Preseason matchups don’t get much better than this. Two Super Bowl contenders went at it Saturday night in Seattle and both starting units went into the second quarter. Seattle had a sizable 33-7 advantage by halftime thanks to two long return touchdowns, but the first teams played more evenly than that score indicates. There were two grades that ranged from dreadful to exemplary, lets take a look at who earned each one:
Denver – Three Performances of Note
Out of the Running
Can you think of a worse way to stake your claim for a starting position than what Ronnie Hillman (-4.0) did Saturday night? If Hillman feels pressure to perform with the drafting of Montee Ball then he assuredly cracked under said pressure against Seattle. The former San Diego State standout carried the ball 13 times for 34 yards and coughed the rock up twice. Coaches can live with the zero missed tackles from Hillman, but those fumbles — especially the one at the goalline — are the kind of thing that will get him a permanent spot on the bench. Montee Ball didn’t get much playing time behind Hillman, but on his six carries managed to pick up just six fewer yards. It will be interesting to see who gets the bulk of the carries next week when the starters traditionally go the whole first half.
With no lingering arm issue this season Peyton Manning (+3.4) already looks like the quarterback who topped our QB rankings last season. Manning’s five drives ended in a punt, a fumble, a touchdown, a fumble at the goalline and a punt. He may have left the game with only seven points, but Manning had the offense going up and down the field on one of the best defenses in the NFL. The only pass that he missed his target on was the very first throw on a comeback to Eric Decker. His other four misses came on a throw away and then three balls broken up by close coverage. After just seven snaps last week it was good to see the future hall-of-famer perform admirably in an extended look.
The Broncos currently possess one of the top, if not the best edge pass rushing threat in the NFL. The problem this season is they don’t possess any other sort of pass rushing threat. Saturday’s game was a microcosm of how Denver’s season could easily play out. The starters picked up three total pressures on the day with Von Miller collecting two and Shaun Phillips recording the other. The players most likely to play in the defensive line rotation this season rushed the passer 62 combined times against the Seahawks and came up with only one pressure. That sort of ineffectiveness could plague the Broncos all season long and will be particularly worrisome if Miller misses the first six games.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
It’s hard to comprehend how good Seattle’s secondary is when the two least-heralded members of it play like they did against Denver. Both Kam Chancellor (+2.1) and Brandon Browner (+4.6) flashed their elite attributes that make them great players. With Browner it’s his physical play at corner that saw him be involved in three of Manning’s four missed passes. With Chancellor it’s his unbelievable size and speed that allowed him to play the run like a linebacker and make five stops and nine tackles. It was a superb display by both and the kind that make this Seahawks’ defense so scary.
Deep at Receiver
The absence of Percy Harvin means more guys will be getting a serious look for playing time this preseason and two players made strong cases against Denver. Jermaine Kearse and Stephen Williams went back and forth on the highlight reel in this one. Kearse made a strong impression early on with a precise out route to beat Chris Harris. The second-year man out of Washington then followed that up 107 kick return for a touchdown. Not to be outdone Williams made the catch of the game on a 38-yard sliding touchdown catch towards the end of the third quarter. So far this preseason Kearse has caught three of the six balls thrown his way for 43 yards and two touchdowns while Williams has hauled in four of five targets for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Neither has dropped a pass.
Another Pass Rusher?
Going into this season the Seahawks were probably already the team most stacked with edge rushers. Even though Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, and Bruce Irvin all had at least nine sacks last season, the most impressive pass rusher this preseason has been free agent pickup O’Brien Schofield. Schofield (who was released by the Cardinals after they signed John Abraham) was a dominant player at Wisconsin but has had a series of injuries since then and Arizona gave up on him after only three seasons. Against the Broncos, Schofield picked up a sack and a hurry for a pass rushing grade of +1.3. If Clemons isn’t able to return from his knee injury until later in the season Schofield looks like he will be a favorable option.
– The Broncos handed the ball off 26 times and the running backs failed to break one tackle.
– Kam Chancellor has more tackles this preseason (12) and more stops (eight) than K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner combined (10 tackles and three stops).
– As if the Seahawks need more power backs, rookie Spencer Ware (+2.2) ran through two tackles, averaged 3.3 yards after contact, and had an elusive rating of 90.9. The sixth-rounder was easily the most impressive runner in the game.
PFF Game Ball
Brandon Browner deserves this one. The right cornerback had the highlight of the game on a fumble recovery, but he also gave Peyton Manning fits all day through the air. It’s hard to get much better than +4.6 at the cornerback position and Browner did that in one half.
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