For 10 years, the Seattle Seahawks went as Russell Wilson went. From the time the team selected him in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, he became one of the faces of the franchise; and especially as the years went on, their success became increasingly dependent on his exploits.
Now, that is no more. The Seahawks traded Wilson to the Denver Broncos this offseason, and in the first game of the post-Wilson era, they will face... Wilson and the Denver Broncos. In the first Monday Night Football game of the season, we have ourselves a double-revenge game: Russ vs. the Seahawks. Seahawks vs. Russ. This is going to be fun.
Before we break down the matchup, here's how you can keep an eye on the game.
How to watch
When the Broncos have the ball
The big question here is: What the heck is this offense going to look like?
The Seahawks tried to shoehorn Wilson into a Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay-style offensive system last season by hiring former Rams assistant Shane Waldron as their new offensive coordinator, and it mostly didn't take. New Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett comes off a different branch of the same coaching tree, and how he meshes his ideas with what Wilson likes to do will be one of the more fascinating subplots of this NFL season. Can Hackett get Wilson on board with playing as a point guard style of quarterback? How will his improvisational exploits factor into the overall offensive design? These are questions to which we do not yet have answers.
But not only will this offense look different, but so will Seattle's defense -- at least, structurally. One of the most ardent four-down, single-high, man-and-cover-3 defenses over the past decade, Seattle brought in former Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai, elevated Clint Hurtt to defensive coordinator, and added former Alabama and Vikings defensive backs coach Karl Scott to their staff. All of them are acolytes of a much different style of defense, with more odd fronts, two-high shells, match-zone coverages, and just an entirely different philosophy. Pete Carroll willing to overhaul things on his side of the ball is a good sign for the future of the team, but these changes may not work right away due to the personnel on hand.
Using Jamal Adams in more deep coverage, for example, could open up opportunities for the Broncos down the field -- especially tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who figures to see a lot of Adams simply due to his size. The Seahawks will also likely be rolling out two rookie corners for a not-insignificant number of defensive snaps, counting on Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant to play real roles in their first career games. With Courtland Sutton on the outside, Jerry Jeudy in the slot, and K.J. Hamler moving all over the field to test defenses deep, they and Sidney Jones, Artie Burns, and Justin Coleman will have their hands full.
The idea of Seattle getting much in the way of pressure on Wilson seems rather far-fetched, as well. Shelby Harris (part of the Wilson trade) will help up front, but Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor do not form the most imposing edge-rushing duo. Even if Denver's offensive line is closer to pretty good than elite, it should be good enough to hold off this pass-rush group. Wilson is liable to hang onto the ball too long on occasion and run himself into trouble every so often, but in this matchup, there should be enough clean pockets to pick apart what is an uninspiring back end.
Meanwhile, the Javonte Williams-Melvin Gordon duo in the backfield is one of the league's best, and the new design of the offense should put them in better position to get up the field quickly and decisively. Wilson has often been at his best when making deep play-action throws working off of a power run game, and the group he's aligned with on this team should enable him to do just that.
When the Seahawks have the ball
It's tough to see the Seahawks moving the ball all that consistently against what should be a very good Denver defense.
Seattle's offensive line will be counting on rookies at both tackle spots -- a dangerous proposition against the edge rushing duo of Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory. There aren't many teams that actually have the disparate body types at corner needed to match up with the likes of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but the Broncos -- thanks to the presence of Patrick Surtain II on the outside and K'Waun Williams in the slot -- are one of them.
New defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero is likely to maintain a lot of the Vic Fangio-style concepts the Broncos have used over the past several seasons, but it also would not be surprising if the Broncos did crowd the line of scrimmage a bit more in this contest than they do the rest of the way. Rashaad Penny, when healthy, has been an efficient and explosive runner. Geno Smith has never been particularly effective throwing the ball -- especially downfield. It might behoove the Broncos to make Smith try to beat them with throws to the perimeter and the deep portions of the field, trusting that they can either get to him with pressure or else force him into a mistake.
We might see a different-looking Seattle offense than in years past, specifically because Wilson is no longer there. More under center snaps and play-action, more timing-based concepts and throws over the middle of the field. But the style of defense the Seahawks are playing against this week, is one that is specifically designed to take away those types of throws. The rise of two-high coverage shells and deep zone coverages came about in response to the Shanahan-style offenses based on crossers and deep shots off of run fakes.
Because of that clash of styles and the relative lack of talent up front and under center, we envision the Seahawks struggling for much of this contest.
Prediction: Broncos 24, Seahawks 13