Is there a better way to follow up a primetime blowout loss at home to a division rival than having last year's Super Bowl champions come to your house...on Monday Night Football? Everyone remembers the last time the Seahawks played at FedEx Field. The Redskins playoff run ended during it's first game, and RGIII's knee injury finally took him out of the game. The Seahawks went on to lose the next game, and the Redskins went on to lose the next season.
Now it's a new season and the Seahawks are coming to town again. RGIII is sidelined for a different injury, and Kirk Cousins is in charge of the offense. The Seahawks are 2-1, while the Redskins are reeling at 1-3 and coming off of back-to-back division losses. I spoke to the man in charge at Field Gulls, Danny Kelly, and asked him 6 questions about the current state of the Seahawks. My responses to his question will be posted sometime today.
1) The Redskins top two TEs are questionable for the game, and Gruden has been using them extensively in the passing game. How has Seattle fared against TEs not named Antonio Gates this year?
DK: Man, I'm still having nightmares about Antonio Gates. But, other than Seattle being on the brunt end of the future Hall of Famer's best game in recent memory, the Hawks have done relatively well against tight ends this season. Typically, Seattle doesn't change up a whole lot about their personnel when opposing teams have good pass catching tight ends, instead relying on their starting linebackers in K.J. Wright or Malcolm Smith or perhaps Kam Chancellor to match up (or they just play zone).
Against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, tight end in Andrew Quarless had three catches for 26 yards, and Seattle's linebackers and safeties did a great job of taking him out of the game-plan. Against the Broncos, we saw a mixed bag. Again, Seattle's linebackers and safeties matched up with Julius Thomas and held the prolific mismatch machine to just three catches for 17 yards. Thomas added a touchdown "catch" on a little inside shovel pass near the goal line (he essentially became a fullback in that case), but overall the Seahawks did a great job of taking him away from Peyton Manning as an option downfield. Unfortunately, they did allow Jacob Tamme to get free down the sideline at the worst possible moment, and the veteran backup scored a huge touchdown on the final drive, which led to overtime.
So, overall - coverage has been fairly tight (even against San Diego the coverage was pretty good, Gates and Philip Rivers were honestly just making amazing plays), but opposing teams have managed to do some damage with their tight ends. It's going to be a big test this Monday though, because it's a spot that you can attack Seattle if you don't want to challenge their corners and deep safety.
2) Speaking of tight ends, how much will the loss of Zach Miller hurt the Seahawks offense?
DK: It's honestly a pretty big loss for the Seahawks. He's an integral part of their offense and plays a vast majority of snaps. They use him as a run blocker, which he's very good at, as a pass protector, which he's extremely good at, and as a pass catcher, which he's dependable as (though he's not very fast). Pete Carroll has said that the team does not feel the need to change anything up about what they're running, so that means we're going to be seeing Luke Willson, a second year player, pick up the slack. He's almost undoubtedly inferior to Miller as a run and pass blocker, but he does add an element of downfield speed to the position. Willson will be a very important player to keep an eye on this week.
3) How have Russell Okung and the rest of the OL played this year compared to last year?
DK: Okung has struggled to get up to full speed after missing the entire offseason and most of the preseason with a foot injury (he had surgery on it after last year). Thus, he's struggled a little bit out on the edge, relative to how he's played when he's fully healthy. He's had a few weeks to get himself into game shape now though, so now we'll start getting a chance to see if he's really fallen off in terms of his ability, or if he was just struggling to keep up with the speed of the game. This week should be a good test for that.
As for the interior offensive line, things have been good thus far. LG James Carpenter is having the best season of his career thus far, and C Max Unger's back to full health and has been playing well. RG J.R. Sweezy is a mauler in the run game and has improved his play in pass protection. RT Justin Britt is playing in just his fourth game this week, so he's a guy that Washington could look to attack, particularly with Zach Miller now out and unable to stay in and protect on the edge.
Overall, as a group, the offensive line has looked strong. The hope is that with a little more experience under Britt's belt and more time for Okung to get back up to full speed, the group will really jell by mid season.
4) Red Bryant and Chris Clemons left this year, how has that affected the defensive line and who has stepped up to replace them?
DK: Bryant and Clemons were big parts of what the Seahawks did last year on defense, so it was a major concern. The team went out and signed free agent DT Kevin Williams and re-signed DT/DE Michael Bennett, DT Tony McDaniel, and DE O'Brien Schofield, so this group has gone a long way toward replacing those losses. Seattle also drafted DT/DE Cassius Marsh out of UCLA, and have been seeing some nice nickel play by second-year DT Jordan Hill.
Overall, with Bryant and Clemons gone, it just means guys like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are getting more snaps. The Hawks just hope that this won't wear them down as the year goes on.
5) What are the Seahawks weaknesses as a team, and how would you attack/defend them?
DK: The Hawks have a strong defense, but if I was planning a to try and attack them, I would probably implement a heavy dose of trips and bunch formations, crossing routes, pick plays, and dumpoffs. Seattle's main goal as a defense is to not get beat deep, so they more or less invite you to pass into short zones, with the strategy to close quickly and tackle violently. Most of the time, this works for them relatively well. Where they can get into trouble is miscommunication and pass-offs of assignments, so running routes that cross each other or play off of each other (pick plays, essentially), you can beat a normally very disciplined team.
I'd get DeSean Jackson involved as a deep threat downfield, even using him as a decoy to open up things underneath for my other weapons. I'd work my ground game as much as possible too, because having some balance is key. Alfred Morris is a great zone back, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him get a good amount of carries on Monday. You don't want to allow Seattle to load up their line with pass rushers to pin their ears back and attack the quarterback, so adding draw plays and remaining dedicated to the run game, even if it starts out slowly, is the way to go, in my eyes.
As for stopping them offensively, the biggest thing I'd do is to get pressure on Russell Wilson early and often. Wilson can escape pressure with the best of them, but if you leave him back in the pocket too long he's actually underrated in his ability to slice up defenses. Keep him moving, keep him under pressure and rushed, and if you flush him from the pocket you take away half of the field with which to work with. Keeping Marshawn Lynch bottled up in the run game would go a long way toward taking the Seahawks out of their comfort zone as well. Nothing brilliant or insightful there, I realize, but I think those are two keys.
6) DeSean Jackson and Richard Sherman have known each other for a long time, but have only met on the field in 1 NFL game. What is the result if Jackson is on Sherman's side of the field all game?
DK: It's going to be a great matchup, because Jackson obviously has the advantage with speed on Sherman. Sherman is a technician and does great work against a variety of speeds and sizes, but he'll be extra careful to not let Jackson get past him downfield. Look for Washington to run comebacks and quick slants vs. Sherman if Jackson goes to his side, because these are the routes he's most susceptible to.
Thanks again to Danny, and let's try to keep it civil in the comments.