Darrell Taylor, Young Edge Rushers Show Promise in Preseason Opener

On an evening where the Seahawks struggled to find a rhythm offensively and were carved up by a backup quarterback defensively, the stellar play of Taylor and his counterparts provided a silver lining in defeat.
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LAS VEGAS, NV - Much to the dismay of coach Pete Carroll, not much went right for the Seahawks during an ugly 20-7 loss to the Raiders in the team's preseason opener on Saturday night at Allegiant Stadium.

Albeit while playing without a single projected starter, including quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle finished with less than 200 yards of total offense and only found the end zone once. Undermanned on defense as well, the team allowed journeyman quarterback Nathan Peterman to complete 74 percent of his passes and Las Vegas converted on 11 out of 17 third down opportunities.

"What we did tonight was not good enough to win a football game," Carroll stated bluntly after the game. "Really on both sides of the ball we needed to do some things better, particularly on third down - third down was a nightmare for us, particularly on defense, and it made it really hard for us."

But despite the aforementioned offensive struggles and third down ineptitude, there were still several positives to glean from Saturday's contest. Most significantly, even without the services of veterans Carlos Dunlap, Kerry Hyder, and Benson Mayowa, the Seahawks were still able to showcase the impressive depth of their pass rush with the young trio of Alton Robinson, Rasheem Green, and Darrell Taylor wreaking havoc and being disruptive off the edge.

Robinson, who Seattle selected in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft out of Syracuse, led the way with five tackles and three quarterback pressures. His biggest play came at the 3:56 mark in the second quarter as he quickly penetrated the pocket and hit Peterman's arm as reared back to throw, causing the ball to pop up into the air and eventually be intercepted by safety Ryan Neal.

This offseason, Robinson worked towards becoming a more complete pass rusher by continuing to partake in former Seahawks star Cliff Avril's Sack360 program. After recording 4.0 sacks as a rookie in limited action, the fruits of his labor could be seen on the field in Las Vegas.

"Coming out of my rookie season, I wanted to work on my rush angles and just understanding the game more," Robinson remarked after the game. "I think last year I was kind of running around, just trying to find the ball more than knowing what to expect from offenses and things like that, so I think I got a little bit better there, but they've always work to do."

Starting across from Robinson, Green seemed to live in the Raiders backfield in the first two quarters, sacking Peterman once and generating three pressures of his own. The fourth-year defender out of USC also held up well against the run, blowing up a first down run in the red zone and allowing Neal to clean up running back Trey Ragas at the line of scrimmage early in the second quarter. Three plays later, the home team was forced to settle for a field goal.

Statistically, Taylor wasn't quite as productive as Robinson or Green in his Seahawks debut, finishing with three tackles and no quarterback hits. Playing in his first game in nearly 20 months, he exhibited plenty of rust as anticipated, missing a pair of tackles and consistently getting too deep upfield on his rush attempts. But he also flashed his explosiveness and burst off the edge, including forcing Peterman up in the pocket to allow linebacker Cody Barton to sack him in the third quarter.

After missing his entire rookie season recovering from leg surgery, Taylor called his long-awaited Seahawks debut "electrifying, satisfying, and gratifying," indicating nothing is holding him back at this point.

"Being out there with my teammates and being out in front of a crowd for the first time, it was everything I hoped it would be," Taylor smiled. "It was definitely good to get out there. I think everybody wanted to see me, and I wanted to play. It didn't happen last year, so this year I'm ready to roll and locked and loaded."

Without having a chance to review how he performed on film yet, Carroll wasn't as concerned about Taylor's numbers as he was about giving him substantial playing time. He, Robinson, and Green all played into the fourth quarter on Saturday and those extensive reps will be critical for their growth and development.

"Those guys played a lot of football, and we're trying to get them going," Carroll said. "Particularly Darrell, we just needed to leave him out there, let him get some ball under his belt. He's had such a good offseason and such a good prep in camp. I don't even know how he played necessarily, I just know he was out there playing football and that was really important for us.

"You could feel Alton and Rasheem too, and all of those opportunities for Darrell are just going to help us. I don't know who they were rushing against, what level they were, but still our guys just got to play football and they worked hard at it. We gave up one sack and we had four sacks, so that's a good start in that regard."

When the Seahawks take on the Broncos in their second preseason game next weekend, Carroll hopes to see their pass rush take another step forward and be better "connected" with the secondary. A handful of potential sacks were left on the field on Saturday, as Robinson, Green, and Taylor all let Peterman slip from their grasp at least once during the loss, leaving plenty of room for improvement.

On an evening where not much else went as planned, however, encouraging performances by all three rushers provided a rare bright spot for Carroll's squad. Set to team up with Dunlap, Hyder, and Mayowa, their emergence should make competition for playing time even fiercer in coming weeks.