This week I changed things up and had each of the Hogs Haven Editors ask a question for Danny Kelly, site manager for the Seahawks blog, Field Gulls. Some great questions in here, especially from Dan and UKRedskin. Enjoy.
1.) Kevin: The Hawks are 3-5 on the road this year....obviously, CenturyLink provides a huge home advantage, what is it that didn't click so well in those road losses this year to ARI, STL, MIA, SF, and DET?
Danny Kelly: Seattle struggled to generate offense in Week 1 against the Cardinals, with a rookie quarterback playing in his first game after winning the job only about two weeks prior. Before that, Russell Wilson had been splitting reps with Matt Flynn (and Tarvaris Jackson prior to his trade) so the offense he was leading was sluggish out of the gate (it's also notable that Arizona held opposing offenses to a league-low passer rating on the entire season - that's an underrated defense, in general overshadowed by their awful offense). That said, Seattle had the ball inside the Cardinals' ten-yard line with under a minute left, and ran four plays that could have won the game -- all four passes fell incomplete, unfortunately, several of them off the hands of receivers.
The loss in St. Louis was a similar deal -- the offense stalled fairly badly against the Rams' stingy defense, and three turnovers more or less doomed Seattle. The first was a Marshawn Lynch bobbled pass that led to an interception. Nevertheless, Seattle got the ball back late in the fourth quarter with a chance to drive down the field and score a TD to take the lead and win the game, but when Seattle got deep into St. Louis territory, TE Anthony McCoy tripped and fell on a route, and Wilson's anticipation pass to McCoy sailed into a Rams defender's hands.
In the first two Seahawks' road losses at Arizona and St. Louis, the offense came up short, while the defense looked very sharp. The same could be said about Seattle's road loss to San Francisco on Thursday Night Football. Dropped passes and missed opportunities spelled disaster for Seattle as they lost 13-6 to the Niners at Candlestick Park.
Against Detroit, the following week though, the opposite could be said. Russell Wilson went 25 for 35 for 236 yards passing and helped put the Seahawks up 24-21 with 5 minutes left in the game with a touchdown pass to Zach Miller. Unfortunately, this time, the defense faltered with the game on the line, and Matthew Stafford and company drove down the field over the final minutes of the game and scored the game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds remaining. This might have been the toughest loss on the year, but generally speaking, fans saw for the first time that Wilson was legit and that the offense was turning things around.
Against Miami, a similar thing happened. Seattle took a 21-14 lead into the final seven minutes of the game, but rookie Ryan Tannehill led the Dolphins to back to back scoring drives - first the tying touchdown, then after a poorly managed Seahawks drive, the go-ahead, game-winning kick with 1:32 to doom Seattle. The Dolphins did a great job of taking Seattle out of their game - running the ball - and did just enough late in the game on offense to steal the victory.
Overall, I don't think there's any one thing about Seattle's road losses that sticks out -- the margin of defeat for all five losses is 24 total points, so obviously the Seahawks were in some close battles late in games, but the defense would either give up a big drive or Seattle's offense would stall when they needed a score. That's the NFL. The key for Seattle to play well on the road this weekend at Washington is to stick to their game and pound the football on the ground -- this opens up their passing game and play-action game, and allows them to get to what they've practiced over the week instead of trying to play catch up.
2.) Ken Meringolo: Which player on the offensive side of the ball is most responsible for Marshawn Lynch's success other than Marshawn Lynch?
Obviously, a lot of credit is due to the play of the offensive line because they've really come together this year in running Tom Cable's Zone Blocking Scheme up front to create nice cutback lanes for Lynch to run through. Also, the read-option game that Seattle has incorporated into the last five weeks has led to an exponential increase in explosive run plays for this offense. From zone-read looks since Week 13, Seattle has rushed the ball 50 times for 364 yards (7.28 ypc) and as teams look to scrape outside to take away the Wilson keeper option, big holes up the middle are opening up. I'm sure that Redskins fans are familiar with the Seahawks' core concepts because the Skins run some similar things.
Also, obviously, Russell Wilson's passing ability helps Lynch a lot. Wilson's ability to run the offense efficiently and make pinpoint passes downfield opens up things for the run game as teams get away from 8- or 9-man fronts and worry more about what Wilson can do with his arm than what Lynch can do to them on the ground. Wilson has improved drastically on 3rd downs, in the redone, & late in games (honestly, absurd numbers in those three categories over the 2nd half of the season, as ESPN's Mike Sando has broken down here). Wilson has also improved greatly against the blitz over the last 10 games or so, something that tends to get overlooked or misreported.
3.) Dan Ciarrocchi : According to Pro Football Focus, Robert Griffin III has the highest completion percentage in the NFL vs. the blitz this season. Given how trustworthy Seattle's coverage unit is, could you see them dropping more guys back in obvious passing downs than their norm on Sunday?
I think that in general, Seattle likes to play things conservatively in the backend, and they aren't really known for bringing more than five rushers very often. They rely on their front-four to get pressure, then look to their linebackers and safeties to cover receivers and when passes are caught, clean up things in the middle of the field. The old, 'bend but don't break' philosophy. On the outside, they let their big cornerbacks play a lot of man principles as well.
So, to answer your question, yes, I would guess that they look to play it safe against Griffin by dropping players into coverage rather than sending the house at him for the most part, knowing full well that Griffin has shredded defenses that heavily blitz him. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is known to rely on in-depth statistical breakdowns of everything you could imagine when it goes into his gameplanning, and I am sure he's aware of Griffin's ability to beat the blitz. That said, I do think we'll see some blitz looks from Seattle, but likely of the 'zone-blitz' fare, where you're dropping others into coverage and looking to confuse with pressure from linebackers/safeties coming off the edge. Conservative blitzes, if you will.
4.) UKRedskin: The Redskins option and play-action game puts huge stress on linebackers and safeties with misdirection. How do you feel the Seahawks linebacker and safety groups will be able to cope with the Redskins' offense?
It's going to be extremely tough, that's for sure. Seattle has some great, young, and speedy linebackers and safeties, but a moment's hesitation from anyone at that position and you're toast. The read-option play-action game is exactly why I don't think this 'college-style' stuff is going the way of the Wildcat anytime soon. It's just too hard to defend, and the things that you can do with play-action make it viable.
Bobby Wagner is a rookie out of Utah State, so he saw a lot of the Pistol read-option stuff playing teams in the WAC and against Mountain West teams, specifically Nevada, in college, so his experience playing against that kind of defense should help. Similarly, K.J. Wright, a second-year pro out of Mississippi State, has a lot of experience defending it as well from his time in the SEC, where he notably played against Cam Newton's Auburn Tigers and Tim Tebow's Florida Gators. That said, experience only gets you so far, and execution and speed will be the main factors. Seattle has speed at those positions, which is huge, and their depth has speed, but executing their schemes will be the key, obviously. Defending RG3 and the read-option has me worried, there's no doubt. It's going to be fun.
5.) What's your score prediction and why?
Seattle is playing very well of late, and the offense, special teams, and defense all finished top-four in efficiency per Football Outsiders DVOA this season. I think this balance in all three units gives Seattle a slight edge over the Redskins, although I have great respect and admiration for Washington, honestly. (I actually have liked the Redskins for over a year now, because as a native Nebraskan, I liked that Shanahan and company picked Roy Helu Jr and Niles Paul for key roles). If it were any other matchup, I'd probably be rooting for Washington.
Now, obviously, if there's a team that could match Seattle in momentum and hot play of late, it'd be the Redskins. I think it's going to be close, and I think it's going to get chippy, and I think it's going to be awesome. I have faith in the Seahawks' defense and I think the offense will show up on the road, and Seattle will edge the Redskins 28-24. I'm certain that most Redskins' fans will disagree with that assessment though.
"Yes" on that last statement. Thanks, Danny, for the time....appreciated.