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***Upon Further Review is brought to you by yours truly and with the assistance of others. At this point in time, it is with the help of Pablo (broncofan91).He was part of this experiment last year and I am glad to have him aboard. As the season progresses, there will be others adding their input, and you will see them listed here. ***
The Seattle Seahawks come to town on Sunday, for the Broncos 2010 Home opener. The Seahawks made a season-opening statement by overpowering a heavily favored 49er team 31-6 in Week one. The Niners were the trendy pick to win the NFC West. After a slow start by the offense, Seattle exploded for 31 unanswered points and sent a message for what’s ahead. With the exception of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and a few other holdovers, the Seahawks will be trotting out a starting line-up that bears little resemblance to the group that kicked off the 2009 season. But change is to be expected with a new regime. Denver fans know all about personnel turnover, especially with a first year head coach. Both teams have overhauled more than half of their rosters, hopefully for the better. So let's see what's in store for the Broncos in Week Two.
Weather and Conditions
Sunday's contest at INVESCO should have good weather for the game. The current forecast for the 2:05 MDT contest is:
Wind Impact: LIGHT
NE at 10.0 mph
You can check here for the current readings.
THE INJURY FACTOR
The Seahawks will be without the services of their 1st round pick Russell Okung (high ankle sprain), who is slated to be Seattle's starting Left Tackle. His understudy, Chester Pitts is recovering from microfracture knee surgery and was inactive for last Sunday's game against San Francisco. That leaves former Bronco Tyler Polumbus as the starter at Left Tackle. Polumbus made his first career start last week against the San Francisco 49ers. Right Guard Max Unger is done for the season after being placed on injured reserve with a left toe injury. We could see another former Bronco in Ben Hamilton as his replacement. Left Guard Mike Gibson, who came out in the first half Sunday with a strained lower back, is expected to be ready for Denver. Linebacker David Hawthorne (back) also should be ready to play on Sunday. The Seahawks brought back offensive lineman Mansfield Wrotto to help their decimated O-Line.
The Seahawks have struggled with their running game. After averaging 3.6 yards a carry in exhibition play, they were held to a paltry 77 yards on the ground against the Niners. Starter Justin Forsett was the team's leading rusher with 43 yards, including a long of 32 yards.
The performance of their offensive line will continue to be an issue for Seattle until they can regain their health and adjust to the loss of O-Line coach Alex Gibbs. Tyler Polumbus filled in nicely at Left Tackle last week. He only gave up one sack in his first start as a Seahawk. Other than that bright spot, their pass blocking was very weak. Chester Pitts continues to rehab, but Polumbus will start against the Broncos on Sunday. Recent addition Stacy Andrews (from Philadelphia) will replace Max Unger at Right Guard, even though the team sees him as more of a right tackle. Seattle also could move right tackle Sean Locklear to guard.
Pablo (Broncofan91) had this to say about the O-Line:
They were getting pushed around quite a bit. The left side of the line looked especially bad. Old friend Tyler Polumbus is the starting left tackle due to injur….okay guys settle down please. Mr. Ayers stop giggling and pay attention. Anyway, their run blocking was even worse. They got pushed back very often and defensive players were penetrating the backfield on almost every run play.
The quarterback play had a rough start against San Francisco. Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception on the first play of the game. Niner CB Nate Clement jumped a route on Tight End John Carlson. After that, Hasselbeck settled down and had a great game. He got into a rhythm offensively, finishing 18-for-23 for 170 yards and two touchdowns with a 108.3 passer rating. Despite being pressured for much of the game and having no run support, he was accurate and quick to get rid of the ball. He also had a rushing TD so he’s not afraid to run if necessary. One thing I noticed was that there were barely any deep throws. That shows a fault in the the play of the offensive line. Hasselbeck's favorite target was Mike Williams, who finished with four catches for 64 yards, including a long of 35 yards. Hasselbeck got even with Clements later in the game. He noticed the San Francisco Defensive Backs trying to anticipate too much and burned them twice with double-moves for 2 touchdowns. Late in the first half, Williams used a double move to get open against Clements for a 35-yard gain to the 49ers’ 1-yard line. Hasselbeck scored on the next play to give the Seahawks a 7-6 lead that would only mushroom as the game progressed. On the Seahawks’ next possession, set up by Jordan Babineaux intercepting an Alex Smith pass and returning it 20 yards to the 49ers’ 13, Deon Butler used another double move to get behind Clements for a 13-yard touchdown.
WR Mike Williams dropped two passes, but otherwise played well against San Francisco. And with T.J. Houshmandzadeh in Baltimore, Williams provides Seattle with a big-play threat they've been lacking. TE John Carlson continues to find his way in Seattle's new offensive scheme. He finished with just three catches for 36 yards. The third-year tight end was supposed to be more of a focal point of the offense this season, but with pass protection issues the Seahawks have had trouble getting him out into the routes.
Pablo adds this:
RB: Not much to say about these except speed, speed, and more speed. Justin Forsett is the starter and gets the majority of the reps. He’s not a very physical runner but he hits the hole with tons of speed so discipline will be the word of the day for our defense. However, his real strength is in the passing game. His speed is a great asset in space. Julius Jones backs him up. Not a very effective runner but he is capable of breaking off a big run. Leon Washington didn’t get many reps but he’s probably the fastest of the three.
WR: A decent group of receivers but nothing spectacular. Second year man Deon Butler is the speedy one. Hex runs good routs and has good hands. Probably the best of the three starters. Next we have Deon branch. He has definitely lost a step but he’s still a savvy vet who can hurt you if you’re not careful. Finally, former Trojan Mike Williams. He is a beast. His build reminds me a lot of Brandon Marshall. He had a good game against San Francisco with a very nice catch and run TD. He also dropped a first down pass.
TE: John Carlson is, in my opinion, the best young catching tight-end in the league. He also happens to be Matt Hasselbeck’s favorite target. He is the one we have to focus on and stop if we want to win on Sunday.
For all the hype surrounding Pete Carroll’s successful return to the NFL, one aspect got overshadowed on Sunday: Seattle’s defense. The front seven played fairly well, squelching Niners running back Frank Gore. Gore has tore up Seattle in the past, averaging almost 150 yards rushing per game against them since the 2006. The Seahawk "D" held him to a scant 38 yards on 17 carries. This was the same player who twice in his career has rushed for more than 200 yards against Seattle. They did a nice job of gap control against Gore, holding him to a 2.2 yards-per-carry average.
The 49ers had a total of 17 red-zone plays on their first three drives and managed just two field goals. The Seahawks clogged run lanes with just their base defense and forced San Francisco to face third-and-5 or longer 11 times. The 49ers finished just 1 for 15 on third-down conversions.
Seattle’s run defense, and specifically its defensive line, was a major question entering the season. Against the 49’s, the line looked really good. They completely dominated the run game. The Seahawks had shifted Red Bryant from tackle to defensive end in the hopes of being more stout at the line of scrimmage with Bryant, and defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole plugging the run lanes. The best way to describe them would be a wall. Offensive linemen were being pushed back three yards. Pete Carroll raved about Cole’s effort and had almost as much praise for newcomer Junior Siavii. Cole had an impressive four tackles in about 27 plays for the Seahawks. Siavii, signed only a week ago, played extensively and finished with two stops and a tackle for loss. Rookie DE Dexter Davis continues to earn more playing time for the Seahawks. The seventh-round choice out of Arizona State finished the pre-season with two sacks. He earned another sack against San Francisco, and has become a regular part of Seattle's third-down package defensively.
Seattle did a good job of occupying linemen, allowing the linebackers to make clean tackles. The pass-rush was decent but not great.
One of the most improved areas of Seattle's defense, the Seahawks Pass Defense finished with two interceptions—both on third downs—including a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Marcus Trufant. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was sacked twice and suffered eleven quarterback hits, with Chris Clemons (four) and Bryant (three) leading the charge.
LB Lofa Tatupu, who ran Carroll's defense at USC, said that the defensive fronts, which now alternate far more between 4-3 and 5-2 than they have for the Seahawks, rely on the concept of gap integrity and the ability to see that through by recruiting larger players in the front seven. Tatupu led the team with eight tackles in his first regular-season action since tearing pectoral muscle last October. Aaron Curry finished with three tackles and two quarterback hurries, which was solid. However, the team expects the No. 4 overall draft pick from 2009 to have more impact on the game. Leroy Hill, suspended for the first game because of a violation of the league's substance abuse policy, will play this week, but won't start. The Seahawks released cornerback Kennard Cox to make room for him. Because of that, Seattle's defense might only get better this week heading into Denver.
The Seahawk Defense is much improved with Lofa healthy again. He can do it all. Aaron Curry is mostly used mostly for run support and rushing the passer. He is very good at both. This group is very good when blitzing so our O-line better bring their A game.
CB Marcus Trufant continues to show that he has bounced back from a disappointing 2009 campaign, in which led the league in pass interference penalties with seven. He also had the Pick Six. On the other side, Kelly Jennings had a solid game and made a couple of nice, open-field tackles against San Francisco. Jennings' improved play is one of the reasons Seattle felt comfortable trading cornerback Josh Wilson to Baltimore.
Seattle's Defensive backfield was not too impressive in last week's game. Their coverage was very inconsistent. Marcus Trufant had 2 interceptions but those were unforced errors by Alex Smith. Earl Thomas is probably their best player of the back four. He plays the run very well and hits like a hammer.
Both the Kickoff and the Punt coverage units for the Seahawks were great against the 49ers. Former Jet Leon Washington is Seattle’s new return man and he’s still got it. Washington finished with two kick returns for 58 yards, including a long of 41 yards in his first regular-season action since suffering a compound fracture that ended his season last October against Oakland. Justin Forsett returned 3 punts for 17 yards. Forsett is a good returner but the blocking was sub-par. Punter Jon Ryan averaged 42 yards and placed one punt inside the 20. Kicker Olindo Mare made his only field goal, a 35 yarder and all four extra points, along with booting two kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
WHAT TO WATCH
Run Defense - The Seahawks running game is suffering because of the O-Line shuffling. Justin Forsett is a small back that can get lost behind the bigger linemen and is quick enough to exploit a hole, but someone has to open the holes.
Special Teams - This is an area the Broncos can take advantage of. The Seattle return game still needs to find a productive groove following the infusion of so many new players last week.
Third down Defense - The Seahawk offense converted five of 11 – or 45% against the Niners. If that number stays up, it will mean trouble for the Broncos.
The Seahawks need to continue their first-rate play on the road. Seattle was 1-7 in 2009, with all seven losses coming by double-digits. They were outscored, 260-117 away from Qwest Field last season. Their only win on the road came at 1-15 St. Louis.
The Broncos own an NFL-best 23-3 record in home openers since 1984, as the club has won its last 10 such games to tie for the third-longest home opener winning streak in the NFL since the 1970 merger. All-time, Denver is 37-12-1 (.750) in home openers, a mark that includes a 14-6 record in home openers that are not its first overall game of the season.
This is the 53rd meeting between the Broncos and Seahawks in the regular season with the Broncos owning a 31-18 advantage, including a 20-5 record at home. But the Seahawks won the last meeting – 23-20 at Denver in 2006. Denver’s .635 overall winning percentage against Seattle represents its fourth-best record against an opponent in regular season and postseason play combined (min. 10 games played). The Broncos won the previous two meetings, a 31-9 road triumph in 2002 and a 20-7 home contest against their then-AFC West rival in 2001. Seattle, which played the Broncos twice a year as a member of the AFC West from 1978 through 2001, had a six-game losing streak in Denver prior to its 2006 win there.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met once in the postseason, with the Seahawks handing the Broncos a 31-7 loss in a 1983 AFC First-Round Playoff. The game marked the first postseason contest in the eventual Hall of Fame career of Denver quarterback John Elway.
Carroll is 2-2 in his career against the Broncos, including 1-0 while with the Jets (1994) and 1-2 with the Patriots (1997-99). The Broncos' Josh McDaniels will be meeting both Carroll and the Seahawks for the first time as a head coach.
Vegas odds have the Broncos favored by 3.5 points.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In a game many expected the Seahawks to lose, head coach Pete Carroll had his team well prepared for San Francisco. The Seahawks held tough early, particularly on defense, and then the coaching staff made some good, in-game adjustments to help Seattle score 31 unanswered points for the victory. Now that's all very touching, but it this an aberration? Seattle looked great in a Week 1 romp over the Rams last season, then promptly went out and lost seven of its next nine, including five consecutive road blowouts. That Seattle team, in its first year under Jim Mora, was supposed to have a new energy too.
The San Francisco romp didn't hide Seattle's flaws. Their inability to run the ball has become chronic. Of the 77 yards rushing, 32 came on a single 4th quarter rush by Justin Forsett when they were ahead by 22 points. Seattle began its transition to a zone-blocking system a year ago, but the linemen must stay on their assignments longer. Continuity has also been a problem. 4 of the O-Linemen have only been with the team for little over a month.
The Broncos have their own weaknesses, but they also know who they are at this stage. They will be playing before a boisterous home crowd, and are desperate to stop a losing trend that has gown to five games going back to last season. Look for Denver to erase the residue of last week's disappointment and earn a decisive win.
In closing, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to go to this game. So if you see a guy in the northwest endzone area in an Orange Dawkins jersey screaming like a madman for his favorite team, well, that'll be me.