Analyze The Enemy: Week 2 – Seattle Seahawks

During the Cowboys season, I’ll be doing some work for LoadLeft.com analyzing the Cowboys weekly opponent. I’ll also be posting the article on here as well. Here’s what I have for this weeks match-up.


Strengths:
1) Aggressive SecondaryThe Seahawks have built a very young and talented secondary that is the standout defensive unit. The oldest member of the backfield is Brandon Browner (28), who at 6’4” and 221 is a physical CB whose specialty is manhandling WR’s at the line. Opposite Browner is Richard Sherman (24) who is the speedier of the two, but also uses his long arms to disrupt opposing pass catchers.

If they get beat then there’s Earl Thomas (23) at FS, who many consider the gem of this unit (he’s tied with Marshawn Lynch as the 2nd most talented player on Seattle’s roster according to Scouts Inc.). You can also do a heck of a lot worse than Marcus Trufant as your third CB.

2) Lynch Is A BEAST – Marshawn Lynch had some back spasm issues leading up to Week 1, but it didn’t look like they slowed him down at all against the Cardinals. His 85 yards may not look like much on paper, but he’s the type of player that you aren’t going to bring down by throwing your shoulder into him. We’ll know for sure after Sunday if the Cowboys tackling ability really is as improved as it looked against the Giants.

With the Seattle secondary as banged up as it is, I’ d look for a heavy dose of Lynch in the early going on Sunday. The Seahawks need to find a way to limit Russell Wilson’s throws under pressure. A 100+ yard day from Lynch would help to do just that.

3) The 12th Man @ Century Link – It boggles the mind that a crowd in an open air stadium can be so much louder than the crowd at Cowboys Stadium. The architectural design of the seating decks, partial roof, and a passionate fan base are to thank for the deafening levels of sound at Century Link Field (formerly Qwest Field).

Seattle has had a losing record at home for a season only twice since Century Link  opened in 2002. Only four other NFC teams (Chi, GB, Min, & Phi) have as few losing home record seasons over that 10 year span, and only the Cowboys have less (1 in 2010). Since 2005, opponents have committed more false start penalties in Seattle than in any other stadium. The Seahawks actually display the number of false starts called during the game on the scoreboard to motivate the crowd.

If a homefield advantage does exist in the NFL, you’ll find it in Seattle.

Weaknesses:
1) Offensive Line – If you are worried about the Cowboys offensive line, then you should feel better after watching Seattle try to protect Russell Wilson on Sunday. The Seahawks were dealt a big blow last year when their 1st round pick James Carpenter blew out his knee just 9 games into the season. Even worse, he’s very likely to miss all of 2012. Seattle was also without second year RG John Moffitt last week, as converted DT J.R. Sweezy took his place. Even with Moffitt’s return, Pete Carroll has stated multiple times that the team likes what Sweezy has done so far. I would think that tends to speak more about how iffy Seattle feels about Moffitt than how excited they are about Sweezy’s potential.

DeMarcus Ware should have a field day if Russell Okung starts at LT. Samuell Acho forced 3 false start penalties in Week 1 by getting completely inside of Okung’s skull. In fact, a 4th false start should have been called on Okung late in the game.

As I mentioned earlier, getting pressure on Russell Wilson is a huge key to this game, and this line doesn’t look to be equipped enough to stop Rob Ryan and crew.

2) An Anemic Pass Rush – One of the things that Seattle looked to improve heading into the season was their inability to consistently pressure the opposing team’s QB. They made what most considered a big reach in the first round of the draft by taking DE Bruce Irvin at 15 overall. Irvin did collect 1.5 sacks in the preseason, but he was a non-factor against Arizona last week.

In studying that game, I noticed that the Seahawks relied almost entirely on the blitz to get any pressure on John Skelton and Kevin Kolb. Kolb stepped in after an injury to Skelton on the Cardinals final drive of the game, and Arizona went to the shotgun formation for most of that drive. That seemed to negate the effectiveness of the blitz. A Seattle defense that allowed zero 1st downs in the 2nd half prior to this drive, gave up five 1st downs and the eventual game winning TD.

I’d be shocked not to see a ton of shotgun used by Garrett on Sunday, as it doesn’t look like the Seahawks can force pressure on Romo without relying heavily on the blitz.

3) Aggressive Secondary – As they taketh away, they giveth back. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley implements a bump-and-run strategy with his CB’s. It’s a very physical style of play, and while it can frustrate opposing receivers as the game wears on, his young CB’s haven’t learned to avoid the bone headed penalties as of yet.

Browner lead the league with 19 penalties last year, and Sherman had 10 penalties while starting just 10 games. Last week, Sherman bailed out Arizona with a pass interference penalty on 1st and 20 on the game winning drive. This was following another PI call against him on Arizona’s 2nd drive of the game that led to a FG.

Key Injuries:
Pass Catchers Are Banged Up –  Sidney Rice (knee) and Zach Miller (foot) sat out of Thursday’s practice, Doug Baldwin has a new set of teeth, and Charly Martin (bruised lung) will not play Sunday. That leaves Golden Tate, Braylon Edwards and Ben Obomanu as the only pass catchers who should enter the game 100% healthy. That could spell trouble for Wilson if his only healthy proven receiver is a fading Braylon Edwards.

Offensive Line Treading Water – John Moffitt will replace rookie J.R. Sweezy this week at RG, and Russell Okung is expected to play despite his bruised knee. Normally this would be great news, but the Seahawks don’t sound completely sold on Moffitt over Sweezy long term, and Okung’s struggles were pointed out earlier.

Game Changer To Watch:
Leon Washington – Aside from limiting their mistakes (penalties and turnovers) the Cowboys cannot allow Leon Washington to make big plays in the return games. The Cardinals were able to survive two big returns by Washington last week, but just barely.

Seattle was showing very little signs of life on either side of the ball until Washington broke off an 83 yard kickoff return that he may have taken to the house if he hadn’t run into his own man near the beginning of the return. That return setup the first TD of the game for the Seahawks.

Later in the half, Washington returned a punt 52 yards to setup a FG that temporarily gave Seattle a 16-13 lead.

Washington has returned 7 kickoffs for TD’s in his career. The Cowboys can’t allow him to add to that total, or even come close.

Prediction:
Cowboys 24 vs. Seahawks 20The difference maker in this game is the experience of Tony Romo and the inexperience of Russell Wilson. While watching the Seahawks dress rehearsal game against the Chiefs, I wrote down that the key to beating Seattle would be to force Wilson into making mistakes.

Wilson is a smart and talented QB. If you give him time he will make accurate passes downfield, and he doesn’t look like the type to try and force things to happen.  He’s still a rookie though, and rookies will make mistakes if you force them to via a strong pass rush.

Establishing that pass rush is not too hard to do considering the state of Seattle’s OL, and that’s exactly what the Cardinals did in Week 1.

The 3rd offensive possession of the 1st half for the Seahawks perfectly illustrates what can happen if you’re able to get pressure on Wilson.

Arizona decided that now was the time to introduce the blitz. On 1st and 10 the Cardinals mistimed the snap count on the blitz and jumped offsides, but went for it again on the next play. The pressure up the middle resulted in a sack when right tackle Breno Giacomini missed the block. Actually, he never even realized he had missed the block until after the play was over.

The drive would have resulted in a three and out, but Arizona committed a roughing the passer penalty on third down. Still, they were determined to continue to pressure Wilson.

Following an incomplete pass down the field, Arizona blitzed two more times in a row. The results? A holding penalty called on Lynch, a near sack by Darnell Dockett, and a delay of game penalty. Seattle ran for a small gain on 3rd and 19, and then punted the ball away.

The 6th Seahawks offensive possession of the 2nd half is another wonderful example of what can happen if you put pressure on Wilson and the Seattle OL.

Leon Washington gave the Seahawks the ball at the 16 following his 52 yard punt return. Lynch gained a yard on 1st down, but on 2nd and 9 the Cardinals blitzed Wilson. Wilson didn’t do himself any favors by turning into the blitzing Quentin Groves, but he made things worse by committing intentional grounding, which moved the ball back to the 27 yard line. Then, on 3rd and 21, Samuel Acho forced Russell Okung to commit his 3rd false start penalty of the game.

Lynch managed to get 11 yards back on 3rd and 26, but a drive that started at the Cardinals 16 resulted in a made field goal from the 21. You could argue that the Seahawks inability to collect 4 more points on this drive cost them the game.

On the other hand, the Seahawks are too good of a team to make mistakes against. Wilson is too good of a QB to give time, open receivers, and second chances to. Wilson proved this with his first career TD drive, and the near game winning final drive of the game in Week 1.

Seattle’s 2nd offensive drive of the 2nd half began with the previously mentioned 83 yard kickoff return by Leon Washington. On 2nd and 9, Wilson dropped back to pass. The Cardinals got no pressure on Wilson, who was able to move freely in the pocket and buy Sidney Rice enough time to work his way open across the middle of the field. He lofted a pass just over the outstretched arms of DE Calais Campbell (who had dropped back into coverage) for a TD to Rice. In reality, Wilson had enough time to wait a split second longer when he would have had a cleaner window to complete the pass.

On the final drive of the game, the Cardinals bailed out Wilson on a 4th and 6 play from the 27 yard line and again on a 3rd and 10 play from the 13. Both penalties came on passes that were incomplete, and although it’s reasonable to think the interference prevented the catches from being made, the first pass was underthrown and the second was a good 2-3 yards shy of the first down marker.

I like the Cowboys chances as long as they can limit their own mistakes on offense, pressure Wilson into a few bad throws, and keep Leon Washington off the board. Even in such a hostile environment, and against a team that’s definitely trending in the right direction.

 

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