SEATTLE – The film of the Seahawks’ first-half performance in Thursday’s preseason game at Lumen Field should be dutifully studied by all the participants – and then burned. No reason to leave for future generations any remnants of this ragged display of uninspired, mistake-filled football, which improved only slightly after intermission.
The Seahawks’ 27-11 loss to the Chicago Bears, rife with penalties, missed tackles and all-around sloppiness, doesn’t doom Seattle’s season, of course. Make broad generalizations off exhibition football at your own risk – even one as putrid as Thursday’s. But there is one conclusion that jumps out of this debacle:
The Seahawks should not let Drew Lock’s ill-timed COVID-19 absence take him out of a legitimate shot at winning the quarterback competition. Or put another way, it would be a disservice to hand the starting job to Geno Smith just because Lock’s illness messed up the timeline that coach Pete Carroll had carefully concocted.
Mind you, Smith was better on Thursday than his stat line, and the scoreboard, would indicate. The Seahawks were held scoreless under Smith’s guidance in the first half, which resulted in five punts, a missed field goal, and time running out on a final drive.
Smith, who bruised his knee in the first quarter, completed 10 of 18 passes for 112 yards (with two sacks), good for a quarterback rating of 74.3.
Here’s where the qualifiers come. Smith was victimized by drops, some of them on well-thrown passes that would have resulted in healthy gains. One first-down pass was negated by a hands-to-the-face penalty by a lineman. And Smith had a couple of well-executed completions, most notably a 41-yard strike to Penny Hart. He didn’t turn the ball over, which is always a Carroll priority (and a Smith hallmark).
But it was hardly the sort of performance that made you think, “Well, that settles that.”
Quite the opposite. The Seahawks’ much-anticipated QB competition has been weighted in favor of Smith, the respected veteran, who got the bulk of first-team reps in training camp and started the first preseason game. That dynamic was due to change this week – but Lock got all of one day running the No. 1 offense before his COVID diagnosis was revealed in a postpractice test on Tuesday. Scratch Lock’s scheduled start on Thursday.
But there is still enough time to give Lock a fair chance to show if he is the right man to lead the Seahawks in 2022. He will be eligible to return to practice on Sunday and if recovered, will likely start their final preseason game against Dallas on Friday. The defensive coordinator of the Cowboys is former Seahawks D-coordinator Dan Quinn, who can be expected to provide Lock with some relatively complex formations to increase the degree of difficulty. With the regular-season opener against Denver on Monday night not taking place for another 17 days after that, there is ample time for Carroll to keep the competition brewing.
There has been a school of thought in some quarters, at least heading into Thursday’s game, that Smith had the job all but wrapped up, with Lock’s absence as the final determinant. The thinking is that Carroll covets Smith’s experience, his savvy, and especially his ball preservation and propensity for minimizing mistakes.
And yet, if the Seahawks are truly serious in their insistence they are not punting on this season, they need to explore and potentially embrace the unknown. Everyone knows pretty much what they’ll be getting with Smith, who has been in the NFL for eight seasons. He represents the safer bet, albeit with a more limited ceiling.
Lock, on the other hand, represents possibility, and the chance the Seahawks can unlock the undeniable potential that led the Broncos to select him in the second round of the draft three years ago and install him as their starter. That is at least worth exploring further, given the circumstances of this week that thwarted his best chance to impress.
In the wake of Russell Wilson’s trade to Denver, and the laundry list of mistakes that showed up Thursday, it very well may not matter in the long run who wins the Seahawks’ quarterback job this year. Whether management wants to acknowledge it or not, this is shaping up as a rebuilding season for Seattle. The quarterback, whomever it winds up being, is likely a space-holder until a longer-term answer (or one perceived to be) can be brought in next year.
But since Carroll doesn’t think that way, it’s instructive to look at his long soliloquy in March to start a news conference shortly after Wilson’s trade. Carroll said that over the years, his teams have traditionally won on the strength of four factors: defense, special teams, running the ball and taking care of the ball. There’s nothing in there about a letting a quarterback cook; he’s not seeking a quarterback who will “wow” you, but rather one who won’t hurt you.
That points to Smith, of whom Carroll said after the game: “He did OK. We need to help him a little bit. He’s running the show well. He’s doing OK. … He threw a couple of really good balls that could have been converted. Our receivers need to make the plays for him. We need to see DK (Metcalf) and (Tyler) Lockett and the fellas out there. Marquise (Goodwin) has a chance to help us. We need those guys to come through for us if he’s going to be good.”
Smith may indeed turn out to be good – or better than the results would indicate Thursday. But if this is truly an open competition – and it should be – let’s hope Lock still gets a chance to make his case.
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