Walter Jones versus Aaron Schobel
|If Jones keeps him square and his left shoulder in, Shobel won't show bull.|
In 2007, Jones sat out the entire preseason. He would record his six worst quarters of football to start the season. In 2008, Jones saw extensive, terrifying action in August. He should be in game shape and moreover at game speed. That's good, because in many ways Schobel is exactly the type of end that gives Jones fits. As a pass rusher, Schobel is part edge rusher, part Kerney-esque hustle until the lineman quits. Jones doesn't quit - unless you can get outside his left shoulder. In 2007, Jones' sacks allowed occurred when pass rushers, through sheer quickness or an aggressive outside move, positioned themselves outside his left shoulder. Jones, 34, incapable of taking strong pain medication and plagued by chronic shoulder problems, protectively disengages his pass blocking when pass rushers can leverage their body against his outstretched left arm. For Jones to succeed against Schobel, he must be in midseason form mirror sliding, thereby keeping Schobel square. He must also overpower Schobel, disorient him enough on his initial pop to keep Schobel from hustling outside left on longer developing plays.
The other half of this matchup is Jones' ability to dominate Schobel run blocking. Schobel is well known for his ability to contribute run tackles, but that ability and the ability to hold the point are not one and the same. Seattle should attempt to attack the Bills on the edge, away from their (on paper) stout defensive tackles and outside Paul Posluszny's range. If Jones can bully Schobel in, use him to pick Kyle Williams and John McCargo, Mike Wahle can pull without fear of losing inside containment. If Jones doesn't bully Schobel, Chris Spencer/Steve Vallos may not be able to single block Willams/McCargo, and the Seahawks will shy away from potentially aborted sweeps and off tackle rushes.
Leroy Hill versus Marshawn Lynch
This matchup challenges Hill to take on what could be one of the better pass blocking backs in the NFL. A combination of an ankle injury and the loss of Jason Peters had the Bills keeping Lynch in more late last season, and with Peters out they may do likewise on Sunday. Like most rookies, Lynch wasn't a great blocker to start, but with a strong reputation at Cal and an emphasis on improvement in the offseason, I expect Lynch to make that jump this season.
This matchup is not of the "this guy's taller than this guy, so this guy will win the jump ball" crayon stuck in brain simplicity. Instead, it's dynamic and dependent on many variables. For one, Lynch may not even be the man to block Hill. Seattle frequently uses Lofa Tatupu as a kind of fullback on blitzes, punishing the lead blocker and blowing a hole for Hill to explode through. Second, Hill winning this matchup is as much about Hill's quickness and Lynch's read as Hill's strength and Lynch's blocking. John Marshall loves discordant blitzes that attempt to get a man free to the quarterback. Hill may win this matchup without even encountering Marshawn. Doing so will mean execution by the team and execution by Hill. On a veiled blitz, Marshall often attempts to hide Hill, not blitzing him until the last moment. This is one of Hill's greatest strengths and one way he should still be able to beat the inexperienced Lynch. That is, fool Lynch into reading wrong, blocking right (typically) and then outsprinting Lynch to the quarterback.
John Carlson versus Donte Whitner
Like Bob Sanders, Donte Whitner likes to start plays close to the line. And like Bob Sanders, Whitner can do that because he has rare speed and athleticism. Whitner sitting underneath is a recipe for a stunted running game and a broken wide receiver corps. In a Tampa 2 style defense, the flashpoint is deep-middle, between the safeties. High functioning Tampa 2s feature a middle linebacker who can supplement coverage between the safeties. For all his in the box prowess, Paul Posluszny was not a great pass defender at Penn State, and playing in just his fourth game in the NFL, will not singlehandedly remove the deep-middle on Sunday. Instead, Buffalo, suddenly debilitated at linebacker and facing a team determined to establish its running game, should keep Poz shallow and lean on Whitner to do the heavy lifting in coverage.
Seattle needs John Carlson and to a lesser extent Jeb Putzier to threaten the middle and keep Whitner from sitting on routes underneath. Purely from a geometric standpoint, deep-middle is also Matt Hasselbeck's best chance to complete deep passes. Beck is a maestro on short and intermediate passes, setting the tempo, cueing his soloist and shaping Seattle's passing attack. Beck is a meatball on deep passes, chucking ducks and hoping for busted coverage. But the deep middle, bearing no horizontal length, is one place Beck can get the ball 30 yards downfield with authority. An early completion to Carlson up the seam will do wonders for catch and run receivers Nate Burleson and Courtney Taylor. Allowing them to efficiently carve up the underneath and interior. The plodding, relentless almost zombie-like amassing of pass yards that make up the backbone of the Bill Walsh offense is essential to the explosive, phenomenal almost roman candle-like runs that make up the color and life of the Mike Holmgren offense.