RENTON, WA - From the moment he stepped into the huddle for the Seahawks opening drive in Sunday's season opener, Russell Wilson was in total command and the Falcons had no answer for his brilliance.
Whether he was in the pocket or scrambling - regardless of arm angle or the platform thrown off of - he systematically dissected their defense at all three levels, spreading the ball around to nine different receivers. By the time the final horn sounded and Seattle capped off an impressive 38-25 win, the six-time Pro Bowler had completed nearly 90 percent of his passes for 322 yards and thrown four touchdowns, equaling the number of incompletions he had the entire afternoon.
Through it all, the only thing that seemed to keep Wilson and the Seahawks high-flying offense grounded was an occasional breakdown in pass protection from an offensive line with three new starters combined with well-executed stunts by the Falcons defense. In the first two quarters of play, the star signal caller was under persistent duress while absorbing three sacks and seven quarterback hits.
But as coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Monday, while Seattle doesn't want Wilson taking that much abuse during the course of a game, the line wasn't to blame for all of that pressure. In fact, he was quick to defend Mike Solari's group, starting with Takk McKinley's sack off the edge on the first play from scrimmage.
"The first play of the game, we made a mistake and [Wilson] got sacked, had nothing to do with the offensive line," Carroll said. "Russ [Wilson] will let you know he held the football one time, he missed his read and they got him. Getting hit and knocked around a little bit was way more than we wanted but as the game went on, we definitely got more confident and the timing seemed to work out better."
On the latter play referenced by Carroll, Wilson did have ample time to scan the field, but he missed tight end Greg Olsen coming open. Failing to unload the football on time as he searched for an open receiver, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. eventually collapsed the pocket and brought him down for the sack, forcing a Seahawks punt.
Earlier in the half, only a few plays after McKinley got to Wilson, the third sack also came from Jarrett, who looped outside on a stunt and wasn't picked up by tackle Brandon Shell on a clear miscommunication with rookie right guard Damien Lewis. With a clear path to the quarterback, Jarrett closed in quickly and devoured him for a big loss, but Seattle received a gifted first down on a pass interference penalty the next play to extend the drive.
Only two plays later, Wilson found running back Chris Carson in the flats to give the Seahawks a 7-3 lead. Moments later, the duo connected again to extend the advantage to 11 points late in the first quarter, making the pair of sacks a moot point.
"Let's put to rest a flurry of three sacks in the first half. That felt terrible and is exactly how we didn't want it to go and was really the only negative in it," Carroll remarked. "It was really just a stat because we overcame the stuff that happened and made our first downs and all that for the first part."
Once Seattle returned to the field for the second half up by two points, the line stepped up its game, ratcheting up protection for Wilson. In the final 30 minutes of action, he was only hit three times and wasn't sacked once, allowing him to hit DK Metcalf for a 38-yard scoring strike and Greg Olsen for a seven-yard touchdown in a matter of minutes to push the lead back to 16.
On the next drive, Lewis drew a pair of holding penalties, but Seattle again overcame the miscues to get back into range for kicker Jason Myers, who further expanded the lead to 31-12 with a field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Overall, in spite of the penalties, it was a very solid half by the entire group. With Shell, Lewis, and center Ethan Pocic all newcomers to the starting lineup and no preseason games last month to get valuable reps working against another team, it was a positive first impression for an offensive line trying to establish chemistry and continuity on the fly in a year unlike any other.
While encouraged by what he saw, Carroll cautiously offered the reminder they've only played four quarters together. A tough test against the Patriots next weekend will provide more clarity on where the group stands early in the season.
"It's just one game - you can't really tell - we got to come out here and play against another really difficult defense and see how we do against these guys."