Editor’s note: We welcome in Seattle Seahawks writer Kenneth Arthur of Field Gulls for “Five questions with the enemy,” leading into the Kansas City Chiefs’ matchup with the Seahawks on Sunday.
1) The Seahawks won four games in a row before dropping a game to the San Francisco 49ers in overtime. What changed against San Francisco? Is the feeling in Seattle they can right the ship against the Kansas City Chiefs?
I think the game against the 49ers is a reminder that it is difficult to win on the road in the NFL and that most teams aren’t separated by all that much in terms of talent and quality. I do think the Seahawks are better than the Niners right now of course, but by how much?
With the two teams they brought to the party last Sunday, it may not be that much different than the level of play between Russell Wilson and Nick Mullens (which Mullens held his own for a day at least) and having a guy named Bobby Wagner on defense. I think that’s a big reason why Seattle is in position for the playoffs while San Fran is planning ahead but when you put two teams on the field, the home team is going to be getting a significant advantage and unless you’re much, much better than them, it’s gonna be a battle.
With a number of key players out, and last week the most key on that list were probably Bradley McDougald and DJ Fluker/Jordan Simmons because they were lost on game day, the 49ers were able to take advantage. In Seattle, the Seahawks won by a healthy margin, and in San Francisco, the two teams were more evenly matched.
I’m not sure what the feeling around the team is but I’m sure they lack no confidence. Pete Carroll, Russell, Bobby, they’ve had a lot of big games at this point. Fans on the other hand, I’m sure are putting their head in their hands again and wondering “Why have you forsaken me?!” as fans are wont to do.
I don’t see a lot of avenues towards this defense slowing down Patrick Mahomes but hopefully it’s that homefield advantage I was talking about that gives them an edge. It was good enough to basically shut out the Vikings a week ago, but Minnesota had plenty of offensive woes before that. I think the Seahawks have as good of a shot to beat the Chiefs this week as I would have believed prior to the Niners game. It’s just one game, it doesn’t mean a ton to me. and intradivisional road games seem to be the toughest every year.
2) It’s easy to read Russell Wilson’s numbers to tell he’s having a great season: 3,025 yards, 31 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. But what, if anything, has been different for Wilson this season compared to previous years?
Well the most obvious difference is that it’s his first year without offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. New guy Brian Schottenheimer has turned off Wilson’s wheels, calling way fewer designed runs than we’re used to seeing from him and asking him to be more of a think-pass quarterback while assuring him that the running backs will do a good enough job on the ground to allow him to do that.
So in the past you’d see the zone read option used in Seattle and you’d never know if the back or Wilson would run it. Now you’ll see almost the same formations, but Wilson is handing it off the vast majority of the time. He rarely keeps it. Not that Wilson can’t or won’t run the ball, it’s just not the part of his game that Carroll and Schottenheimer want to see anymore. For the most part that’s fine because Wilson is an excellent passer: he has a strong arm, is one of the better deep passers in the NFL, and I feel like he’s getting better and staying in and stepping forward in the pocket.
He’s always been a good pocket passer and this is paying off with higher percentage shots to Tyler Lockett. Wilson is also better when Doug Baldwin is healthy, which he’s rarely been this season. Contrary to what he’s good at, Wilson still struggles in finding some of his wide open reads and that can be frustrating when re-watching games. He’s also a bit inaccurate in intermediate throws, overthrowing a lot of his targets, and when trying to escape the pocket, Wilson will take a horrendous looking sack that loses 12 yards rather than getting rid of the ball. That can be frustrating.
Overall I’d say Wilson is as good as he’s ever been, but what’s interesting is that the entire league is seeing passers do better than ever, so is it Wilson or is it the evolution of the game? I would say it’s a bit of both, especially now that he has some new coaching.
3) Tyler Lockett is a local product, having attended college at Kansas State. 800 receiving yards is a career-high. What have you seen that has allowed him to take the next step in 2018? How critical has a healthy Doug Baldwin been to the Seahawks’ chances this season? Do you think it’s possible for a weak Chiefs run defense to contain Chris Carson?
Schottenheimer has schemed Lockett to get open in a variety of ways and he’s just been fantastic this season, ranking first in DVOA. He’s got sure hands (no drops this year) and will sell out or tap the toes for a highlight reel moment, and of course he’ll use his speed to make the most of his opportunities.
But this is not a “YAC” offense and I believe they rank last in yards after the catch. This is a “scheme him open, get it to him” offense and Lockett has stepped up after signing a contract extension earlier this year, which is great given the injuries to Baldwin.
As mentioned before, Baldwin is very critical to the offense. That was seen in last week’s game against the Niners when he caught two scores. I feel like Baldwin is Wilson’s reliable “bail out” option when he’s making those scrambles or wants a first down throw and they’ve worked together for seven years now. Baldwin’s one of the best in the NFL and I hope others around the league can see that. He makes the most amazing catches we’ve ever seen in Seattle and I truly believe that.
As to Carson, I’m not sure, but I know the Chiefs are not very adept at stopping the run this season and the Seahawks are first in rushing. Pardon the overuse of the phrase, but Carson is a beast. He’ll push his way through for extra yardage. He’s not Saquon Barkley. He’s not going to “wow” you with highlight plays. He’s just gonna get the yardage he’s given, barrel into someone, and then pick up 3 extra yards. He’s in the top five in yards after contact, I believe.
If Rashaad Penny is healthy enough to go, he’s more of the “wow” runner. Mike Davis is efficient. The team also signed Bo Scarbrough this week after Penny’s injury put him in further doubt, and I have no idea if he’ll play.
4) Outside linebacker KJ Wright is expected to return to the lineup against the Chiefs this week. How much have the Seahawks missed him after missing three games and what do you expect from him on Sunday night? How much of a problem will it be if safety Bradley McDougald cannot go?
I hope that is true about K.J. because it definitely is a huge dropoff at outside linebacker after him. Mychal Kendricks actually outplayed him this year but Kendricks went on injured reserve recently, so it got even worse. Backups like Austin Calitro and Shaquem Griffin just don’t play at that level right now. Wright has not had his best season but he’s missed most of it with an injury, so what can you do?
I think the absence there, as well as injuries to Earl Thomas and McDougald, have definitely brought this defense down a notch. They should really consider giving Thomas what he wants because the defense is a shell of what it is when he’s healthy. They run Tedric Thompson at free safety and he’s fine, not great. McDougald is a Pro Bowl alternate and that’s deserving, I think, so if they have to start Delano Hill instead, you might not see the Chiefs run the ball one time. Just let Mahomes throw it 70 times on that defense. It could be a huge problem if McDougald can’t go. Getting Wright back would help a lot in pass defense against tight ends and run defense. Obviously with Travis Kelce on your side, that’s important.
5) The Seahawks placed RG Jordan Simmons on injured reserve this week. With DJ Fluker missing practice to begin the week, how concerned are the Seahawks about their depth about the position? Who do you expect to play if Fluker cannot go?
Hugely? If not Fluker, I’d guess it could be Ethan Pocic, one of their worst offensive linemen this season. Backup center Joey Hunt could be the other option. Fluker was doing pretty good and then when he got hurt, Simmons potentially outplayed him. But injuries have plagued both and now it could be a full game using a third-string guard on Chris Jones .... who could possibly be okay with that? Not Wilson. Not Carroll. Definitely Jones.
I don’t know, man, this feels loaded, especially with tensions high as both teams need this. I’ll just say that I expect the game to be close. If the Seahawks lose, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t end with Russell Wilson getting one last shot in the final two minutes. If the Seahawks win, I expect it’ll be because Wilson completed that shot. But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried about this one, above all other games this year, getting ugly.