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Seahawks-Steelers: 5 storylines to watch
Seaside Joe 1254, 8/11/22: QB competitions headline unusually fascinating preseason contest
The Seattle Seahawks play the Pittsburgh Steelers this Saturday at 4 PM PT and though preseason games rarely pique my interest beyond the curiosity to see any football after a six-month drought, this one figures to be the SUPER BOWL XL of EXHIBITIONS.
How many times in the last decade as a Seahawks fan can you recall any preseason game that had this much intrigue on either side? Seattle and Pittsburgh both have important decisions to make based in part by these preseason games and there will be no “First one doesn’t count” vibes at
Heinz Field Acrisure Stadium.
What happens in this game could determine who the starting quarterbacks are for either team, but there are also notable rookies and recent draft picks for both teams who figure to play on Saturday and fight for significant playing time in the regular season. Not only will fans get to see the starting quarterbacks in this game, but the backup options, including a first round rookie, should keep interest going deep into the second half.
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On Wednesday night, Seaside Joe posted a quick podcast episode covering five key storylines for the Seahawks-Steelers preseason opener and immediately fans were tuning in to listen. I think because I’m not alone in realizing that this is the most exciting Seahawks preseason game since 2012.
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These are the five key storylines that I mentioned in the show.
The QB competitions
Before talking about the Battle for someone to Skedaddle out of Seattle, it’s worth pointing out how Pittsburgh’s QB competition benefits the Seahawks. Rather than facing Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph for 60 minutes, the Seahawks defense will have to be tested by the quarterbacks who Mike Tomlin needs to evaluate for the starting role.
It just so happens that Rudolph is one of those quarterbacks.
The Steelers will not be able to hold back everything in this game because they need to see what Mitchell Trubisky, Rudolph, and Kenny Pickett can do against real competition. That means that Seattle’s defense will get the full force of Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks, even if we probably won’t see Najee Harris or every starter. It’s important for the Seahawks young defensive players, especially the cornerbacks, to know that they’re being tested against NFL starters and near-starters.
The bonus is that Pickett is an interesting prospect and should be the most talented quarterback on either team. However, he’s made a lot of mistakes in training camp and is a long shot to beat out Trubisky and Rudolph.
Of course, the Seahawks also have to evaluate the two quarterbacks vying to start. We aren’t sure yet how much action Jacob Eason will see, but it’s possible that Pete Carroll doesn’t need more than a quarter each from Geno Smith and Drew Lock. He’s just not telling.
But the Seahawks will have to play most of their offensive starters at some point (probably not DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, or Rashaad Penny) in order to get the best look at either quarterback. I would hope not to risk any of those players just to find out if Lock is better than Geno Smith. It’s not worth it. It would be better to just name the wrong guy as the starting quarterback.
Seahawks CBs vs Steelers WR
I mentioned this already in Wednesday’s training camp report. On Seattle’s side, Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant have often stolen the show at Seahawks camp. On Pittsburgh’s side, rookie receiver George Pickens is the show. Woolen vs Pickens, it has to happen.
Both Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson have been missing practice, so we shouldn’t expect them out there on Saturday. But the Steelers have even more receivers of note.
Rookie fourth rounder Calvin Austin III, like Woolen, is one of the fastest players in the NFL now. Miles Boykin and Anthony Miller also present above-average preseason challenges for Seattle’s young corners.
I don’t expect the Seahawks to play their veteran defensive starters, especially none who have missed practices recently like Sidney Jones IV or Artie Burns. Seattle will be playing every last corner who is healthy enough to play though. How much is Marquise Blair going to play and which side of the bubble is he on now?
The nice thing about having the best punter in the league is that even during the preseason, he still gets to be the best punter in the league. There’s no holding back for Michael Dickson and so if the offense is in total ruins, at least there’s Dickson.
Teams often go kicker hunting in September, so Jason Myers can’t consider himself truly safe until final cuts. The pressure is just as much on him to make his kicks in August as it will be in the regular season.
Who returns kicks and punts will be worth monitoring, especially if Freddie Swain is not active.
The offensive tackles
It’s not just about the competition on the right side; this is the best opportunity yet for Charles Cross to be tested as an NFL tackle. Don’t expect any of the marquee names like T.J. Watt or Cam Heyward to be testing him, but whoever it is, they’ll bring the intensity of facing a top-10 tackle and beating him so that they can make the Steelers.
I wouldn’t see the point of starting Abe Lucas unless Pete Carroll was overly confident that he’s not going to be a disaster.
I believe that the Seahawks want to trade Gabe Jackson, save his $6 million guaranteed base salary, start Phil Haynes, and know that they also have Jake Curhan if they need him to slide inside to play guard. This is not based on any evidence or sources, it’s just the logical thing a coach would do if he believed what Pete Carroll said: “The Seahawks have three starting guards.”
Fans shouldn’t get too hopeful of an exciting draft pick in return, the objective would be to move as much of his salary as possible. Teams will suffer injuries at guard though and then the bargaining really begins.
How many Ken Walker III touches?
I get the argument to not play Walker at all in the preseason, but I don’t agree with it. It’s a major life change to start playing in the NFL. It’s a new ball game. Now is the best time to give the rookies an opportunity to make mistakes on a preseason stage before they get the nerves in the regular season.
If this breakdown below is true (92% first team snaps in camp for Rashaad Penny) then Saturday is a great opportunity for Walker to get reps against a defense that is hopeful to tackle him. And then he can make them miss those tackles.
Last preseason, Carroll played in Penny in two of three games, giving him 12 carries. Most of the rushing attempts when to Josh Johnson and he could lead the team in preseason carries again in 2022.
But whether it’s five snaps or 15, every opportunity with Ken Walker III on the field will be worth watching.
Come back to Seaside Joe twice on Saturday (once before the game, once after the game) and no, I will never post a game spoiler in the headline or where visible in an e-mail. Not even in the preseason!