turning over their coaching staff in the offseason, hiring former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as head coach. Hackett and the Packers no doubt held back in what they showed in the preseason, and Wilson didn't play in those games, so there will be some mystery surrounding Denver's offense even with such a familiar player leading the way at quarterback.
Of course, on the other side of this equation is the fact that the Seahawks will look quite a bit different on defense after making significant changes on that side of the ball, both in terms of scheme under new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt and associate head coach-defense Sean Desai, and also in terms of personnel. So while Wilson will have plenty of familiarity with some of the defensive players he's facing, he and Hackett might not have a great grasp on what Seattle's defense, which kept things intentionally vanilla in the preseason, might throw at them.
In a situation like this where there is an element of the unknown for both teams, what could very well be the deciding factor is which team makes the better in-game adjustments once they get a feel for their opponent.
"It's going to be a lot about (in-game adjustments)," Hurtt said. "You know the familiarity on both sides and trying to get a feel so a lot of that is going to come down to that. But there is still things that you can study and pick up on and still have a good feel for it going into the game."
Later, when Hurtt was if the Broncos showed a vanilla offense in the preseason, he noted, "We were vanilla too. That's the whole thing. You kind of hold your cards and get ready for the big show."
2. Can Rashaad Penny & the run game pick up where they left off?
Yes, when it comes to Seattle's offense, much of the spotlight will be quarterback Geno Smith, who won the starting role in a competition with former Bronco Drew Lock, but if the Seahawks want to help Smith get off to a good start, a successful running game would be a big help.
And with Rashaad Penny leading the way, the Seahawks have every reason to believe they will be able to run the ball given how big of a strength that was for the offense down the stretch in 2021. Penny finished last season rushing for 671 yards and six touchdowns in the final five weeks of the season, the most rushing yards in the NFL in that span. And perhaps most importantly after dealing with injuries for much of his first three seasons, he finished last year healthy, enjoyed an equally healthy camp, and heads into this season, "the best and the most fit I ever felt, (and) fast. I'm just ready to cut it loose."
While Penny figures to get he bulk of the carries, particularly if rookie Kenneth Walker III (hernia) can't go, Seattle's running game is far from being a one-man show. Seattle's offensive line looked very good run blocking in the preseason, and with Penny held out of preseason games, both DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer had a lot of success running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield.
The Seahawks will no doubt need Smith and his playmakers in the passing game to play well if they're going to win, but as we saw down the stretch last season, Seattle's offense is at its best when the running game is clicking.
3. Is the Seahawks rookie class ready to shine?
The Seahawks have been excited about their draft class from the moment those nine rookies stepped on the field for rookie minicamp, and nothing that took place in offseason workouts, training camp or the preseason has caused those high expectations to wane. And now with the regular season finally here, it is evident that multiple rookies are set to make big contributions immediately. While not official, this week's depth chart lists three rookies as starters: left tackle Charles Cross, right tackle Abraham Lucas and cornerback Tariq Woolen. Boye Mafe also figures to play a significant role in the pass-rush rotation, and while his status for this week is in question, Kenneth Walker III will have a role in the running game whenever he's back. Coby Bryant, meanwhile, is pushing for playing time at nickel corner and could also at some point be a factor as an outside corner.
Facing one of the best deep-ball passers of his era, Woolen will no doubt get tested at some point by Wilson and his weapons, while Cross and Lucas will not only try to pave the way in the running game, but also hold up to the edge-rush duo of Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory.
"We have to wait and see," Carroll said. "They all have to pan out, but the opportunities are there for our young guys in this draft class to contribute now. We have to manage that well and manage our kind of excitement for that to not overdo it, because if you manage young guys properly, you don't give them too much too early. But with that, there's a couple young tackles who're going to be doing a lot of playing in this game. You might see some rushers. You might see some cover guys. There are guys all over the board from this draft class so we are really excited about this class. And when Kenny gets to have his factor in this thing too, he's going to be a big deal to this club. I've never felt the confidence in the group as much as we do right now. This is a really good group, from one to seven, all the way throughout."
4. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett vs. a talented Broncos secondary.
As mentioned earlier, the Seahawks want to run the ball, but they also know they need to be explosive in the passing game, and that likely means Smith finding ways to get the ball downfield to his top two receivers.
Lockett has gone over 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons, including a career-best 1,175 yards last year, and Metcalf's 3,170 yards are the most by a Seahawks pass-catcher in his first three seasons, so recent history suggests both players will again be highly productive again in 2022. Getting off to a fast start won't be easy, however, not against a Broncos secondary that features cornerback Pat Surtain II, one of the best young corners in the game, Pro-Bowl safety Justin Simmons and two other established veteran starters in cornerback Ronald Darby and Kareem Jackson.
"They've got great players everywhere on the back end," Smith said. "You got young Pat Surtain who's probably one of the better corners in the league right now, and then they got Darby on the other side who's a veteran who's played a ton of good football. They have Kareem Jackson back there as well as Justin Simmons, they got great players. They've got really great players who can make plays. You can see they communicate and they talk well, so it's really just up to us to go out there and really focus on what we have to do well, and what we have to do to execute. The league is filled with great players, they're all around, every week is going be a tough week. But we're definitely up for the challenge."
5. Seattle's new-look pass rush vs. Denver's offensive line.
The day after Seattle's 2021 season ended, Carroll pointed to the defense's inability to created turnovers as an issue to address in the offseason, and noted that the best way to get more takeaways is to improve the pass rush.
The Seahawks hope to see an improvement out of the pass rush due not only to schematic changes made by Clint Hurtt, but also with the speed and athleticism they added at outside linebacker to join Darrell Taylor, who had 6.5 sacks in his first full season. Uchenna Nwosu, who is coming off his best season with the Chargers, was one of Seattle's early additions in free agency, and the Seahawks also used one of their two second-round picks on Boye Mafe, an athletic edge rusher who has already drawn comparisons to Seahawks Legend Cliff Avril from Carroll.
Russell Wilson has been great at avoiding turnovers throughout his NFL career, but if the Seahawks can create some pressure and hit Wilson, that could be a big factor in potentially spoiling Wilson's return to Lumen Field.
The Seahawks and Broncos will meet on Monday Night Football at Lumen Field. Take a look back at photos from past games played between the two teams.