SAN FRANCISCO – Just like in 2010, the Seattle Seahawks open the season against San Francisco.
The 49ers were the preseason favorite to dominate the NFC West, but the Hawks stunned them, 31-6, at Qwest Field.
In the aftermath, we speculated that Matt Hasselbeck (108.3 passer rating) had returned to top form, the defense would be dominant (holding the Niners to 1-of-15 third-down conversions), and guys like Deion Branch (a touchdown catch) and Marcus Trufant (an interception return for a TD) were in for great seasons.
What we actually came to understand after the initial overreaction was those developments were more about San Francisco’s weaknesses than Seattle’s strengths.
It was Hasselbeck’s highest rating of the regular season; Trufant never had another interception; Branch was soon traded, and the Seahawks won only three of their last 10 games of the regular season.
So it is with caution I offer theories on what we may seek to learn from today’s game in San Francisco. But this is the first 60 minutes of the season, and it should offer at least some early evidence on key elements that can foreshadow the 15 games that follow.
This will be our first real look at quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. His acquisition has been a hot debate. Few seem to view Jackson as the long-term answer for the Hawks, but a more relevant question is whether he may be functional enough to keep the team competitive in the division.
Can he move the chains, protect the ball and make good decisions? If he can’t, the quarterback question will be the hot-button issue by Monday morning.
Key indicator: If we see Jackson tending to force the ball into coverage, his judgment could be a recurring issue and a limiting factor on an otherwise questionable offense.
The offensive line will be one of the least experienced ever to start a Seahawks game. They’ve used a series of high draft picks to replenish the talent after ignoring it for too long, but it’s dangerously green.
Can left tackle Russell Okung stay healthy? Can rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt get up to speed quickly enough to keep Jackson from spending the day on the run?
A key indicator: At some point in this game, the Seahawks will attempt a third-and-short run. If the line can get enough push for a first down, it will show the value of getting bigger up front. Last year, all too often the Seahawks could not power the ball for short yardage and came up with an ineffective passing alternative. Life will be much simpler if they discover they can line up and create space up front.
NEW OFFENSIVE COACHES
Can the new offensive staff, led by coordinator Darrell Bevell and line coach Tom Cable, develop a scheme to emphasize the strengths and shield the weaknesses of the offense?
Jackson’s elusiveness and ability to throw on the run will be tested – and should be exploited – behind the inexperienced offensive line. Short routes, swing passes to backs and screen passes can help take the pressure off the line. Can they find ways to score points while the group matures?
Key indicator: Coach Pete Carroll demands this team become a force running the ball. Finishing with more than 100 rushing yards would be a good start.
STOPPING THE RUN
When the Seahawks were good last year, it was when they stopped the run. A huge function of that was the health of defensive end Red Bryant. Bryant is back from his knee injury, but this game will show whether he’s back to 100 percent, and also how well Brandon Mebane performs after being moved back to nose tackle.
Key indicator: If Frank Gore ends up with 100 yards or more rushing, the Seahawks could again face a weakness that haunted them late last season.
Which Mike Williams will we see?
The 6-foot-5 receiver has the talent and physique to be almost indefensible on some routes. And last year, he was at times. But 32 of his 65 catches came in three games last season, while in seven games he had 35 or fewer yards.
For him to produce up to his potential, he needs to stay healthy, and the Seahawks need to do a good job keeping him targeted.
Key indicator: At least six catches should be expected to help the offense run effectively.
After last season’s experience, we might want to add a key factor for fans watching this one: Remember, it’s only the first game, and a lot can happen in either direction in the 15 games that follow.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org