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"Ain't Gonna Be No Rematch..."

Seahawks-Jets Inside the Numbers is now up on Danny O'Neil's Seattle Times blog. Thanks as always to Danny for his ability to embrace new ideas and his generosity in letting an unaccredited geek take over his blog once a week. He's one of the good people.

Styles make fights, or so they say in the boxing trade. Joe Frazier would see your razzle-dazzle, Mr. Ali, and stand flat-footed, waiting for you in the middle of the ring with a fist of cement. Ali knew when to ride the rope and let a physically dominant opponent like George Foreman swing himself into exhaustion and vulnerability. Styles also make sports. In baseball, Randy Johnson’s 98-MPH heater versus Mark McGwire’s Kingdome triple-decker is a moment I’ll never forget. In football, aficionados love the marquee matchups – that rush end with the blur of a first step versus the left tackle with the FBI-registered handpunch.  Can Nnamdi Asomugha cover Randy Moss? Will Michael Turner shake Barrett Ruud?

I’ve been writing a weekly game-tape (or DVD and DVR) analysis column called Cover-3 for Football Outsiders all season, and one of the most interesting matchups I’ve covered was the
Week 13 game between the Colts and Browns. Indianapolis won a tight 10-6 game, but I was focused on the middle of the action when the Colts had the ball. Center Jeff Saturday was out with a strained calf, which affected the offense for two reasons. First, Saturday is as smart and experienced as any lineman in the NFL when it comes to line calls, that subtle science of reading defenses and calling protections. Second, the Browns had nose tackle Shaun Rogers, a one-man wrecking crew, in the center of their 3-4 defense. Replacing Saturday was rookie Jamey Richard, a seventh-round pick out of Buffalo. Richard had some draft experts calling him a sleeper, but the expectation was that Rogers would take the kid to school (and possibly put him to sleep!)

Didn’t happen. Sure, Rogers got through on his share of plays (especially at the goal line), but Richard held the point impressively by using his quickness after the snap to counter Rogers’ ridiculous first-three-steps speed. Richard also displayed great power in standing Rogers up at times. He was vulnerable to Rogers’ ability to peel off either side of center in a straight three-man front, but every center Rogers has faced this year has fallen victim to this. A selection of chips and double-teams by Indy’s guards helped a great deal.

The point of this ad hoc scouting report? Well, the Seahawks are going up against the New York Jets this week, and not one of Seattle’s starting offensive linemen were starting in Week 1. Replacing Walter Jones and Sean Locklear at left tackle is Kyle Williams, a second-year undrafted free agent from USC. Why an untried player at the line’s most important position? The team feels that switching around the rest of the line to put anyone else there will upset the continuity, which strikes me as odd for two reasons: First, Seattle’s line HAS no continuity; it’s basically a M*A*S*H* episode at this point. Second, this might wind up backfiring like Green Bay’s "Hey, let’s put Charles Woodson at safety  and have Tramon Williams man up on #2 receivers" strategy did. Sometimes, you put your best guys where your best guys need to be.

The Jets counter with a line fortified by Kris Jenkins, who, like Rogers, is one of several dominant AFC nose tackles. Jenkins has been slowed by a hip injury, and the Jets gave up 187 rushing yards against the Bills last week – a very uncharacteristic total for a defense that Jenkins has transformed into a run-stopping wall. Could Jenkins’ limited ability give center Steve Vallos a shot at playing Jamey Richard this Sunday?