We’ve done this recently and we’re doing it again.
The last time the Rams and Seahawks met, LA won and secured a key advantage towards winning the NFC West. They still have that advantage if they can beat Seattle in Sunday’s rematch, but the Seahawks have won four of five games since losing to the Rams and Sean McVay is coming off of a regular season low point in losing to the New York Jets.
If the Seahawks win, they’ve taken the division. If the Rams win, they’re one win against the Cards away from doing that themselves. To preview Seattle, I’ve once again sent five Qs to Mookie Alexander of Field Gulls and he’s once again sent me five corresponding As.
My answers to Mookie’s questions can be found here.
Q - What’s the status on Brandon Shell’s availability at right tackle and the current state/health of the offensive line?
A - Despite Pete Carroll’s endless injury optimism, it’s not looking good. He didn’t practice on Wednesday and I suspect his high ankle sprain is more serious than they’ve let on. That’s huge considering Seattle was so terrified of its own offensive line that Russell Wilson was reduced to an assortment of quick passes to counter Washington’s defensive line. Cedric Ogbuehi held up way better than expected in Shell’s absence but he’s still a clear downgrade from Shell.
Seattle’s offensive line is reasonably healthy but the depth is pretty thin. Jamarco Jones is on IR, Phil Haynes is also hurt, and those are two reserves. Mike Iupati has a neck problem and is not a certainty to play this weekend, in which case he’d be replaced at left guard by Jordan Simmons, who himself is oft-injured and a downgrade in the running game. Ethan Pocic is healthy after suffering a concussion a month ago so he’s the rock at center and has arguably been an upgrade over his predecessor Justin Britt. Damien Lewis has been great in his rookie season as the team’s right guard and it’s a pleasant sight to see knowing how often youngsters can struggle on the OL when starting right away. Duane Brown has limped around more than a few times this year and has had the “resting vet” designation on many practices given he’s well into his 30s and had knee surgery last season.
If I were a betting man I think we see Brown-Simmons-Pocic-Lewis-Ogbuehi as the starters. Not that good but not terrible either. This has been one of the few times I can think of where I’ve not been horrified watching the Seahawks OL operate.
Q - Since the Rams contained him, DK Metcalf’s been somewhat human in every game except for going off against the Eagles. Do you think there’s been a formula that’s worked against Metcalf?
A - I think it’s less about a formula that’s worked against Metcalf and more of a formula that’s worked against Russell Wilson. The Seahawks love to take deep shots and be aggressive with pushing the ball down the field. Teams have adjusted to the high-scoring, pass-heavy approach from the early portion of the season and are disguising their coverages and confusing Wilson pre-snap. There have been more two deep safety looks to discourage the long balls to Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and as a result we’re seeing the big play offense get the clamps put on them. You mention the Eagles game and that’s the only one over the past five weeks in which the Seahawks had a 30+ yard pass play. Seattle does not have a quick passing game that also generates yards after the catch efficiently and never have under Brian Schottenheimer.
There have been some missed opportunities to Freddie Swain and David Moore over the past two weeks but otherwise there’s been a considerable shift in how the Seahawks are passing the ball. I don’t think that will change against the Rams because they have such a great defense, but this is also not Russell Wilson at his best. He needs to be better and the offense needs to be in a position to actually return to some of what makes him great. If they can do that then we’ll see Metcalf put up those gaudy numbers again.
Q - Has your grade or thoughts on the Jamal Adams trade changed at all since it happened in the offseason? Are you feeling comfortable with him as an answer to Seattle’s pass rushing woes? Will Carlos Dunlap be involved this week?
A - I’m still chewing a bit on the fact that they gave up two firsts and a third for Adams but there’s no denying that he’s extremely good at getting after the quarterback. It’s insane that he missed more than a quarter of the season and is 11th in the entire NFL in sacks with 9.5. As a strong safety!
For anyone who feared Seattle wouldn’t play to his strengths, I believe those fears were wholly unwarranted. But that said, he’s been at the center of quite a number of coverage busts, particularly on play-action and in the red zone. I’ll attribute that to a mixture of over-eagerness and not enough time to get acclimated to the Seahawks’ defensive scheme. He’s best suited on blitzes and in run defense, not so much in pass coverage thus far (although he begs to differ). Adams is a strong tackler anywhere on the field but especially when he’s going downhill, which is a welcome change given Seattle’s uncharacteristic tackling problems over the past two years. Considering he’s still very young and has already proven capable of playing at a high-level, I think this will prove to be a quality trade in the long-term even acknowledging the hefty cost to get him and the hefty contract extension that is surely coming soon.
As for Dunlap, he’s been on a pitch count the last two weeks he’s played (23 snaps vs. Giants, 26 vs. Washington) and he missed the Jets game with a foot injury. I believe he will play but he probably won’t be at full strength to get his normal reps in. Just as long as he’s on the field even at 80%, it’s clear that Dunlap is the best pass rusher on the Seahawks’ defensive line and in just six games he’s picked up five sacks. When Dunlap is in the lineup, they don’t have to blitz as much to generate pressure, which is pretty important knowing how often McVay will dial up screens or some other quick pass to counter Seattle’s aggressive tendencies.
Q - DJ Reed seems to be a player in the secondary who has been coming on hot as of late. Could Reed be a steal for Pete Carroll’s secondary or is it potentially a flash in the pan moment? Does he have lapses?
A - He looks like a steal. Reed was waived/injured by the 49ers and has been an instant success in Seattle. Not only has he been an effective outside corner but he’s become the new #1 punt returner over David Moore. He’s got a real fluidity to his movement, he’s quick without being an absolute speed demon, he’s shown really good ball skills (the interception against Washington was a great read in zone defense), and seems to play bigger than his 5’9” frame. It’s really telling that even though Tre Flowers will be back from injury, Reed is expected to keep the starting spot at right cornerback until further notice. Flowers has the much better frame for Carroll’s system of tall, physical outside corners but he’s also been a liability more often than not throughout his three years in the system. I am sure McVay will scheme up ways to attack Reed because he’s still the least experienced member of the entire secondary, but I’ve seen few lapses in his game and a whole lot of positives.
Q - I think talk of the 5 seed being better than a 2-3 seed has to be dead and buried by now after seeing the Seahawks lose to the Giants and the Rams lose to the Jets. Do you think Seattle fans have let go of this as being a “good idea” to be satisfied with a lower seed and potentially play on the road against an NFC East team?
A - I hope fans have killed the idea of the “easy” road by playing an NFC East team. Frankly I wonder how the 2010 Saints felt when they lost the NFC South but got to play a 7-9 Seahawks team with a -97 point differential. And besides, from a Seahawks perspective that would be some serious short-term memory loss considering this team lost the NFC West last year and got to play a weak Eagles team (again) only to get another Divisional Round exit anyway.
Of the teams that reached the Super Bowl by winning three straight road playoff games, none of them had a Week 17 road game, so Seattle would risk four straight road games from regular season to postseason. If you’re a 2-3 seed you could conceivably have HFA for the entire playoffs if other results break your way. Home field advantage may not matter as much this year and that’s in part due to the lack of fans but you’re still in a familiar environment and don’t have to travel anywhere. And if the Packers get the #1 seed then you definitely want to be the #2 or #3 seed, as you’d be guaranteed not to play Green Bay until the NFC Championship Game... or they get eliminated early and suddenly you could end up hosting the NFC CG.
Long story short: Lower seeds BAD, higher seeds GOOD.