To prepare for the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, I spoke with Danny Kelly over at SB Nation's Seahawks blog, Field Gulls. If you haven't yet, hop on over there and check out some of their stuff. Danny knows his stuff so I am excited about this week's Q&A, which you can read below. Note the question on the Seahawks rushing attack because I think that is the most important matchup in this game.
1. The Seahawks are 6-3 but I thought they were unbeatable after seeing them in Week 1. What has been their downfall in the losses this year?
Fortunately, the Seahawks' three losses have all come in close games, and in each one, Seattle's given themselves a shot at winning late. This is better than getting completely blown out, anyway. As for what's going on in those losses? It hasn't just been one thing - against the Chargers, Seattle just succumbed to Philip Rivers playing out of his mind. The Chargers held the ball for over 42 minutes, Seattle couldn't get off the field on third downs, then when they finally managed to, the offense couldn't get much going to keep the defense on the sideline. Against the Cowboys, Seattle had trouble stopping the run, which was uncharacteristic. Against the Rams, it was the Seahawks' normally stellar special teams that blew it, as St. Louis executed a trick play on a punt return then used a fake punt later to seal the win. So, it's been a little of everything.
Everyone said that a Super Bowl repeat is a hard thing to do, and we all heard it, but I don't know if anyone really realized JUST HOW HARD IT IS. Seattle's depth was largely signed away with lucrative offers in free agency, some players have admitted there's an element of overconfidence at play early this season, and frankly, it's hard when every team you play wants to "knock off the defending champs."
It also doesn't help that Seattle went through thePercy Harvin debacle and has now seen 12 players, including three starters and several key role players, head to the injured reserve. Additionally, All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor has been hobbled much of the year. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner has missed the last month, left tackle Russell Okung has missed multiple games, left guard James Carpenter has missed time, center Max Unger missed over a month, and starting cornerback Byron Maxwell has missed several weeks. Malcolm Smith has missed time, backup tight end Luke Willson has been out, and Seattle's relied on some new faces to carry the load.
Bottom line, living up to Super Bowl Championship expectations has proven difficult, particularly with all the injuries. Nonetheless, I think Seattle still has a good roster, a good team, and if they can start clicking a little bit better in the passing game, will be a team to contend with. The defense seems to have picked things up over the last three weeks, the run game is back on track, but the passing game is pretty clearly a big issue thus far.
2. The Chiefs can have some trouble when teams commit to the run. What is the Seahawks run game like? How does Russell Wilson factor into that?
The Seahawks have a fairly unique approach to the run game, using Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch in concert to try and work both sides of the field and stymie defenses. As Pete Carroll put it this week, "The threat of the quarterback run had a lot to do with the overall success" of the Seahawks' rushing attack, not only against the Giants, but all season.
Seattle posted a franchise record 350 rushing yards last week, are now leading the NFL in rushing yards per game (170 per), and have more total rushing yards than the highly-celebrated run game of the Cowboys, who've played one more game than Seattle. A big part of it is because Russell Wilson has become such a legit factor in the read-option run game, and he's posted three games over 100 yards rushing already this year. He has 500 yards rushing on the season. The cool thing about Wilson's running is that he rarely takes hits, knows when to slide or get out of bounds, and uses the threat intelligently.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to have gotten Russell Okung and Max Unger back on the line to clear lanes for Marshawn Lynch. This forces teams to defend the middle of the field.
3. Does Richard Sherman stay on one side of the field or does he trail the best receiver? Should we just assume not throw in his direction?
He typically sticks to one side of the field. In a few cases this year - namely against the Cowboys - he's followed opposing receivers around, but Seattle tends to trust both of their cornerbacks enough that they don't ask Sherman to mirror. It will be interesting to see what they do this week with the Chiefs and Dwayne Bowe.
As for throwing in his direction, I wouldn't say it's folly to do so, but it's certainly more difficult than throwing to the left side against either Byron Maxwell or Tharold Simon. Sherman just has such a strong command of route concepts and does such a great job of getting his head turned around at the right moment to intercept passes, that it's a pretty dangerous proposition, relatively speaking. His interception numbers are down this year for a number of reasons - the pass rush hasn't been as strong, the Seahawks have faced some of the cream of the crop in quarterbacks, and teams are being a lot more conservative his direction, but as Mike Clay pointed out today, offenses have targeted their right side a league-low 44 times against the Seahawks this year. Sherman still gets the respect he deserves from opposing QBs and coordinators.
Offenses have targeted their right outside WR a league-low 44 times against the Seahawks this year. That's Richard Sherman's side. #Respect— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) November 12, 2014
4. Who are the Seahawks pass rushers that cause problems? The Chiefs o-line was dominated against the Bills last week. I am curious how Seattle's pass rush compares to Buffalo.
The two main pass rushers for Seattle are Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Bennett plays on the weakside end on base downs and then moves inside to play off the guard in nickel downs. He's very fast off the snap and uses his hands really, really well to defeat blocks and knock opposing linemen off balance. Cliff Avril is the strong side defensive end and his game is his incredible acceleration off the snap. He's probably got one of the top first steps in the NFL. He also is extremely good at forcing fumbles - in fact, I want to say that no player has forced more fumbles than Cliff Avril since Avril entered the league.
Seattle hasn't gotten the sacks that they want out of their defensive line, but Avril and Bennett are both tied at 3rd in the NFL among 4-3 DEs with 9 QB hits apiece, Bennett leads all 4-3 DEs with 31 QB hurries, Avril is 2nd with 27, and generally speaking, they've picked up their game over the past few weeks. Bruce Irvin is the x-factor to keep an eye on this week, and he rushes from the weak end spot when Bennett moves inside in nickel situations. Irvin has flashes of greatness, but hasn't put everything all together yet in his short career. Seattle fans are hoping he can continue to break out.
5. What's your prediction on the game?
I realize it's pretty trite to say this, but I think it will be a very close, hard-fought game. These are two tough, run-focused teams with point-guard style quarterbacks and physical defenses. I think that Kansas City has a big advantage playing at home so I think it's going to be a battle. The Seahawks have been strong the last few weeks, especially on defense and in the run game, so I'm going to pick Seattle. I think it will be a slog-fest, though, and it wouldn't surprise me to see something like 16-13 Seahawks.