For the Seahawks, they aren’t just called special teams. They really are special.
Saturday night’s third preseason game against the Broncos in Denver was a three hour-plus reminder of just how well the units coached by Brian Schneider and Jeff Ulbrich can be. The capper to a game that was decided by special teams play was the 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by rookie free agent Doug Baldwin.
But there was more. So much more.
Veteran kicker Jeff Reed took advantage of the thin air at Sports Authority Field at Mile High to drill field goals from 53 and 52 yards, as well as driving four of his five kickoffs into – or out of – the end zone for touchbacks.
“I hit the ball well,” Reed said. “But yeah, it’s nice kicking here. I can’t tell you all those (kickoffs) would have been out of the end zone if we were playing in Seattle – or any other stadium, actually. But you still have to hit the ball well.”
Punter Jon Ryan did the same, getting off 66- and 63-yarder while averaging 51.1 yards on seven punts.
Leading the cover of those punts and kickoffs were rookies Byron Maxwell, who had three tackles; and Jeron Johnson, who had two.
And after breaking his big return, Baldwin heaped praise on his blockers, including those from Justin Forsett, K.J. Wright and Mark LeGree that provided his path up the sideline before Baldwin broke to the middle of the field at the Broncos’ 30-yard line.
Good stuff, from start to finish.
Just like last season, when the special teams were the best – and most consistent – unit on the Seahawks’ NFC West championship team. The Schneider- and Ulbrich-coached crew tied for fourth-best in the NFL, according to the rankings compiled by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News that are based on 22 special-teams categories.
With that said, here’s a look at three things that worked in the 23-20 loss to the Broncos and three things that need work this week:
The special teams. Big return? Check. Big kicks? Double check. Big-time coverage? Check, and check.
The tight ends. The Seahawks have three receiving touchdowns in the preseason – all by tight ends, and not the tight ends you might expect. Anthony McCoy had one in each of the first two games and Dominique Byrd got one against the Broncos. They’re also second on the team in receptions with seven each, one behind Baldwin.
“Those are always the toughest ones, because you know you’re wide open,” Byrd said of his TD – the first scored by the No. 1 offense. “Sometimes your shoulders might relax or something like. I just wanted to focus and make sure I got the six points.”
Byrd could have the 2-1 edge over McCoy, because he was even more open in the end zone on the play that produced McCoy’s TD in the opener against the Chargers.
Asked about that play, Byrd smiled and offered, “As long as it goes to the tight end position, we’re happy.”
Marcus Trufant. He’s 30, and the longest-tenured Seahawk is in his ninth season. But the kid from T-town can still play. Against the Broncos, the left cornerback from Washington State and Tacoma’s Wilson High School not only blitzed to get a sack; it was a 15-yarder. He also had a game-high six tackles.
What needs work: The three P’s
Pass protection. Tarvaris Jackson was sacked five times by the Broncos, including 3½ from the at-times untouchable duo of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. But it wasn’t just the sacks; it was the constant pressure Jackson was under. He faced similar situations – if not as many sacks – in the opener against the Chargers and the Week 2 game against the Vikings. The offense will not be able to take needed steps until the blocking improves.
Penalties. The Seahawks had 10 against the Broncos, to go with 10 against the Vikings and six against the Chargers. Yes, it’s the preseason, and one that is following no offseason. Sure, there are so many new players learning a new offense. But concentration is key.
Pass defense. It wasn’t as porous as Kyle Orton’s 236-yard performance in three quarters made it appear. It’s just that 136 of those yards came on five of his 16 completions, with four of them on first-down plays.