It took a while. And it was somewhat fleeting.
But then, it happened. As designed.
Chris Carson’s power running — behind pulling trap blocks by the offensive line — setting up Russell Wilson’s throws. That’s how the Seahawks’ offense finally, in its third preseason game, looked like it is supposed to under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and his run-first mentality.
The plus: the lone touchdown by Seattle’s starters in the Seahawks’ 21-20 loss Friday night at the giant, shiny Viking ship officially named U.S. Bank Stadium came against one of the NFL’s best, most aggressive defenses, the starters for the Minnesota Vikings.
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“There was a crispness,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
“We have the highest respect for them,” the coach said of the Vikings, who advanced to the NFC championship game in Janaury and played their starters through the first half. “To have a duke-out first half with both starters, I thought was really good.
“We had a juice tonight, the way we were running and hitting. ...I really liked the way we played. We gained a lot of ground.”
Wilson was asked if the Seahawks’ offense is ready for the season opener Sept. 9 at Denver, if this turns out to be it for the starting offense and most of it skips Thursday’s preseason finale against Oakland.
“Yeah,” Wilson said, “I definitely think we are ready.”
Much less important to Seattle’s real season that begins in two weeks: The Vikings scored a touchdown on fourth and 15 with 47 seconds left. Then they went for a two-point conversion. Kyle Sloter threw in the right flat to Jake Wieneke, who reached across the goal line just before Seattle cornerback Akeem King pushed him out of bounds.
Wilson and the Seahawks’ starting offense played six drives, including the first two after halftime, and left with a 13-6 lead. It was their longest playing time before the games get real in two weeks.
They scored their 13 points on a 6-yard touchdown run by Carson behind great blocks by left guard Ethan Pocic and right tackle Germain Ifedi in the second quarter, a field goals by Sebastian Janikowski in the second and third periods.
“We took a step in the right direction tonight,” Carson said.
Then David Moore cemented his place on the roster at wide receiver.
The 2017 seventh-round pick from East Central in Oklahoma again wanted the ball more than his defender, as he has most of this month. He ripped rookie Alex McGough’s shaky sideline pass away from Minnesota’s Trevon Mathis, then beat former Bengals starting safety George Iloka to the goal line. That put Seattle up 20-13 with 4 minutes left.
Moore returned a punt 75 yards with sharp moves for another score late in the fourth quarter, but that was negated by an illegal block by Trovon Reed on the return.
The Seahawks’ starters gained 178 yards in 35 plays (5.1 yards per play) with 10 first downs. Seattle went 2 for 6 on third downs Friday.
Wilson was 11 for 21 passing for 118 yards. He wasn’t sacked, but was hit five times and pressured into incomplete passes on multiple third downs.
Through three preseason games, Seattle’s starting offense has 481 yards on 81 plays (5.9 yards per snap) for 25 first downs and 26 points in 13 drives.
After Wilson, veteran Austin Davis was 2 for 3 passing for minus-1 yards. And McGough made a wickedly poor decision throwing late and high over the middle to Tanner McEvoy. That resulted in an interception on Seattle’s side of the field Minnesota turned into the tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
So, yes, the Seahawks have to keep Wilson healthy for every, single game to have a chance to win this season. Again.
The Vikings dominated Seattle’s defense and Friday’s first quarter, out-gaining the Seahawks 141-8, But Minnesota had only a single touchdown aided by penalty to show for it.
Then the Seahawks looked the best they have all preseason.
After beginning the game with a three and out, Seattle’s second offensive series went 12 plays for 75 yards. It was how this new offense wants to function. The Seahawks ran Carson (seven carries on the night for 26 yards) and Mike Davis (eight runs, 31 yards) to set up the passes outside to Brandon Marshall. The 34-year-old six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver made his first two catches of the preseason, for 5 and 20 yards.
The second grab was why Marshall is not only going to make the team but likely start the opener Sept. 9 at Denver. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Marshall simply man-handled Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes for Wilson’s pass that was basically a jump ball in coverage at the Vikings 6.
“Brandon Marshall really showed up tonight,” Wilson said. “He had a great week this week. He had a great week last week.
“For him to show up the way he did was special. We are going to need him in a big way.”
Then the Seahawks ran it again.
Second and 1? Power with Carson for the first down, instead of the cute tricks of previous seasons with play caller Darrell Bevell and an offensive line under fired coach Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme that could not, or would not, push defenders off the line.
First and goal? Carson again up the middle, behind Pocic pulling from left guard for a kick-out block at the point of attack.
Ifedi, the criticized right tackle whose job coach Pete Carroll opened to competition with George Fant this week, pushed his guy back to the goal line on Carson’s 6-yard touchdown run.
Then again, run blocking has not been Ifedi’s problem in his first two Seahawks seasons. It’s the first-round pick in 2016’s pass protection. That, including last week against Chargers’ Pro Bowl sack man Melvin Ingram, plus the fact Seattle’s first game Sept. 9 in Denver will have Broncos’ All-Pro Von Miller rushing off the Seahawks’ edge, is why Ifedi is battling for his job.
“We were able to get a lot of run stuff going. ... it’s just good to see it coming together,” Ifedi said. “We were finishing, finishing drives.”
Fant entered for Seattle’s third offensive drive with the starting unit, and played right tackle for most of the last 2 1/2 quarters. Davis read his block inside for an 8-yard gain outside him. That fourth Seahawks drive ended with Janikowski making a 36-yard field goal. Seattle took that 10-6 lead into halftime.
Ifedi came back out with the starting offense for the first two drives after halftime.
Janikowski, the 40-year-old who signed this offseason after 18 years with the Raiders, also boomed a 55-yard field goal 5 minutes into the third quarter. That increased the Seahawks’ lead to 13-6.
He won the kicking job to replace the sent-away Blair Walsh this week when Seattle cut Jason Myers.
That was the same day the Seahawks released Jon Ryan, their longest-tenured player, to choose rookie draft choice Michael Dickson as their punter for this year and beyond.
Like he did last weekend at the Los Angeles Chargers, Dickson boomed a high punt 57 yards. This one landed at the Vikings 5-yard line, then did a right turn it nearly 90 degrees, the style of his native Australian Rules Football. The ball bounded out of bounds at the 3 for no return.
The same thing happened late in the third quarter: 56 yards, out of bounds at the Vikings 3.
“I got lucky tonight,” the rookie said with an impish grin.
Dickson has net punts of 57, 57 and 56 yards, with no returns, in the past two preseason games. If that happens in the real season he will change field position, and potentially games.
How rare are net punts of such distance in this league? Last year the NFL’s best net average was 45.9 yards, by Tennessee.
Dickson even tackles. His last punt, with 2 minutes left, soared for 60 yards. But the Vikings returned it 34. If Dickson had made the tackle at the sideline it would have been a tying or potentially winning touchdown for Minnesota.
The Australian Rules Football player from age 8 to 18 has played American football for just three years, after the University of Texas signed him to a scholarship off a YouTube video of him punting. He said that was the third tackle he’s ever made.
In Friday’s first quarter, the Seahawks’ starting defense could not get off the field. Minnesota out-gained Seattle 141-8, and ran 24 offensive plays to the Seahawks’ three.
Veteran Byron Maxwell was out again with a hip-flexor injury, so Dontae Johnson started at right cornerback. That’s the position where he started 16 games last season for San Francisco. The Seahawks want to see what Johnson may be able to provide in the competition with rookie draft choice Tre Flowers and Maxwell for what appears to be two roster spots at cornerback opposite Shaquill Griffin.
With Earl Thomas’ holdout entering its fourth week and no end in sight, Tedric Thompson again started at free safety. The Vikings completed passes underneath his coverge early, then he made a fine tackle in the open field of tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Bradley McDougald was out with a pectoral-muscle injury. Second-year man Delano Hill started for him at strong safety, and got knocked down and around in the opening quarter.
Many Seahawks defenders did.
The Vikings converted their first three chances on third down and drove to the Seattle 24 on the game’s opening drive that took more than half the first quarter. Then Griffin, last year’s rookie starting right cornerback moved this year to Richard Sherman’s old left side, got his second pass breakup of the series. That ended Minnesota’s march. Rookie Daniel Carlson missed the ensuing field-goal try, his first of two misses in the first half.
Whether it’s his second place in the defense, the difference of his rookie NFL season to his second one or his twin Shaquem rejoining him on the Seahawks after Seattle drafted the linebacker in April, Griffin is playing with so much more swag this summer.
Seattle gave up 97 yards on its second defensive series, after Dickson’s first exquisite punt. Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs made a catch against Griffin on a back-shoulder throw to the Seahawks 10. Then on third and goal Bobby Wagner stormed in unblocked on a linebacker blitz to sack quarterback Kirk Cousins and apparently force a field goal. But Griffin was flagged in the back of the end zone for defensive holding Diggs well away from the play, with the quarterback having no chance to throw to him. Instead of a second field-goal attempt by the Vikings, it was first and goal.
On third down, Latavius Murray scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. Minnesota led 6-0.
Then the Seahawks awakened. And got encouraged.
“I thought it was a great night...against one of the top defenses in the National Football league,” Wilson said.
“We want to be able to mix it up. We want to be able to be physical in the running game. That sets up everything else. We want to be able to go play-action (passes), spread people out. We want to be able to spread people out—and run the ball.
“Keep people guessing, you know. ... We were able to do everything we came into this game wanting to do. That was great for us.”