Coming off of the bye, Seattle heads to Cleveland focused on maintaining the momentum created by the Week 5 win in New York. Seattle may have added confidence, but their starting quarterback and center are doubtful, number one tight end Zach Miller is listed as out.
They face a pesky 2-3 Cleveland team. Their two wins came against Miami and Indianapolis, both winless.
This is a game that could swing the pendulum either way for Seattle. A win will get the Seahawks to .500 and give them two wins in a row, on the road, in a 10 AM PST start. It will help validate the Week 5 win, and perhaps be a sign of better things to come.
A loss could bring a heavy dose of "I told you Week 5 was a fluke," or something like that, from the national media and others.
Carroll said during his Wednesday presser, "we need to do something with this...we have to cash in on winning on the road last week." I 110% agree.
Honestly, I've had this one circled for months. Many thought heading into the season the pre bye week schedule was rough-Seattle's first five opponents are currently a combined 17-12- and a 2-3 start isn't horrible. To be frank; I really hope this team isn't thinking about the Holmgren factor, and is focused on playing a disciplined 60 minutes. A win starts with a strong performance from backup Charlie Whitehurst.
Is this Charlie's chance to create a competition?
Not because we share a first name, or rock the same beard (you'll have to take my word for it)...but I've had an increasingly strong feeling that Whitehurst is ready for this chance.
The win in New York was a boost for the entire team, and a boost of confidence in Whitehurst. He works like he is "the guy" in practice, regardless of whether or not he's starting. This week, he's gotten his reps and is ready to go.
I'm personally looking for the Seahawks to mix the no huddle and give Charlie an open playbook. I like Whitehurst on the move, and I want to see him get a chance to complete the deep ball early. Let him be aggressive; let him get out of sticky situations.
The Browns' defense isn't loaded with bells and whistles. Carroll described them as a committed 4-3 defense with a "complete over package," presumably meaning over shifted 4 man front. They play hard and try to beat you with what they do. I think Seattle needs to be the aggressor and learn about Whitehurst; if Seattle thinks they have a hunch about a call, give Charlie the chance to execute.
Some other factors to watch: How is Whitehurst's cadence, as Carroll has talked about the offense having issues with it in the past. Who starts at center, Max Unger or little known Lemuel Jeanpierre, and how does that affect Whitehurst? Whitehurst practices with LJP weekly, so the center/quarterback exchange shouldn't be an issue for them. Jackson has bobbled snaps and/or thrown one or a few passes that should have been picked in most games. Let's see if Whitehurst doesn't do that.
In the beginning I was OK with no competition because of Jackson's experience, but I still wanted to see Whitehurst at some point. Am I saying I would've benched Jackson now if he was healthy? No. But, I'm flippin' pumped to see what Whitehurst can do, for better or worse.
The players and coaches feel comfortable with Whitehurst running the huddle, according to Carroll; I buy it. He said they feel like they have a really good chance to get great play at the quarterback position this weekend.
Carroll noted on Friday he's never had a protocol for players losing their job via injury, that every situation is different. I'm not sure how a great game from Whitehurst would change this situation. At the least, we'll know more about what Whitehurst can bring to this organization. The optimist in me really hopes Whitehurst can take a step towards forcing Carroll's hand
Containing Colt McCoy and the Browns' expansive offense.
The Browns have an expansive offensive package under new head coach Pat Shurmur and Carroll credited the organization for their use of Colt McCoy and the versatile offense. Carroll then noted this is a tough offense to zero in on; Seattle had an extra week because of the bye and feeling unprepared is inexcusable.
McCoy is smart, mobile and can make things happen when the play breaks down. He's hard to sack and poses problems outside the pocket. Carroll noted Seattle wants to keep him from controlling the game with his legs; he can run to run and run to throw. Seattle needs to contain McCoy and keep him inside the rush. I think Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Leroy Hill are three back seven players who could make a difference getting McCoy to the ground in this game. One of the rookies needs to step up, too.
Speaking of ground and game...the Browns are widely thought of as a strong running team with Peyton Hillis, who was a monster in the backfield last year. Unfortunately, he is suffering from an early season case of the Madden Curse. He is questionable with a hamstring injury. Montario Hardesty is a talented back, but Seattle's run defense is better. Cleveland has a commitment to their run game and as Carroll noted, it can pose problems for us if "we are not on our plan." Red Bryant needs to take charge for this unit and play like the monster he can be.
A matchup within the matchup; Earl Thomas and Colt McCoy went to Texas together. I think Seattle must do a better-than-usual job of disguising Thomas' role. One thing that stood out from the Seahawks' first five games is that they blitz Thomas from everywhere and in tons of different situations, against the run and pass. He comes from the left, right, or centerfield. They'll line him up stagnant on the line of scrimmage, or let him roam freely. Thomas has an uncanny ability to hide behind defenders and explode out of the hole on blitzes. I want to see Seattle mix their use of Thomas even more than they have.
Do the Seahawks find ways to confuse McCoy pre-snap? Last year coming out of the bye, the Seahawks were extremely successful with the seven defensive back Bandit package versus the Bears.
Can Seattle pressure with their front four and up the middle? Raheem Brock is yet to have a multiple sack game and Seattle could use a big performance from him.
The four objectives: Stop the run, get the offense off-balance early, keep McCoy uncomfortable throughout, and finish.
Shorter thoughts about the Week 7 matchup:
--Anthony Hargrove is versatile and energetic. He made the big play for the safety in Week 5 and Carroll praised his spirit this week. Does he become a regular contributor? Also, I like Clinton McDonald more than Kentwan Balmer. Will newly signed Jason Shirley be active? (Note: Shirley has been waived. Answers that...)
--This season, Marshawn Lynch has dropped a couple of passes, almost fumbled the pitch during the downpour in Week 3 and has had ball security issues in the past. Baldwin had a catch-hit-fumble (recovered by Anthony McCoy, two big recoveries two weeks in a row) overturned by a challenge and Miller had a touchdown dislodged, turned into an interception. No unnecessary opportunities for Cleveland as...
--...Seattle is 2-0 when they win the turnover battle, 0-3 when they don't. It's all about the ball. No need to elaborate.
--Walter Thurmond could play on the line more than Marcus Trufant did. Given Thurmond's former role as a nickel corner, this makes sense. I'm watching for a couple of corner blitzes. Carroll on WTIII; "this is his opportunity to breakout."
--Carroll on Robert Gallery, "I would not have thought he would have looked that good" after missing nearly five weeks. I understand the lineage/familiarity/veteran factor, but I've been skeptical about his health and declining play all along. I'd really like to be proven wrong on this one...really.
--Carroll went out of his way to praise Russell Okung on Wednesday, saying that he looked great versus Clemons in practice and appears to have taken another step forward. That would be nice to see.
--We don't know much about JLP, but he's stood out to me on a couple of kick returns as a blocker, in a good way.
--Seattle won't have Zach Miller. Though he's been quiet in the passing game--I'd like Leon, Forsett and Mike Williams to take his targets--his run blocking has been a plus at times. Anthony McCoy is on deck, Cameron Morrah is coming off the PUP list potentially-a player I like as a receiver-and John Nahlbon is listed on the practice squad, but a player Carroll mentioned as potentially seeing the field. Receivers need to be extra diligent blocking in the running game, and pass protection by the runningbacks must be stout.
--Rookie end Jabaal Sheard has 12 of 29 quarterback pressures for Cleveland this season. I liked him heading into the draft. I liked defensive lineman Phil Taylor, too. Linebacker Scott Fujita is listed as out; Seattle must make both rookies less of a factor.
--Cornerback Joe Haden is allowing 42.3% of passes in his area to be completed, 6th best in the league for corners that have played 25% or more of their team's defensive snaps. However, he is allowing 14.3 yards per reception, which is towards the bottom for NFL corners. The kicker here; Haden is questionable with a knee issue. Whitehurst knows Haden "is one of those players you need to watch out for." Seattle needs to smartly test Haden early if he plays, and see if they can gain chunks of yards going his way.
--Colt McCoy is averaging 5.5 yards per attempt, worst in the NFL. 117 of McCoy's 217 attempts have been thrown between 0-9 yards downfield; 17 of 22 outside the numbers left, 51 of 75 inside the numbers, 10 of 20 outside the numbers right. His rating, left to right is 113.4, 86.1, 56.3. Seattle's linebackers have been eh in coverage thus far. No Aaron Curry could help, but it's on the rotation of linebackers to shut down McCoy's comfort zones (the left and middle short passing game, and down the seam). I'm looking forward to Malcolm Smith potentially getting time.
--Cleveland is concerned about the potential loss of Hillis. Hardesty has 40 carries for 143 yards on the year. Eight of those carries have been inside/outside of LT Joe Thomas, for 54 yards. As a team, they have been moderately effective moving the chains with the inside running game on the right side; 22 carries by Hillis/Hardesty for 83 yards. If Seattle can take these lanes away, it could be a long day.
--Carroll, on the players returning from injuries and PUP; "there are a lot of things we could do right now." He said they would use the time up until kickoff to make decisions, but the extra flexibility is a bonus.
--Michael Robinson has been talkin' some mo-jo lately. After Week 5 he said the win was "all about swag and confidence." This week he stated he thinks the NFL will soon become a no-huddle heavy league and teams will be copycatting. Mike-Rob is talking that championship swag I think was perhaps birthed out of the Week 5 win. Keep it going, special teams captain and fullback; no injuries, no dropped passes. Don't let this team be flat.
-- Coming out of the bye week, there is the danger for rust. Seattle has more penalties than their opponent in all five games this season...STOP THE PENALTY MADNESS!!!
Carroll is happy about their past two weeks of practice. With the post-bye, 10AM start, road win from '10 as a blueprint, they should've had this two week routine pretty nailed down. As an organization that prides itself on preparation and discipline, this is a good test.
If Seattle gets to .500, they may grab the media's attention. Winning here would certainly grab the attention of the 4-2 Bengals, at Seattle Week 8 without Cedric Benson; and then Seattle goes to Dallas Week 9, then hosting Baltimore Week 10. That's a big three week stretch.
But let's be realistic. First, Seattle must take care of business in Cleveland, and then act like this game--the second one in a row on the road, near the east coast, not to mention coming off of the bye week--was never in question for this organization.
My expectations were tempered heading into the bye, and they remain that way. Optimistically thinking; talking about the playoffs could creep into the discussion soon, beginning with a win in Cleveland. And if they lose, I'll probably have more than a few people saying; "I told you Week 5 was a fluke," or something like that.