The Bills are playing the Seahawks in Toronto on Sunday. No one from Toronto to Syracuse really cares. The season is done. Meaningless football is a seasonal occurance just like leaves changing colors and snow hitting the ground. However, I still like doing Q&As with other bloggers who happen to cover a team that doesn't suck. So this week, we have Matthew over at Seattle Addicts to talk shop about the Seahawks. Be sure to check out my Q&A with them about the Bills. Enjoy and tell a friend.
1) If you were the opposing offensive and defensive coordinator, how would you attack the Seahawks?
The Seahawks' defense has been relatively strong across the board, but the linebackers have had trouble defending shallow and mid-level routes across the middle, especially when they play zone coverage. Consequently, many of the longer pass completions they've allowed this season have been on variants of old standbys like flanker drive, hi-lo crossers, etc.
The starting defensive line has been stout against the run, although DE Red Bryant has been hampered by a foot injury, but the rush line that Gus Bradley uses in nickel packages — Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin on the outside, and some combination of Clinton McDonald, Jason Jones, and Greg Scruggs on the inside — has been susceptible to giving up long runs up the gut. Granted, running the ball isn't a great choice in most situations where a defense would employ a nickel package, but it's something.
Early on in the season, teams could stop the Seahawks' offense by keying in on the run, but now that Wilson has had time to build up a rapport with his receivers that's no longer the case. Marshawn Lynch rarely goes down on first contact, but he isn't terribly fast. If an opposing defense has the discipline to maintain gap integrity and guard against cutbacks, then those zone runs that have been working so well for Seattle can be strung out all the way to the sideline. That's easier said than done, however, as the wide receivers and tight ends are all decent blockers and fullback Michael Robinson is a Pro Bowl lead blocker. Wilson is also a threat to take off with the ball via option runs and rollouts, so on plays where using a spy is impractical the defensive ends and outside linebackers will need to be conscientious about keeping track of what the quarterback is doing at all times.
Stopping the Seahawks' passing game has gotten increasingly difficult as the season has worn on. Golden Tate and Sidney Rice have been making a habit of catching passes on the edges in tight coverage, Zach Miller is a big reliable target in the middle of the field (according to my figures he's caught 76.92% of the deep passes thrown his way), backup tight end Anthony McCoy has come on strong as of late, and backup running back Robert Turbin may very well have the best hands on the team. Still, Seattle's passing game isn't all puppies and rainbows. Slot receiver Doug Baldwin has been struggling with injuries all season long and his confidence has taken a hit. He's let a lot of passes bounce off his hands, so there are some definite opportunities for interceptions there. Also, any and all passes thrown to third-string tight end Evan Moore should make the defensive backs start salivating. According to my stats, he's caught just one pass in seven targets (last week he had a play where he shoved the guy covering him to the turf and still failed to catch the ball when it arrived).
2) Tell me about Russell Wilson. He's like the rookie QB no one is talking about because of the hype surrounding Luck and RGIII. It is crazy that a 3rd round rookie may get 25 TDs this year. Why has he been effective?
Most people's expectations for Wilson coming into the season were based on his height and his draft position rather than his skill set or college career. Had he been an inch or two taller, he would have been touted as a top five pick right alongside Luck and Griffin. And really, the height thing shouldn't have mattered, because he succeeded at Wisconsin despite playing behind one of the biggest o-lines in college and his release point on his throws is actually higher than many taller NFL quarterbacks. Besides, it isn't like shorter quarterbacks haven't been successful at the pro level — seriously, it's almost like everyone got together at some point in the '70s and swore an oath to pretend that Eddie LeBaron and Frankie Albert never existed.
That said, I don't think anyone, Pete Carroll and John Schneider included, knew Wilson was going to be this good. He's mobile, he's accurate on throws to all three levels, and he's smart about not taking unnecessary risks on runs, but it's his drive and demeanor that really make him something special. The guy pretty much lives in the film room at the Seahawks' headquarters, obsessively watching tape of the next opponent over and over again (there were reports that the coaches actually had to kick him out of the building during the bye week to force him to go home and relax). How many rookie quarterbacks have you heard of who prepare 3-4 page scouting reports tailored to each of his receivers' strengths and has them ready and waiting in those players' lockers before the first practice each week?
Wilson is also preternaturally calm. Even when the pass rush is coming hard and fast all game long he never seems to get that hunted Jim Everett look in his eyes that some rookies get when they start feeling the pressure, and with the exception of the Jets game he's been good about securing the ball and not trying to do too much. For example, take a look at the sack he took that ended Seattle's first drive in the Cardinals game. LB Quentin Groves times the blitz perfectly and comes flying in untouched off the edge. Wilson never sees him before he turns to scramble to that side and almost immediately runs face first into Groves' chest. It's a hard, startling hit, and yet Wilson still has the presence of mind to tuck the ball in to prevent a fumble even as he's being driven to the ground. Dude's got game.
3) How have you guys liked Marshawn Lynch on and off the field? A number of fans/media viewed him as a knucklehead here. How has Seattle treated him and how big of a part is he with the offense?
From what I've read of his career in Buffalo, Lynch really was kind of a knucklehead when he played for the Bills. A lot of Seahawks fans were worried about him pulling more of the same stuff when he joined the team in 2010, but the team didn't just walk blindly into the trade. Carroll and Schneider had an ace in the hole on the roster, Lynch's backfield teammate in college, Justin Forsett. Carroll excels at getting through to guys, but having Forsett around to play the angel perched on Lynch's shoulder helped a whole hell of a lot. Forsett plays for the Texans these days, but his calming influence lives on.
The hiring of Tom Cable as the Seahawks' o-line coach in 2011 was also key to Lynch's development That highlight reel run Lynch had in the '10 playoffs against New Orleans was basically him getting a season's worth of frustration out of his system in one spectacular carry (the blocking kind of sucked that year), but his improved running since them is largely thanks to Cable acting as his mentor.
Lynch is a huge part of the offense, both in terms of production and emotional drive, and in the absence of a more dominating personality he became the de facto face of the franchise last season. The fans warmed up to him in a hurry once they learned he wasn't going to get himself arrested every week, and the way he speaks and carries himself reminds a lot of Seattle sports journalists of one of their all-time favorite players to interview, Sonics point guard Gary Payton. For his part, he's been gracious with his time and genuinely seems to enjoy interacting with fans and reporters alike. I don't know, maybe it took the Bills trading him to get him to pay attention to his behavior, or maybe he's just matured as he's gotten older, but the Lynch who's been playing for Seattle doesn't bear much resemblance to the Lynch who got on everyone's bad side in Buffalo.
4) Your defense looks pretty loaded when you look at your stats (Top 10 in most categories), why has the defense been so effective this year?
Actually, the defense was pretty great last year as well, but the team's offensive struggles hung them out to dry in several games, which hurt their stat lines. Pete Carroll and his defensive staff (particularly defensive coordinator Gus Bradley) mesh very well together, and that's led to some creative thinking. For instance, back in 2010 Red Bryant was a marginal backup DT who was bumbling his way ever-closer to the waiver wire before Carroll and then-d-line coach Dan Quinn decided to slide him over to strong side defensive end one day as an experiment, and he's been starting there ever since. The Bandit package, which features seven defensive backs in a semi-amorphous setup, is another example.
Another reason for the defense's success is general manager John Schneider, who has a knack for seeing potential in players who have been overlooked by scouts. All most front office people saw when they looked at DE Chris Clemons was an undersized guy who'd never be more than a situational pass rusher, but Schneider saw a guy who would run on broken ankles for a chance to prove that his former teams missed out on something big by not giving him a shot at a starting job. CB Brandon Browner was a CFL all-star who couldn't get NFL teams to give him the time of day because of his height, but he's a perfect fit for all the press coverages the Seahawks ask their corners to do. Rookie Bobby Wagner was supposed to be too small to play middle linebacker, but he's played well enough to merit consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors (ex-49er Michael Robinson called Wagner a "baby Patrick Willis"). Then there's Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bruce Irvin, Jeron Johnson, and the list goes on.
The depth on the roster is scary good. When CBs Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond went on IR in successive weeks last season, Sherman stepped into the job and has since proven to be one of the best young corners in the league. More recently, longtime outside linebacker Leroy Hill has been sidelined the past two weeks, and 2011 seventh rounder Malcolm Smith has performed so well in his place that he may end up keeping the job even after Hill returns from injury.
Schematically, free safety Earl Thomas is probably the one truly irreplaceable player on that side of the ball. His range and speed on the back end (think Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu) opens up a lot of possibilities for the rest of the defense — he allows the corners to play press man coverage all game long, he frees up Chancellor to drop into the box to effectively give the team a 4-4 front versus the run, and he's the one who's been there to limit the damage when the linebackers make a mistake in coverage.
5) How do you guys feel about Pete Carroll? What has he brought to Seattle that you guys didn't have towards the end of the Mike Holmgren era?
Holmgren was an entirely different sort of head coach. He had a lot of success in Green Bay and Seattle by adhering rigidly to his offensive system (which was quite possibly the last semi-pure West Coast Offense used in the NFL), and his approach to the game earned him and his teams three trips to the Super Bowl. The defense under Holmgren's tenure, unfortunately, was far less successful, and his habit of giving his favorite players special treatment tended to cause problems in the locker room. Yes, he coached the Seahawks to their only Super Bowl appearance in '05 and we're all eternally thankful for that, but those mid-2000s teams were so stacked with talent that they probably should have gone two or three times, not just once. There was also a lot of infighting behind the scenes between him and GM Tim Ruskell that led to Holmgren's burnout and eventual departure from the team after the '08 season.
In a way, Carroll is a combination of the best traits of the last two head coaches, Holmgren and Jim Mora. Carroll knows defense the way Holmgren knows offense, but unlike Holmgren he doesn't get overly possessive about his scheme and is very open to collaboration. He excels at relating to his players like Mora did, but unlike Mora he doesn't undercut himself by being an immature jackass who throws his players under the bus at the first sign of trouble. There was some concern at first that his rah-rah, Up With People personality would wear thin in a hurry with fans, reporters, and players alike, but the man is imbued with a sort of weapons grade likeability that makes him nearly impossible to hate.
And for all his relentless cheeriness and affability, Carroll also made it very clear early on that he doesn't play favorites with anyone ever. Back in 2010, he traded the draft day equivalent of a ham sandwich to Tennessee in exchange for a DT whose name I forget and RB LenDale White, who played for him at USC. White wore out his welcome with the Titans by being a prima donna who didn't feel like he had to adhere to team rules or go to meetings and the like, and although he kept saying to the media that he was going to mend his ways in Seattle, when the cameras weren't rolling he apparently thought he could get away with business as usual. Less than a month later, White was shown the door, and Carroll earned himself a big boost in credibility.
Oh, and when he says that a position is up for competition, he isn't just spouting a sound bite, he damn well means it. Just ask Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn. That kind of reputation is invaluable when it comes to attracting quality free agents.
6) Are there any players that Bills fans dont know much about and should keep an eye out on?
DT #92 Brandon Mebane, who is one of the few holdovers from the pre-Carroll days, is a criminally underrated interior defensive lineman. He doesn't get many sacks or tackles, but he does a great job of occupying blockers and keeping everyone else free to get to the ball carrier. C #60 Max Unger and LT #76 Russell Okung are both top-flight talents that no one seems to notice much. LB #55 Heath Farwell is one of the best special teams aces I've ever seen (I like to describe him as a returner-seeking missile). P #9 Jon Ryan has an exceptionally strong leg and the accuracy to use it.
I've already mentioned #53 Malcolm Smith, but assuming he ends up starting over Hill again this week he'd be another good one to watch. He's a rangy, athletic freak of nature who could be a superstar if he ever figures out how to get the most out of his natural talents. G #64 J.R. Sweezy may end up not playing, but take the time to watch him if he does. He's Tom Cable's pet project, a seventh round rookie defensive lineman who had never played on the offensive line before this season. The kid is much faster than any o-lineman has a right to be.