The San Francisco 49ers Week 11 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks means one last rivalry game this year. Sure, the Rams and Cardinals are divisional rivals, but the Seahawks are probably the 49ers biggest rivals for now. That's not saying a whole lot given the state of affairs in Santa Clara (and Seattle to some extent), but it's still an intriguing matchup. Danny Kelly of Field Gulls was kind enough to answer five questions about his Seattle Seahawks. We follow them to a certain degree, but it's nice to get a little more detail from Danny.
1. We asked about Russell Wilson a month ago, and naturally it is time to ask again. I've seen some critiques from the OC and OL coach. They seemed reasonable, but does it indicate any issues between Wilson and the coaching staff? Beyond that, what more can you tell us about Wilson since Week 7?
I don't think it's a sign of anything other than the staff is probably taking a different approach with Wilson going forward, taking the kid gloves off a little bit in how they might protect him in the media. He's gotten his big contract, he's the face of the franchise, and he's the starting quarterback, so -- much is expected of him. Whereas they might've deflected blame for him in previous years, I think they're taking a tack that is more focused on accountability. He's got to make his throws. He's got to avoid turnovers. I'm sure Wilson knows this, and the coaches aren't saying anything that's not obvious. There has been some of that with Kris Richard and the defense as well, talking about execution and communication. A secondary full of All Pro players shouldn't be having the issues they're having, but here we are. The coaching staff is not beating around the bush or giving excuses.
Overall, I think the coaching staff is just telling it how it is, and I don't think they're wrong to do so. These are veteran players now, they can handle it.
Now, as for Wilson, I do think he's continued to struggle this year, and he's going in the wrong direction. There are a lot of factors in that, obviously — the poor protection from the offensive line is one, of course — but Wilson has flat out missed on some throws and has made some really bad decisions at times. He'll have to turn things around pretty quickly here if the Seahawks are going to make a run for the playoffs, because they're still miraculously in the race even at 4-5. That's the NFC for you.
2. The secondary had a lot of problems against Carson Palmer. What were the problems?
They are playing uncharacteristically undisciplined football. The hallmark for the Seahawks has been that they rarely, rarely let anything get over their head. The numbers for this really support that over the last three years. Only, this season, they've been beaten over the top way too many times, and in key situations. On Sunday, Carson Palmer beat them over the top on three plays, and they were all touchdowns. That's 21 points right there. It's hard to come back from that, even though the Seahawks defense did pressure him 30 times and force two sack-fumbles (one which was returned for a touchdown and the other was recovered inside the five yard line). So, it's just been a struggle even with some excellent play up front.
There have been dropped picks, particularly from Richard Sherman. There have been miscommunications. There have just been really good players beating the Seahawks with great plays. And, then there's the issue with Seattle defending tight ends. For whatever reason, they can't seem to figure out how to defend a seam route by a tight end. In every one of their five losses this year, an opposing tight end has scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately I think it comes down to communication. The way that Earl Thomas was talking this week, he made it sound like there are still lingering psychological issues related to the Super Bowl ending and maybe the Kam Chancellor holdout, though that's just me reading between the lines. Overall, there is obviously something going on with the normally excellent secondary and they've not been as good as they were in 2013 and 2014. If they don't have a "come to Jesus" moment soon though, it's going to be curtains for this season before long.
3. What's up with Marshawn Lynch's abdomen? He played last week, but only had eight carries. How much of that was falling behind in the second quarter, and how much was the injury (if you were to speculate)?
Yeah, I think a lot of it last week was that Seattle got behind 22-7 in the first half and on six of their drives, started out with some sort of penalty. That meant that on six drives, they were facing 1st and 15 or 1st and 20 (or worse), which meant they really leaned on the pass game (which didn't go great). I think Lynch will be a game-time decision again this week, and it's likely that even if he plays, he'll get a good rotation with Thomas Rawls. The good news for Seattle is that Rawls has been running really, really well, so the team probably won't hesitate to lean on Rawls if Lynch is not feeling 100%.
4. What should we know about the Seahawks pass rush, and how will the absence of Bruce Irvin impact it?
The Seahawks' pass rush is mostly made up of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, who are both playing out of their minds right now. Per PFF, both Avril and Bennett rank in the top three for 4-3 DE grading and QB hurries. They each got 5 quarterback hurries last week on Carson Palmer.
Bruce Irvin was the third option in that attack but in most base downs was playing linebacker, so he'll likely be replaced by Mike Morgan in "run" downs and maybe a guy like Frank Clark or Cassius Marsh in those nickel situations. There is probably a drop off there in explosiveness, so that's something to watch. Neither Clark nor Marsh has the same type of game as Irvin. He's really a pretty unique player, so he'll be missed.
5. Prediction time: What do you expect from this game, and the rest of the Seahawks season?
Well, I picked the Seahawks in this one because they are playing at home and because I still think they're a talented team, but nothing would surprise me at this point. Seattle appears to be suffering from the Super Bowl loss hangover and there are apparent chemistry issues, and that's always a really tough thing to overcome in the NFL, where parity is so strong. A win this week could get them going back in the right direction and could help smooth over some of the issues they're having in the locker room, and it's really the only place they can start to getting themselves back into the playoff hunt. So, with a win this week, I would think there's still some hope for them righting the ship before it's too late.
A loss would be pretty devastating, though, obviously. I think if they lose this week, things could really spiral for them. It just all goes to the fact that I really have no feel for how good this Seahawks team can be this year. They have the talent, but they've been such a mess of inconsistency.