Three Thoughts: Seahawks dominate Packers 36-16 in NFL opener
1. The Seahawks' offense was radically different tonight ... in subtle ways
In 2013, the Seahawks split opposing defenses with a run-heavy attack that featured a lot of play action and the dominant shake-and-quake running of Marshawn Lynch. That was all evident against the Packers on Thursday night, but Seattle's offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell also threw in all kinds of new wrinkles, especially in the first half.
Seattle worked more with receiver distribution and location pre-snap -- the Seahawks were definitely more diverse with their formations than they were last year. Receiver Doug Baldwin was upset at national prognosticators in the run-up to the Super Bowl when it was said that Seattle's receivers couldn't consistently gain separation, but there are structures that give receivers openings through scheme, and the Seahawks are doing more of that now because they have Percy Harvin as the force multiplier. Defenses -- especially in the middle -- are forced to adapt to Harvin. Russell Wilson continued to excel in play-action, especially when Harvin was involved. They opened the second quarter with receiver Jermaine Kearse in the middle of Trips left, motioning to the right H-back slot ... and then they switched it up with a 10-yard run by Lynch. They ran out of wider formations a lot.
On the third play of the second quarter, Harvin ran a drag route for 33 yards to the Green Bay 33. Then, on the following play, receiver Ricardo Lockette got an embarrassingly easy touchdown off Wilson's stretch play-action, taking the defense to Lynch's side and leaving everyone going the wrong way. Lynch's touchdown with 3:41 left in the first half was a variation of that same slice handoff, which is called a "Pop Play" at the NCAA level. Baldwin told me after the game that had Harvin been healthy through the 2013 season, this is what the offense would have looked like. That's a scary thought. Wilson completed 19 of 28 passes for 191 yards, two touchdowns and no picks, and looked completely in control in ways he hasn't before. It's pretty clear so far that Wilson's red-hot preseason transferred over to the real deal just fine.
2. Green Bay's no-huddle offense brought forth middling results.
The Packers went no-huddle more often in this game to attack Seattle's base defense -- something Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy talked about during the week -- but that's a problem because Seattle plays more from execution than scheme in their defense, and base is just fine with them. They did throw a few new wrinkles in there, consistently lining Michael Bennett up about three yards to the right outside the formation and throwing different nickel concepts at the Pack, but this was more about brute force than anything else. Aaron Rodgers alternated between coverage pressure issues and flat-out pressure inside and outside. Rodgers finished with 23 completions in 33 attempts for 189 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and appeared overwhelmed more often than not. And that was less about Rodgers and more about the most impressive unit in the 2014 NFL opener.
3. Seattle's defense looked very much like the NFL's best all over again.
This week, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman talked about what he's working on this season.
"Being disciplined and being patient. Not getting beat on the same thing twice. Having disciplined eyes and not getting bored in ball games. That’s pretty much it. Obviously playing deep ball and being multi-faceted in that respect."
And what makes him bored? "Not getting the ball gets you pretty bored."
Well, Sherman must have been elite-level bored in this game, because he wasn't targeted once. Not one single target. Rodgers instead targeted bookend cornerback Byron Maxwell, who gave up some plays to receiver Jordy Nelson, but this looked very much like the defense that tore up the NFL in 2013. Safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas were head-hunters all night, linebacker Bobby Wagner was a force against the run, and the allegedly penalty-prone Seahawks D had just four flags all evening.
The Seahawks are certainly not suffering from any Super Bowl hangover, and they've served notice to the rest of the NFL that as long as they stay reasonably healthy, the road to the next NFL championship goes through the Emerald City and nowhere else.