By John Boyle Herald columnist
SEATTLE — For every Super Bowl champion, heck, for every NFL team, change is inevitable. And while the Seahawks looked, coming into the 2014 season, like a team capable of repeating, there were plenty of questions about how they might be different.
How would the loss of several key defensive players change what was a historically good defense last season? How would an improved Russell Wilson and a healthy Percy Harvin change Seattle’s offense?
But in Thursday night’s convincing 36-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers, what stood out most is that, despite some new faces, and despite a new explosive element with Harvin, the Seahawks opened their 2014 season with a resounding victory by sticking with the philosophy that led them to a title a year ago.
The Seahawks played stingy defense against one of the league’s best quarterbacks. They ran for more than 200 yards, yet were still explosive in the passing game. They were sound on special teams, minus one costly fumble. And they capitalized on Green Bay’s turnovers.
“We played a good opponent, and you saw how our formula works out,” tight end Zach Miller said. “We really run the football — rushed for over 200 yards tonight — and part of that was Percy, a lot of that was Marshawn (Lynch). We want to run the football and be smart when we throw it, and Russell did a great job of that tonight.”
Over the course of four quarters, the Seahawks had their flaws. They never did do much exceptional by their own high standards, yet they beat by 20 points a team many consider to be their biggest challenger in the NFC.
In other words, look out NFL, these Seahawks look a lot like the team that marched to a 13-3 record last year and a dominant Super Bowl victory.
“This was a terrific night for us to get started,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s a real good start for us, a lot of things happened. To keep Aaron (Rodgers) down like that for the whole night — I know it might not have seemed like it — but when they only throw for 189 yards in a game, I’m really excited about that. Our formula on defense held up real nice … Probably I’m most excited about running the ball for over 200 yards. That’s really cool for us to do that, it’s so important for us.”
Yes, Harvin is extremely exciting to watch, both as a receiver and a ball carrier, but this offense still goes through Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. As a team, the Seahawks, despite having a blossoming star at quarterback and one of the most explosive receivers in football, rushed 37 times and threw it 28. This is who the Seahawks have been under Carroll in the past, and it’s who they still are.
“We want to mix it up, we want to have a balanced attack,” Wilson said. “We want to be able to do a lot of different things. We want to be able to hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, and we want to obviously be very effective in the passing game as well. Our goal is to have that balance, 50-50, and we definitely did that tonight.”
And the Seahawks don’t want to be balanced just for fun, or because it makes them less predictable. They want it for moments like that fourth quarter scoring drive that took 7 minutes off the clock and put the game out of reach. On that 13-play drive, the Seahawks ran the ball nine times and threw it four, though one pass attempt was negated by a penalty.
Most quarterbacks like dropping back and throwing, yet Wilson called that series, “The best part of the game … That’s how we like to play football.”
The result of handing out a punishment over four quarters? Just ask defensive end Michael Bennett what he saw from the sidelines.
“Obviously we were the more physical team today, offensively and defensively,” Bennett said. “I saw supposedly some of the best players in the league not want to tackle Marshawn Lynch.”
Defensively, the Seahawks looked pretty normal for the most part, except for a few big plays like Byron Maxwell’s interception, Cliff Avril’s fourth-down sack and Michael Bennett’s sack that forced a fumble and safety. Yet by the time the game was over, the Seahawks had held one of the NFL’s best offenses to 255 yards and 16 points, and 10 of those points came off of Seahawks’ miscues, a muffed punt by Earl Thomas and a 44-yard pass interference penalty.
“It wasn’t dominant at all,” said cornerback Richard Sherman, who had to fight boredom on a night he wasn’t targeted a single time. “We have a lot of things to clean up. We missed some opportunities on some turnovers. We missed some tackles on key drives we could have stopped we had some key penalties. These are all things we need to clean up because we have a really high standard.
“It was off. We weren’t up to par today, we weren’t up to snuff and I think everyone feels that way. We’ve got to play better.” There’s still room for growth; this wasn’t a perfect game for the Seahawks, far from it, which is what makes it all the more impressive given the lopsided final score.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.