Two Large: Sea v. SD

I'm changing jobs and have more than a few family obligations for the holidays, so this weeks Three Large has become Two Large. It'll be back next week in full capacity for what will either be a vital game, or long distance playoff tune-up against Tampa Bay. Assuming the later, and I think Arizona has a pretty decent shot of bloodying a badly overrated 49ers, I'll focus on Hawks' players that will be key to Seattle's playoff hopes.

Rob Sims v. Luis Castillo:
As a DE in a 3-4, Luis Castillo's primary job is to neutralize the offensive line. This former roider is shaped like a box with bumps, 6-3 but stocky; He is the Diet Pepsi machine. He came to San Diego thanks to Giants' GM Ernie Accorsi's wise decision to trade away a raft of draft picks so he could have Kane Manning. How's that working out for you chum...p? Castillo is a nose tackle playing as an end. He's capable of this because in a 3-4 the positions are not that different, but also because of his quick first step and relative agility. His seven sacks are likely out of line with what can be expected from him in future seasons, but he has improved his pass rush and is a strong open field tackler.

Rob Sims is every bit a rookie, and sometimes his inexperience shows in a big way. But he's getting push, and he's the first LG the Hawks have employed since Steve Hutchinson who can say that. Despite the highly rare, and hugely projectable build of an elite offensive linemen, Sims slipped badly in the draft because he was a considered a tweener, not agile enough to play tackle, not explosive enough to play guard. Concerns about his ability to accelerate when pulling were fortified by a 5.25 40 at the combine. So why am I so high on the former Buckeye? Beyond the fact that he's looked promising in his short stints starting, it's because something Bill Parcells once observed about men with Sims' build: they are very, very rare. Now with a definite position, Sims can grow and hopefully fulfill his immense talent.  

The Sims/Castillo match-up Sunday is about Seattle's run game. Castillo must keep Sims at or behind the line of scrimmage so that San Diego's talented LB corps may fly around and shut down Alexander's cut-back lanes. Sims needs to push Castillo back, up and over the line of scrimmage. This will allow Shaun to move into the second level, where he can hopefully force some missed tackles. San Diego has been exceptionally stingy against long runs, a hallmark of the 3-4, so Seattle should not look to Shaun to break the big one, but rather use Alexander, Maurice Morris and Max Strong to consistently chew field with 3-6 yards gains. The Hawks must be an Andy Reid style passing team on Sunday, but to succeed when incompletions are certain, they must also be able to field favorable down situations and convert short yardage. If Sims gets push, our rushing attack can quietly compliment our dynamic pass offense, if Castillo clogs the lane, those five yard hitches and medium slants will be two yards too short.

Michael Boulware v. LaDainian Tomlinson:
Boulware is off the snide, and not a moment too soon. His ability to tackle in the open field will be vital if we want to keep LT2 from pulverizing our run D.

LaDainian Tomlinson is a quiet HB. A rusher in the vein of Jim Brown. His runs rarely feature spectacular cutbacks like Tiki Barber, or ankle breaking jukes like Barry Sanders. He has power, but he's no Earl Campbell and you won't see him drag four defenders for a score. What Tomlinson does is hit holes hard, keep his shoulders square to the end zone, make decisive cuts, reads his blockers exceptionally well and move forward at all times. If one move could define his rushing prowess to me it would be when he slowed down on his 85 yarder against the Chiefs last week. Seeing a defender with the angle on him, and comfortably ahead of the pursuit, LT2 had the awareness to make a small cut away from the sideline and then slow down enough to align his blocker with the defender. It worked. A second later Tomlinson up-shifted back towards the sideline and finished, unmolested, with his 31st TD of the season.

Michael Boulware debuted with a flourish. In his rookie 2004 season he made a case for the league's next impact safety: part Brian Dawkins, part Roy Williams. Two years later, following a lengthy (and controversial) stint on the bench after blowing multiple coverage assignments, the Hawks are left to figure out what exactly they have in their converted LB. Will he ever be able to combine his penchant for big plays with disciplined defense? Do the interceptions and blown coverage go hand-in-hand? Can he deliver the big hit without also missing the sure tackle? Like a young hurler with great stuff but too many walks, for Boulware to succeed he does not need to eliminate the mistakes, but, rather, reduce them while retaining the talent that had fans salivating after `04.

Tomlinson will pick up first downs, Sunday. He will reach the second level. Tomlinson will reach a hundred yards, Sunday. But for the Hawks to win, he must not be allowed jail-break rushes of 25+ yards. The Chargers' love running a wham play off the left side. When they do, Boulware must eschew the highlight-reel tackle and simply maintain containment. If he can, he'll receive plenty of help from Kelly Herndon and Marcus Trufant, both of whom are good run-tackling corners. Boulware's greatest contribution on Sunday will not likely make the evening news, but if you see gang tackling on the left side, you know he's doing his job.