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A 49ers-Seahawks Week 16 preview, featuring five questions with SB Nation's Seahawks blogger.
I had a chance to chat with Danny Kelly from Field Gulls this week, and he was gracious enough to answer five questions I had about the Seattle Seahawks. We've had an assortment of preview content this week, including our Google+ Hangout with FG and my own video preview of the game. This five questions is one more opportunity to get some thoughts on what the Seahawks bring to the table on Sunday. You can view my 49ers side of the Q&A with Danny over at Field Gulls.
Field Gulls: Well, yeah, I'd say that third-round pick turned out alright for all parties involved. Russell Wilson has been playing very well of late and the Seahawks' offense has been firing on all cylinders. The Seahawks have put together over 450 yards of total offense in their last three games and overall, just look to be a lot more efficient. Much of this can be attributed to the calm and collected play of the rookie QB. He's smart, escapes pressure well, makes plays outside of the pocket and outside of the structure of the offense, and has taken care of the football as of late. He doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, - it's certainly strong, just not a rocket like Matthew Stafford or Aaron Rodgers or Colin Kaepernick, but he has very good accuracy on his deep passes and over the last six or seven weeks, has really improved in the intermediate and short range.
His weakness is still his height, at times. There are moments when you realize he can't see well when the pocket is closing in, but the Seahawks have done a good job of creating schemes and using play-action in order to get him usable throwing lanes. For Wilson himself, he's proven to be pretty adept at sliding around in the pocket and using subtle movement behind the line to create openings for him to fit passes across the line. He doesn't have a ton of batted passes at this point in the season.
The usage of the read-option is the newest wrinkle in his play, and the Hawks have gradually increased it in frequency of use. Against Buffalo, the Bills showed no ability to stop it, so Seattle ended up using it, in some form, on about 20% of total offensive snaps -- and Wilson rushed for 2 touchdowns out of those looks.
NN: Your cornerback situation seems to be all over the place with the Brandon Browner suspension, the potential Richard Sherman suspension, and then the Trufant and Thurmond injuries. What's up with that group?
FG: Right now, Brandon Browner is suspended, and Richard Sherman is in St. Louis presenting his case to the League office. The rumor is that Sherman will play this weekend, regardless, so it will come down to Sherman, 2nd year pro Byron Maxwell, and rookie Jeremy Lane at cornerback and slot nickel back. Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond, both of whom would likely play above Lane/Maxwell, are game time decisions so it's not looking good for them this week. Regardless, the Seahawks are very thin at the position and against Colin Kaepernick and his excellent deep passing, I'm pretty nervous about it.
NN: I was one who thought Marshawn Lynch would come back to earth a bit with the new contract. That obviously hasn't happened. How much of the success is Lynch, and how much is your offensive line?
FG: Lynch is a great runner. You can say that the line has improved in its blocking, and you wouldn't be wrong, but Lynch creates a ton of yardage for himself, just in breaking tackles and successfully finding the crease to run downhill through. With the Seahawks' zone blocking scheme, the linemen flow towards the sidelines at the snap, which creates natural gaps in the defense. Lynch has become better and better at finding the weakness and exploiting it.
Lynch has also been very good out of the read-option looks, something that just allows the Seahawks to utilize it more. Some backs don't like having to wait so long before getting the ball or having it snatched away at the last second, as is what happens on read-option plays, but Lynch has adapted really nicely to the scheme and maybe even seems to be a better runner in it than the zone schemes. Obviously, it's always a huge challenge to run against the Niners, but Lynch has been good of late.
NN: Pete Carroll gets a lot of crap from 49ers fans (and other fans), but obviously he is doing something right. Any insight into the mind of Pete Carroll and what he's doing up in Seattle?
FG: Carroll has some 'hokey' catch phrases and some people think that his rah-rah style wouldn't work or doesn't work in the NFL, but it seems to have genuinely caught on with this roster. Most of the players are "Carroll's guys" after all, as he and John Schneider completely overhauled the roster the past two seasons. Something like 7 or 8 players from the previous regime remain, which is really crazy when you think about it. Regardless, his competition atmosphere seems to have worked to get the most out of guys, and his eye for talent and using his players in the right spots have turned a really crappy defense into a top-end unit, and has turned an anemic offense into something that looks to be catching some fire of late.
Personally, I just really like how specific Pete's program is, and how methodically and unflinchingly Pete runs his program. It seems like some coaches in the NFL just go out and try to win week-to-week, but Carroll has a very detailed and intricate multi-year plan going on in his head at all times, so that is something I can appreciate for the franchise in general.
NN: Who are some under the radar players we should keep an eye on this Sunday?
FG: Rookie MLB Bobby Wagner has been playing really well of late, so he's a guy to watch. Jeremy Lane, if the above mentioned Thurmond and Trufant can't play, is a guy that I really like, and has some potential to be a big impact player next season. If he gets time, I imagine the Niners will challenge him on the outside or in the slot, so he's a guy to keep your eye on. Finally, Greg Scruggs is a player to look for. The Seahawks' main nickel DT, Jason Jones, was placed on the IR this week, so the seventh round rookie out of Louisville is bound to get a good amount of snaps in Jones' absence. He's raw, but powerful, and has some nice moves on the interior - in limited time this year he has two sacks. It's going to be interesting to see how the Seahawks rotate their D-Line to match up with the Niners' elite OL, but Scruggs is a name you might hear get called.