It’s such a slender sample, one-sixteenth of the season, 60 minutes of clock time, maybe 60 offensive plays for each team.
But the season-opening game for any NFL team often can provide valid indicators of strengths and surprises, flaws and shortcomings.
At San Francisco last September, Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson had three turnovers behind a shaky line that also failed to provide running room for back Marshawn Lynch (33 rushing yards).
On the other hand, unheralded rookie receiver Doug Baldwin pulled in a 55-yard scoring pass, and defenders K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner got their first starts in what would be productive seasons.
It was clearly a team that was incomplete, and in need of ripening. The 49ers, though, scored off two Ted Ginn Jr. returns in the fourth quarter to win 33-17 on their way to NFC West Division dominance and a conference-title-game appearance.
At Arizona today, the Seahawks can provide evidence they’re better suited for divisional contention, and these are some of the indicators:
• If Russell Wilson can be an effective manager of the offense.
He’ll be only the third rookie quarterback to start a season-opener for the Seahawks, joining Jim Zorn in the franchise debut (1976) and Rick Mirer (1993).
Mirer’s performance is illustrative: Working with a slender playbook, Mirer completed 20 out of 27 attempts, but for just 123 yards and two interceptions in a loss at San Diego.
Wilson, too, is not going to have the full scheme on his wristband, but will have throws to all parts of the field at his disposal if they’re open.
The Hawks will balance the desire to build his confidence with the need to win a divisional game. But so much of what he accomplished relies on the line and receivers.
In the exhibition season, Wilson has shown himself to be composed under pressure, and elusive when he’s had to break from the pocket. But Arizona’s aggressive defense will offer challenges he’s never seen.
In the season-ender, an overtime loss against the Cardinals on the road, Jackson was sacked four times and intercepted once. In the final five minutes of regulation and in overtime, Jackson was 1-for-5 passing for 8 yards. That was an indicator of the late-game ineffectiveness that cost Jackson his job.
If Wilson can produce in a game-on-the-line situation against Arizona, it might be the most positive foreboding the Seahawks could see today.
• If they can somehow contain Cardinal receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
While the Seahawks’ secondary is among the best and most physical young groups in the NFL, Fitzgerald is their best divisional yardstick.
In the season-ender, Fitzgerald had nine catches for 149 yards, including three for 46 yards that set up the game-winning field goal in overtime.
An interesting subplot to this matchup will be the convergence of the penalty-prone Hawks’ secondary with the performance of replacement officials in their first regular-season game.
Browner, the league’s most-penalized player last season, had two personal foul penalties in the last Arizona game. If the Seahawks secondary has learned a way to sustain a degree of physical play without the flags, this would be the game to show it.
• Sidney Rice is back as their expected No. 1 receiver. But can he stay healthy? So few among the entire receivers corps have been without some manner of injury issues that depth could be a season-long concern.
• Two rookies are expected to have an impact on defense – starting middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and pass-rush specialist Bruce Irvin, the first-round draft pick.
But will their impact be positive or negative? After three statistically unproductive exhibition games, Irvin rallied for 11/2 sacks in the preseason finale.
• The performance of special-teams units in the exhibition season often doesn’t reveal potential weaknesses, since they’re manned by players who may not be part of the 47 who can suit up in the regular season.
Last year, the two return touchdowns by Ginn killed a Seattle rally in San Francisco. Considering the Seahawks have continued to add speed to the roster, it seems more likely to be a strength rather than shortcoming, though.
• The simplest and most obvious indicator today will be if they can win.
They’ve lost five of their past six in Arizona, and are coming off that overtime loss in January that was contested at rivalry fervor even though nothing really was on the line.
The Seahawks have won just 13 openers in 36 previous seasons. But in those years, they’ve gone on to finish 8-8 or better 10 times. And following the 23 season-opening losses, only four seasons have ended up better than 8-8.
It may be just one-sixteenth of a season, but it could prove a great deal.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 email@example.com @DaveBoling