Tonight's primary goal for the Seahawks' offense in the second exhibition game will be easy for all of us to assess: Keep Russell Wilson and the quarterbacks from getting chased and hit as much by the San Diego Chargers as they were last week by the Denver Broncos.
Wilson got hit three times on Seattle's first, five-play drive in the exhibition opener. He was sacked once and hit after he threw on two other plays.
"No, that’s by design. Russell was getting kind of cocky so we wanted to make him get banged up a little bit," coach Pete Carroll joked on Thursday.
"We’d like him to not get hit at all, that’s the whole plan here. When he’s running he gets away from the tacklers. When he’s in the pocket he gets rid of the football or gets out of bounds so they don’t get him. I don’t know if we can do better. This is a very aggressive team coming at us (tonight). They like to rush a lot of guys and come after you on the pass rush. They play the run real aggressive and they attack.
"We’re going to have to protect better than we did last week. Hopefully we can get them through it. That wasn't what we wanted to have happen."
This isn't just a Seahawks key for tonight. I see the effectiveness of the offensive line as the key to this entire quest of becoming the first team since the 2003-04 Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl champions. New England is the only defending champ to do it over the last 15 season.
I think we can agree the Seahawks won it all last season sometimes despite their offensive line. I don't think that can happen again in 2014. Line play, of course, is the key to any team's success, but it seems especially so for this one. That is why the Seahawks may not be finished adding veteran blockers from around the league. That is also why I will be spending a lot of time and keystrokes this season detailing what is going on up front.
Yes, it's only Aug. 15. But as offensive-line coach Tom Cable told me on Sunday, he wanted the blockers to have formed continuity a day before yesterday. Tonight, with two of three injured starters being back, will be another measure of how close or how far the Seahawks are from where they want to be up front.
There are three reasons Wilson may not get as harried tonight as last week: Max Unger, James Carpenter, plus the defense they are facing.
The starting center and starting left guard are back are missing last week because of Unger's groin and Carpenter's calf injuries. Left tackle Russell Okung returned this week to full practicing for the first time since spring surgery on his toe and foot, but it appears he won't make his exhibition-game debut until next week at home against Chicago. Then the line will be whole, with J.R. Sweezy at right guard and rookie Justin Britt still starting at right tackle over recently acquired veteran Eric Winston.
As Wilson said: "We're getting our guys back.
"I'm not concerned about it. Sometimes playing the quarterback position I have to stand in there and take the hits. It's part of the game."
Plus, the Chargers -- as aggressive as Carroll noted they are -- are more likely to be in somewhat conservative, preseason-evaluation mode on defense than the Broncos were. As we've discussed, Denver was in full Super Bowl Redemption Night mode last week. The Broncos blitzed multiple linebackers and safeties and employed elaborate, regular season-grade stunts, looping and switching defensive linemen well into the third quarter. The Chargers? They didn't get embarrassed in the most recent Super Bowl by these Seahawks. And they may not want to show as much of their defense tonight, knowing they host Seattle in week two of the real season next month.
Asked if he almost "looked forward" to getting hit last week, just to get the feel of an NFL game after six months of not being touched on the field, Wilson laughed.
"Do I look forward to the hits?" he said, his voice rising. "I'm tough, but I can't say I look forward to hits."
--This is the first year since 2002 that Seattle is playing three opponents in the preseason that it will also meet in the regular season. That last time was also when the rotation of the NFL inter-conference schedule had the Seahawks against the AFC West in the regular season. I explore this quirk in scheduling and how it has changed this from a usual exhibition season for Carroll and his staff in my main story in today's News Tribune.
--That story also contains my Seahawks Gameday box with what and whom to look for tonight. My Seahawks to watch are in roster-spot battles: Tarvaris Jackson (who will play more tonight), Terrelle Pryor (I still have a belief Carroll is going to keep all three quarterbacks), Tharold Simon, Chris Matthews and Stephen Schilling.
--TNT intern Evan Thompson, a senior at Central Washington University, put together this lead Seahawks notebook item on Kam Chancellor not only being a coach to younger players while he was out following spring hip surgery but also being a playful mediator(!) on the field between Richard Sherman and an official monitoring a recent practice. Thompson gives us good color here, the kind of reporting and writing we are trying to give you.
My goal is to provide you with details and insight you can't get on television, to capitalize on my access. I hope we hit on that goal far more often than we miss this season -- and beyond.
--As you well know, tonight is the first Seahawks game at CenturyLink Field since the NFC title game in late January. While the stakes are a tad lower tonight, and the crowd understandably won't be as large or quite as fervent as that night against the 49ers, the players have been talking this week about how excited they are about playing at home again.
"It's going to be electric. We know it's going to be a lot of fun," Wilson said. "We're looking forward to just being back at that stadium, seeing those fans and seeing how nuts they are."
--Veteran league writer Pat Kirwan of cbsports.com was in Renton this week. He writes that the Seahawks offense -- and Wilson -- are more dangerous this season because Percy Harvin is healthy and flying down the field.
--I see in the blog comments many of you aren't thrilled with Earl Thomas back as the primary punt returner. I hear ya. For what it's worth, I agree that having your irreplaceable, All-Pro anchor of the defense as the standing target to human missiles flying at him with 40-yard head starts is more than a tad dangerous. Thomas won't be the only punt returner tonight, so for many of your sakes here's to hoping someone shines following Thomas tonight, eh?
--Our live News Tribune game chat from CenturyLink Field will begin around 6:30 p.m. tonight at thenewstribune.com/sports. Join Seahawks fans around the world for give and take on what we're seeing throughout the night.