Seahawks vs. Bengals Preview: Quarterback Uncertainty, Controlling the Football, and Appreciating Coming Home

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 09: Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks looks on from the sidelines during the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on October 9, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

When I initially saw the Bengals on the schedule, my thought was this could be one of those at-home gifts that would help Seattle not have an absolutely dismal record. Fast forward to now and this game is tougher than expected.

Cincinnati's balanced defense is ranked second in yards allowed - top five in both passing and rushing yards against per game - and first in 1st downs allowed per game. Rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have garnered attention as a budding quarterback-receiver duo. Even though Cincinnati does not have starting running back Cedric Benson, they're looking to continue the three game win streak they rode into the bye.

On the other side of the equation; the Seahawks are hoping to bounce back from a deflating loss in Cleveland. 1-1 on the road sandwiching the bye isn't horrible, though the loss in Cleveland has turned the feeling towards as if they went .5-1.5. (I'm ignoring the fact that it's not possible.)

Max Unger, Zach Miller and Marshawn Lynch should be back this weekend, but we do not know who is starting at quarterback. It's hard to know what to expect out of this two-faced team, and the uncertainty at quarterback doesn't help. What does help is that the Seahawks are home for the first time since Week 4.

They are better at home and that's no secret. The Bengals have lost their last three in Seattle. They are a near-east coast team traveling west off of the bye - teams are 3-9 off the bye thus far in 2011. Cincinnati lost in Denver Week 2, which may mean nothing, but could mean something.  The Bengals face a tough task in winning after the bye, on the road, with a rookie quarterback, in a very tough place to play.  

 

 

A rendezvous with the franchise quarterback Seattle debated drafting in April

Isn't this interesting. Dalton is the quarterback many Seahawks’ fans—not to mention Trent Dilfer-- thought Seattle should have taken and is the quarterback Seattle did debate taking on draft day.

Dalton’s poise, intelligence and command of the huddle have transferred over into the NFL. He’s not a premier athlete, but thus far he’s looking like one heckuva football player. On ESPN football television earlier in the week, I caught an interview with Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth--a very solid player and pass blocking specialist.

Two things stood out about Whitworth’s comments. First, he said Dalton is a feisty competitor and you shouldn't be fooled by his not boisterous personality. Secondly, Dalton commands the respect of the entire huddle and he gets it. Despite Dalton's youth, he's willing to communicate and lead. 

Now, none of this should be new information for Seattle. They should know his strengths and weaknesses, the ins and outs of his game. After all, he was maybe their next franchise quarterback. No excuses about lack of preparation for this one.

A trend that stands out to me about Dalton this season; the three areas of the field he has the highest QB rating are 0-9 yards downfield on the left, 10-19 yards downfield in the middle, 20+ yards downfield right.

A strength of note; 26 of his 40 attempts at 10-19 are in the middle, 12 of his 20 at 20+ are to the right. He's throwing to these areas of the field efficiently and often. Seattle’s secondary must be aware of this. One weakness of note;according to ESPN NFL QBR, Dalton ranks near the bottom against the blitz (not to be a downer, but T-Jax is one of them, too). The unknown; how does the seemingly unflappable rookie handle the unique atmosphere of CenturyLink?

 

 

Another chance for Charlie, at home…or does T-Jax prevail?

The question I'm still pondering is would I rather have Jackson at "full" strength but potentially vulnerable to a dicey hit; or give Whitehurst another chance, this time in an environment we've seen him win in before.

Yes, we saw Whitehurst stink it up in Cleveland. Hopefully, Carroll wasn’t gun shy about highlighting mistakes or missed throws. Now, it’s time to move on.

The Seahawks are home; the fans who wanted to see Whitehurst at one point may now get the opportunity. As Danny highlighted earlier in the week, we know Charlie Whitehurst is a backup that's capable of winning a football game. We've seen him do it before, and that’s worth something.

The bright side is he can’t possibly play worse than he did last week, right? Lowered expectations, better performance? We’ll have to wait and see…

…because just like last week, Carroll said this decision will go down to game day. But unlike last week, Jackson thinks he will be able to play. "Obviously, I want to play. But If I can’t be the player I know I can be, I don’t want to go out there and hurt the team. But I feel like it’s time for me to come back. I don’t think this injury can keep me out of the game much longer. We’re 2-4 right now, so I want to get out there so we can get some W’s."

This is how an injured starting quarterback should sound; irked he was hurt, chomping at the bit to get back and looking for wins, but not at the expense of the team. I personally would not rush Jackson back before he really is ready to go. I think a lot of factors will play into the decision, and I think is one that really shouldn’t be made until pre-game.

 

Shorter thoughts for Week 8: The Bengals D, rain, Mike Williams, more

--The injury bug bit hard last year in Week 8. Seattle looks to be on the mend of recovering from their recent injuries. They need to get through this game healthy. And they need to remain healthy.

--With Dalton coming to town, James Carpenter better have a solid game. He was an absolute momentum killer early last week. A repeat will get the fans going, the wrong way.

--Mike Williams sounded like the workman-Williams later in the week:

"This is another week, a brand new energy, a focus on getting back on track. That’s where leadership comes in, having your vets and trusting your preparation…you come in here on Monday, swallow the big frog." He talked about "aspirations" of making new plays, getting a win, and the renewed confidence when you’re coming back home "with the fans we have."

I’m hoping BMW gets rollin’ this week.

--The Bengals will lean on the combination of Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard in place of Cedric Benson. Leonard was a do-it-all hybrid fullback at Rutgers, and has proven to be an effective receiver—9 catches on 12 targets this season-- and solid pass blocker on this level.  He’s also averaging over seven yards a carry on nine rushes this year. Bernard Scott doesn't have much on his resume except for 117 and 89 yard rushing days in back-to-back games in 2009. However, he has seen a mere 50 snaps this season. I won't claim to know lots about this duo, but Leonard has always intrigued me.  I think its imperative Seattle makes them a non-factor, especially as receivers.

--The Seattle defensive line simply needs to continue doing their thing. Play hard, stay disciplined. You’re back at home. Enjoy it.  

--We know Dalton struggles against the blitz; dial it up, Gus. Walter Thurmond’s blitzing needs to be replaced. I’m hoping for a combo of Roy Lewis from the slot, Earl Thomas on slow-developing blitzes up the middle, and Jeron Johnson (if he plays) off of the edge--he hasn't blitzed yet this season. As a complement, I like Hawthorne in a deep drop down the pipe like we saw last week—a Dalton hot zone. Also; for this to work, Brandon Browner must be reliable on an island and Seattle must be smart on the backend…

--… because Seattle faces major question marks in the secondary. Richard Sherman gets his first career start; how does Browner handle A.J. Green; can Seattle contain Jerome Simpson and Jermaine Gresham? The Bengals are not a weapon filled offense, per se. And without their lead back, the pressure is on the passing game. No more allowing 50% on third down, Seahawks. Fill those scrambling lanes, too.

--This Bengals defense is good and young. For what it’s worth; this week I heard ESPN’s Mark Schlereth describe them as having strong communication, a deep defensive line rotation, and good energy. He praised defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, too. He also said Nate Clements is the only double digit year experience veteran on this defense.

--Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has more than double the pressures of anyone else on the team. Domata Pekoleads the defensive line in stops.  Geno Atkins is playing like a complete player. Michael Johnson is versatile and lanky at 6’7", 255. They have a trio of strong run stoppers.  This line will stay fresh and could give Seattle fits up front. I want to see some Tom Cable-nasty from our offensive line, from the left side in particular.

--No middle linebacker Rey Maualuga for Cincinnati, though he’s had somewhat of a down year.  Thomas Howardis having a solid all around season, though he’s listed as questionable. Manny Lawson’s versatility is nothing new to Seahawks fans after his years with the 49ers, but he’s had a down year. Seattle needs to get their backs and tight ends involved in the short passing game and attack this hobbled group.  

--The Bengals are very experienced in the secondary. Leon Hall can be a stud and Nate Clements used to be a stud for the 49ers. Safety Reggie Nelson is having an up year.  Gibril Wilson, with 81 career starts, is their fifth defensive back. Kelly Jennings has seen only 29 snaps this year...weird. Or is it? With the injuries at linebacker, maybe he sees more time this week…that would be fun. Though, in all seriousness, Jennings isn’t a horrible slot corner. He is familiar with Golden Tate, less familiar with Baldwin. It could get interesting. Maybe he finds himself on BMW or Rice. I’m getting carried away, sorry.

--Of the six teams Cincy has faced--BrownsBroncos, 49ers, BillsJaguarsColts—only the Bills are above the bottom 10 in passing yards per game. Just saying…

--Cincinnati plays clean football, penalty wise. Seattle needs to do the same. Please.

--Charlie Whitehurst on last week’s preparation; "I don’t think my approach was misguided." This is good to hear. Now, can he be more decisive if he gets the chance?

--Despite the crap call against Kennard Cox, this special teams unit has played better. Ryan continues to be legit and Hauschka appears on his way.  Keep on keepin’ on…knock on wood, too.

--We learned during the Arizona broadcast that T-Jax doesn’t like throwing in the rain. His first pass in the rain in that game was nearly picked by Adrian Wilson. The forecast on Sunday is calling for rain; will he be comfortable with a newly healed Pec and potentially slippery ball? I think this is one of those factors that should affect the decision.

-- Against the Giants, only one of Seattle’s 10 longest plays came on third down. As mentioned, the Bengals give up a league low in first downs. Seattle needs to get back to staying ahead of the sticks…something will have to give here.

 

 

Can Seattle grind out the win?

Seattle is now holding the ball less than any team in the league and the Bengals are towards the middle in time of possession. As Eric Williams noted, Seattle is 20th in sudden change situations, Cincinnati is 8th. Seattle is -3 in turnover margin, Cincinnati +3. Seattle has given away opportunities—two red zone fumbles in Week 5—and given one more chance too often this season.

Simply put, this team needs an "it’s all about the ball" kind of week. Carroll better know his team holds the football for less than any team in the NFL. To get the win, they need to get this aspect right.

Regardless of if it’s Jackson or Whitehurst under center; I think the Seahawks may use a smart, aggressive approach.  Get the running game going against a strong run defense and stay ahead of third and 4-plus. Move the chains, keep the ball, and keep the crowd in the game. Set up the big play and fire when it’s there. No deep balls into double or triple coverage. If they can find the right offensive tempo and stay ahead of the sticks, it will ultimately put pressure on the near the bottom of the league Cincinnati offense. Seattle needs to let Cincinnati make the mistakes, then capitalize. 

Listening to Carroll's comments this week was actually a bit refreshing; less talk of trying to capture momentum, more talk of simply getting going. It seems they understand the hole they are in—down 3 games and a tie breaker to the 49ers- and realize winning one or two games is not something to celebrate.

One thing that did stand out; he noted after playing in New York and Cleveland, both teams with strong fan bases, the Seahawks appreciate that this home field simply  "rocks…it’s a special place to play." 

Seattle wants to get the fans out of their seats and "rouse ‘em up." It’s on the Seahawks to show their appreciation for the home field advantage; control the football and play strong defense for 60 minutes. That will get the crowd roused the right way.

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