Geno Smith situationally sharp, Drew Lock good but fumbles late in Seahawks preseason loss

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Geno Smith went down the length of the bench. He clapped and tapped the knees of each of his starting offensive linemen to encourage them for a job well done.

And they hadn’t even scored a touchdown yet.

Then the 31-year-old veteran went down the field and did his job as well as he did at any other time while starting Saturday night in the Seahawks’ preseason opener at Pittsburgh.

“I felt like my decision-making was on point,” Smith said.

Drew Lock entered for the first drive of the second half, with the second-string offense and Seattle down 17-10. The good from the 25-year-old acquired in the trade of Russell Wilson to Denver in March happened immediately. Rookie Bo Melton turned Lock’s simple, short, first pass into a 39-yard catch and run. Lock ended the drive the way he did in the Seahawks’ mock-game scrimmage the Saturday before: with the team’s first touchdown pass of the day.

Who had the better night in Seattle’s 32-25 loss to the Steelers at whatever they call this former Heinz Field?

Not the Seahawks’ defense. They truly looked like they hadn’t tackled since January. That’s what coach Pete Carroll lamented most afterward.

“We tackled really poorly,” Carroll said. “First game, and that’s what it looked like. So we know where we’ve got to focus, because all the (bad) things that happened basically happened because the tackling was poor.”

Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said he was pleased with Smith and Lock.

“Both guys, I thought, played sharp, operated the plays in the context that they presented themselves,” Waldron said, on his way out of the locker room to the team bus.

“I thought they did a good job being smart with the ball and the downfield stuff.”

Except for one, glaring mistake.

Lock had a chance to win the game with 1:17 left after rookie Boye Mafe sacked Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett on fourth down at the Pittsburgh 46. It was the second of two sacks for Mafe, the speed-rushing second-round draft choice from Minnesota. But on the first play after the turnover, Lock failed to recognize the only unaccounted for, free-rushing Steeler for the original play call. He didn’t change out of the play, or call a hot read as a veteran of 21 NFL starts that he is should do.

Linebacker Mark Robinson zoomed off the left edge of the offensive line crashed into Lock and forced a fumble. The Steelers recovered — just as they did last November in a real game when Smith lost a fumble and then the game here, in overtime.

Pickett threw a touchdown pass of 24 yards with 3 seconds left past Seahawks reserve cornerback Josh Valentine-Turner, who missed the tackle that would have prevented the TD if not a winning field goal, anyway.

“You know, I’ll always be honest up here: Yeah, I could have handled that better,” Lock said, candidly and professionally. “Could have flipped the pro(tection), played it hot. As a quarterback, you are always able to fix those things. I’ll take it on the chest that I could have done better there.”

The numbers: Smith 10 for 15 passing for 101 yards, a sack he took staying too long in the pocket on third down, and a wise decision to keep the ball on a run-pass option play on third and goal from the 2 to end that 2-minute drill. Smith’s incomplete throws included a drop by Melton, a drop by Young, new tight end Noah Fant not getting his second foot in bounds when he had enough time and yards of space to do so, and a Steelers defensive lineman batting down Smith’s pass at the line.

Smith did not play with starting wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. They and other Seahawks veterans warmed up in full pads but did not play.

Lock completed 10 of 14 passes for 112 yards with two touchdown throws. In his first three drives Lock was 8 for 11 with more yards (102) than Smith had in five series (101). Lock led Seattle to two touchdowns, to Smith’s one.

The turnover late when he had a chance to win the game will likely keep him in the second slot into the coming week, if not weeks.

“I thought the quarterbacks were really efficient,” Carroll said. “The protection was pretty darn good; we missed one shot and the big play at the end.

“We have to execute that better.”

Yet again, this wasn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. Perhaps that will come Thursday when the Seahawks host the Chicago Bears in the second preseason game.

Or perhaps not.

“We have a plan,” Waldron has said, not specifying it.

As they have for all but about a dozen snaps of 10 practices of training camp so far, Smith started and played exclusively with the starting offense and Lock played with the twos — and against Pittsburgh’s deep reserves.

So it’s yet to become a truly equal competition with extensive comparisons of each quarterback with the same personnel against the same string of defensive opposition.

The numbers are just part of the evaluation.

Carroll and Waldron are judging how efficiently and effectively each quarterback goes through the processes.

That’s where Smith shined Saturday.

Waldron and Carroll stress 4-minute offense late in a half and game. That is particularly true at the end of a first half when Seattle is set to get the second-half kickoff — the chance for two Seahawks drives to score without the foe touching the ball.

That’s what Seattle had with 4:28 left in the first half Saturday. But Smith’s receivers betrayed him.

Smith began the drive with a smart play, recognizing a Steelers blitz and quickly throwing outside to hot-read Ken Walker. The rookie running back, who started because Rashaad Penny rested a minor groin injury, ran for a 6-yard gain after the catch.

But then new tight end Noah Fant, acquired from Denver in the Wilson trade, had time and several yards of space to get his second foot down to complete a catch on an accurate throw by Smith. He did not, for an incomplete pass. Then Melton dropped the third-down pass on a slant route that likely would have extended the drive.

Those were two plus plays and throws by Smith on the coaches’ evaluation they will make Sunday. Those were two minuses for Fant and Melton.

Smith was all pluses on a 2-minute drill to Seattle’s first touchdown. Smith did what Lock’s been doing in camp, escaping a sack and running for a first down on third and medium, past midfield. Operating smoothly inside the pocket and out in various situations, Smith executed smoothly on a 61-yard touchdown drive using 1:25 and only one time out. He decisively dropped his shoulders and ran when he could have thrown, bulling across the goal line to bring Seattle within 14-10 at halftime.

“Excellent. Beautiful job,” Carroll said. “Just how you wanted to do it. ...It was just exactly what you want.

“Geno executed the whole thing.”

Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith runs around Steelers cornerback Arthur Maulet (35) on a scramble during the first half of Seattle’s first preseason game, Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith runs around Steelers cornerback Arthur Maulet (35) on a scramble during the first half of Seattle’s first preseason game, Saturday night in Pittsburgh.

Lock’s third pass, to Dareke Young short on third down, was for 13 yards with the run for a first down at the Pittsburgh 6.

His best play was when the Seahawks called an all-verticals play of deep routes into the end zone by their wide receivers. Lock saw the Steelers drop into a deep, shell, zone coverage to take those deep routes away. That left running back DeeJay Dallas one on one with a linebacker underneath. Lock threw quickly to him over the middle. Dallas caught the ball at about the 10-yard line, juked the linebacker easily and scored.

That and Lock’s two-point play on a sprint rollout pass to the right, what he loves to do, throwing on the run, re-tired the game at 25 early in the fourth quarter.

“He read his way through that,” Carroll said of Lock. “That was really good.”

After his two-point pass, Lock continued the momentum of his rollout to the Seahawks’ sideline. There, four coaches slapped the new QB’s hand to congratulate Lock. The last two were quarterbacks coach Dave Canales and Carroll.

Lock’s first touchdown pass was on third and goal. He decisively threw to Young, who was covered at the goal line in the left slot. The dart of a throw into Young’s stomach was better than the coverage, and the Seahawks had tied the game at 17.

The rookie cornerbacks

The first half was a reminder if the Seahawks eventually choose to start two rookie cornerbacks, no matter how talented Coby Bryant, Tariq Woolen are, it will be a blaring siren and red flag for opposing offensive coordinators and quarterback to relentless target and challenge them outside.

Starting with Russell Wilson and the Broncos on Sept. 12 in the season opener at Lumen Field.

The defense had six starters not playing. Defensive tackle Al Woods, 35 years old, did full warmups but did not play. Neither did safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, or inside linebacker Jordyn Brooks.

Rookies Bryant and Woolen started at cornerback. Last season’s starters remained out: Sidney Jones with a concussion and Tre Brown on the physically-unable-to-perform list following knee surgery that ended his rookie season in November.

The entire secondary being new showed in the first quarter. Especially at cornerback.

It was the first time the Seahawks have tackled since January. It usually shows in these games.

Woolen missed a tackle on a long Steelers run on the opening drive. Then he bit inside and stayed with a Steelers receiver as he was playing man-to-man coverage. No other Seahawk was in man. They were in zone. No one covered wide receiver Gunner Olszewski running outside to the area in the end zone Bryant would have been assigned to cover in zone defense. The blown coverage resulted in a 13-yard touchdown for an early Steelers lead.

Woolen took the blame for that mistake.

“I busted a coverage,” Woolen said. “It ain’t nothing new. I see the same thing during the week. It was just a bust. Just some early-game jitters.”

Pittsburgh increased its edge to 14-0 later in the opening quarter by going after Seattle’s other rookie cornerback.

Bryant was covering Pittsburgh’s George Pickens tightly into the end zone. But as quarterback Mason Rudolph’s pass was arriving, Bryant failed to turn his head.

It’s a play he’s made repeatedly in the first 10 days of training camp, impressing Seahawks coaches. But failing to see the ball allowed Pickens to catch it and tap his feet inside the boundary line for a touchdown, despite Bryant’s tight coverage.

“I thought they got beat around a little bit,” Carroll said.

“They had plays to make...those guys can make those plays. Every play that happened to them they’ve been making.”

Bryant’s best play came late in the first half. The 6-foot-1, 193-pound rookie immediately hit and stopped 6-4, 251-pound Steelers tight end Jace Sternberger after his catch just short of the line to gain. That forced Pittsburgh to punt with 2 minutes left in the second quarter and set up Smith’s best drive.

Right tackle competition

Jake Curhan did what he had to this week in practices: start at right tackle opposite rookie starting left tackle Charles Cross.

Cross was effective in run and pass blocking in the first half, after which the starting line exited with Smith.

Rookie third-round pick Abe Lucas from Washington State, who started in practices last week, replaced Curhan at right tackle when Lock entered. Late in the first half he put a Steeler on his back on a 16-yard run by Travis Homer. After halftime, Lucas stonewalled every Steelers pass rusher on Lock’s five throws on the first series.

The Seahawks rushed for 160 yards.