By Danny O'Neil
Sunday's season opener was more than a progress report, but hardly a final examination. Here's a look at a few lessons from the Seahawks' 12-7 win over Carolina as well as three things that remain a mystery.
Three things we learned:
1. The Seahawks' ground game is not a given.
Seattle has been spoiled by the fact that Marshawn Lynch rushed for more than 100 yards in 16 of his last 24 regular-season games entering this season, but that doesn't mean the ground game is guaranteed.
Lynch rushed for 46 yards, his lowest single-game total in 10 regular-season games, and even that total was a little misleading as more than one-quarter of his total came on a 14-yard carry the final time he touched the ball. Seattle finished with 70 yards rushing, its lowest total in any game since Dec. 18, 2011, when the team ran for 60 yards in a Week 15 victory at Chicago.
2. Seattle's secondary has Cam Newton's number.
The Panthers' quarterback didn't play poorly. He completed 70 percent of his pass attempts and he was not intercepted. Newton just wasn't all that productive. He completed just one pass for more than 15 yards in the game and threw for a total of 125 yards, a career-low. In fact, he has passed for fewer than 200 yards in a game only six times in his career, and two of those have come against the Seahawks.
Seattle's edge in explosive pass plays was the primary reason the Seahawks outgained the Panthers 370-243.
3. How Doug Baldwin got his mojo – or at least his third-down magic – back.
That guy producing all the first downs on Sunday looked awfully familiar as Baldwin played a game reminiscent of his rookie season in 2011. He caught seven passes, matching the second most of any game in his career, and had 91 yards.
It wasn't just the total, though. It was the timing. Four of those receptions converted third downs, including one early in the game-clinching drive when Baldwin's familiarity with quarterback Russell Wilson was evident.
"The last last big one he caught over the middle was an incredible read by him and Russell," coach Pete Carroll said. "That's from months and months of throwing the ball to each other. That's where we didn't have that last year at this time, that chemistry, I think you saw it."
Three things we're still trying to figure out:
1. Why does Seattle struggle to protect the passer in season openers?
The fact that Wilson spent a good chunk of Game 1 fleeing the pocket to escape imminent bodily harm continues a trend. Two years ago, Tarvaris Jackson was sacked five times in San Francisco. Last season, the Cardinals' pressure of Wilson was so constant that their total of three sacks was wholly inadequate in explaining the degree of pressure.
The good news is that Seattle's pass protection has tended to improve over the course of the year under offensive line coach Tom Cable, but given that Seattle is in its third year with this group of offensive linemen, it's surprising that protection was such a problem in Carolina.
It was certainly costly as Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson came on a speed rush around right tackle Breno Giacomini in the final 2 minutes of the first half, sacking Wilson and forcing a fumble that squelched Seattle's scoring chance.
2. Is Seattle going to grow out of its penalty problem?
The Seahawks were penalized nine times, which isn't nearly as surprising as the fact Giacomini was not one of the players penalized for Seattle. Mike Person, who is both the third tackle and the third tight end, was penalized twice in the three plays he was on the field.
On defense, Seattle twice gave Carolina a first down by virtue of penalty. On offense, Seattle had two drives that were short-circuited by penalties on red-zone plays, stalling each drive and resulting in two field goals. From that respect, Seattle won in spite of itself on Sunday.
3. How much impact is Seattle's rookie class going to make?
Only three rookies appeared in the game as second-round pick Christine Michael was active, but didn't take the field. Luke Willson started as Seattle's first offensive play included two tight ends, but the only other rookies to play were defensive end Benson Mayowa and running back Spencer Ware, who was on the field for special teams.
Jordan Hill figures to factor into the defensive line once he returns from a biceps injury, but it remains to be seen just how much the rest of the rookie class will end up contributing.