(Sports Network) – One of the NFL’s biggest surprises of Week 1 will be seeking to prove its opening-day blowout was no fluke, as the Seattle Seahawks travel to the noisy confines of Invesco Field at Mile High to take on the Denver Broncos.
Seattle, with a new coaching staff including first-year head man Pete Carroll, and a roster equipped with more new faces than any other team in the league, whipped popular preseason NFC West favorite San Francisco by a 31-6 count at Qwest Field last Sunday.
Matt Hasselbeck was an efficient 18-of-23 passing for 170 yards, including touchdown passes to the resurgent Deion Branch and formerly anonymous Deon Butler, for a Seattle offense that committed just one turnover on the afternoon.
Defensively, the first game of the Carroll era brought a big play in the form of cornerback Marcus Trufant’s 32-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, as Seattle made life miserable for both quarterback Alex Smith (26-of-45, 225 yards, 2 INT) and running back Frank Gore (17 carries, 38 yards).
The trick for the Seahawks will be to continue their first-rate play on the road, where Seattle was just 1-7 last year with all seven losses coming by double-digits. The Hawks were outscored, 260-117, away from Qwest Field last season, and their lone road win came at 1-15 St. Louis.
That road history has to be music to the ears of the Broncos, whose Week 1 didn’t go nearly as well as that of the Seahawks. Denver went to Jacksonville and dropped a 24-17 decision, picking up where they left off at the end of a 2009 season in which they imploded following a 6-0 start.
The Broncos outgained the Jags, 363-299, but had trouble finishing off drives and lost the turnover battle by a 2-0 margin.
Kyle Orton was 21-of-33 for 295 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the loss, playing the bulk of the game over celebrated rookie backup Tim Tebow. Tebow was in on a few first-half plays against Jacksonville, carrying twice for two yards and also lining up once at wide receiver.
The Denver defense, under the tutelage of new coordinator Don Martindale for the first time, allowed Jaguars quarterback David Garrard to complete 16-of-21 for 170 yards with three touchdown passes.
A unit missing top pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, who was lost for the year with a torn pectoral suffered in training camp, managed just one sack against Garrard on the afternoon.
Denver holds a 33-18 advantage in its all-time series with Seattle, but was a 23-20 home loser when the teams last met, during the 2006 season. The Broncos won the previous two meetings, a 31-9 road triumph in 2002 and a 20-7 home contest against their then-AFC West rival in 2001. Seattle, which played the Broncos twice a year as a member of the AFC West from 1978 through 2001, had a six-game losing streak in Denver prior to its 2006 win there.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met once in the postseason, with the Seahawks handing the Broncos a 31-7 loss in a 1983 AFC First-Round Playoff. The game marked the first postseason contest in the eventual Hall of Fame career of Denver quarterback John Elway.
Carroll is 2-2 in his career against the Broncos, including 1-0 while with the Jets (1994) and 1-2 with the Patriots (1997-99). The Broncos’ Josh McDaniels will be meeting both Carroll and the Seahawks for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
The veteran Hasselbeck was more efficient than spectacular in Week 1, missing on just five pass attempts and leading a group that turned the football over only once (an interception). Wideouts Mike Williams (4 receptions, 64 yards) and Branch (3 receptions, 11 yards, 1 TD), both of whom not so long ago seemed to have one foot out of the NFL, each contributed to Hasselbeck’s success. Tight end John Carlson (3 receptions, 36 yards) also got involved against the Niners. In the backfield, the three-headed monster of Justin Forsett (7 carries, 43 yards), Julius Jones (8 carries, 18 yards) and Leon Washington (6 carries, 12 yards) all got involved, with a 32-yard run by Forsett the team’s best run play of the day. First-round rookie left tackle Russell Okung (high ankle sprain) is questionable to make his formal NFL debut this week, and the team also placed guard Max Unger on season-ending injured reserve earlier this week with a toe problem. Former Bronco Tyler Polumbus started at left tackle last week, and was part of a group that allowed just one sack of Hasselbeck.
Questions about how the Broncos would rush the passer minus the 2009 Pro Bowler Dumervil didn’t subside to any great degree after the team’s Week 1 loss to the Jaguars. Denver had just one sack, that coming from former first-round pick Robert Ayers (5 tackles), and didn’t make life nearly difficult enough for Garrard, who posted the top passer rating of his career (138.9). Ayers and fellow pass rusher Jason Hunter (5 tackles) will need to be more consistent this week, which should in turn make life easier for a secondary led by the talented likes of cornerback Champ Bailey (2 tackles) and safety Brian Dawkins (3 tackles). Denver’s run defense wasn’t particularly stout either, as a group that struggled mightily down the stretch last season surrendered a combined 124 yards on 27 carries for Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings. Inside linebacker D.J. Williams posted a game-high 11 tackles in the win, but newcomers like nose tackle Jamal Williams (2 tackles) and end Justin Bannan (0 tackles) failed to provide enough of a presence.
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
Orton’s story in Week 1 was an all-too-familiar one for the Broncos and their fans. While the former Purdue star threw for 295 yards and had five completions of more than 25 yards, his interception to end the Broncos’ final drive prevented Denver from forcing overtime. The silver lining was the play of a questionable receiving corps, which got big efforts from the likes of Eddie Royal (8 reception, 98 yards), Brandon Lloyd (5 receptions, 117 yards) and Jabar Gaffney (3 receptions, 34 yards, 1 TD) as it attempted to turn the page on the Brandon Marshall era. McDaniels was clearly displeased with the work of running back Knowshon Moreno (15 rushes, 60 yards), who played after missing the preseason with a hamstring problem, prompting the team to trade for Patriots running back Laurence Maroney on Tuesday. Maroney, who was inactive for the New England opener, is expected to be in uniform on Sunday. Denver also needs a better effort out of an offensive line that allowed three sacks and 11 quarterback hurries last Sunday.
The manner in which the Seahawks shut down a talented 49ers offense in Week 1 was as big a surprise as the victory itself. Seattle picked off Alex Smith twice while sacking him on two occasions, also halting running back Frank Gore’s progress to the tune of 17 carries for 38 yards. Trufant (3 tackles) and safety Jordan Babineaux (7 tackles) had the picks, while Red Bryant and seventh-round rookie end Dexter Davis each broke through for sacks. The run- stopping crew was led by middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (8 tackles) and tackle Colin Cole (4 tackles), while first-round rookie safety Earl Thomas also made his presence felt with six tackles in his formal NFL debut. Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill is expected to aide the unit this week, as he returns to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. The Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the league in Week 1, and were one of three teams that did not allow a touchdown (Ravens, Steelers).
The Seahawks had a promising week offensively in Week 1, but didn’t do much to raise the eyebrows of fantasy owners. The committee approach at running back makes Forsett, Jones, and Washington unattractive options, and it’s probably a bit too early to count on Hasselbeck, wideout Mike Williams or the Seattle defense in a starting role.
The Broncos are a bit more interesting this week. Maroney will likely get a major opportunity to shine at some point, but it’s a gamble to put him in your lineup even if you’re certain he’ll play. Orton isn’t really a fantasy starter at this stage, but Lloyd and Royal are intriguing options after the work they did last Sunday. Using either as a flex option might be prudent. Strong-legged kicker Matt Prater drilled a 54-yard field goal last week and is a good play.
The Seahawks’ blowout of the 49ers to start the Carroll era was all very touching, but it has aberration written all over it. You might remember that Seattle looked great in a Week 1 romp over the Rams last season, then promptly went out and lost seven of its next nine, including five consecutive road blowouts. That Seattle team, in its first year under Jim Mora, was supposed to have a new energy too. For their part, while the Broncos have their dysfunctional elements, they also have a little more certainty about who they are at this stage, will be playing before a boisterous home crowd, and are desperate to halt a losing streak that is now at five games dating back to last season. Look for Denver to erase the residue of last week’s disappointment and earn a decisive win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 24, Seahawks 10