The Seahawks face off against former AFC West rivals in the Kansas City Chiefs this Friday, so for a little bit of a scouting report, I traded some questions with Arrowhead Pride's Joel Thorman. I wanted to get his take on the team's strengths, weaknesses, and outlook in several areas, and of principal importance in my mind is the status of KC's defense. With Russell Wilson set to be thrown into the fire as the Seahawks starting QB, in a hostile environment, I wondered what he will be studying.
"The biggest strength [of the Chiefs' defense] are the linebackers," Thorman notes. "Two Pro Bowlers in there with Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali, and another guy, Justin Houston, who we're all excited about."
"The greatest weakness," he continued, "would be up front - where the Chiefs have three first round picks. Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson are good enough for what they're asked to do but the nose tackle position, the most important position in the 3-4 defense, is unsettled right now."
Thorman added - "I'm most excited about the Chiefs potentially having a second pass rusher in Justin Houston. Tamba is the man, we know that. But if Houston can develop as we hope he will, then the Chiefs could have a salty defense in the making."
On the other hand, though, Thorman's excitement is tempered. "At the moment, the secondary scares the crap out of me. Brandon Flowers has been out for three weeks with a heel injury and no one seems to know what's going on with it. Kendrick Lewis is banged up. Brandon Carr was lost in free agency. That's a lot of change going on."
As for the offensive side of the football, the Seahawks figure to see some action against Kansas City's starting quarterback and former Pete Carroll pupil, Matt Cassel. Cassel is sort of an enigmatic quarterback, in my mind. At times he'll look brilliant, and at other times he just doesn't pass the eye test. How do Chiefs' fans feel about him?
"I'm not sure there's a general consensus," Thorman opines, "but it's fair to say the majority of people do not feel he is that classic "franchise quarterback". He's not exactly a stopgap either because he came in on a six-year deal. This is a big year for Cassel. In four seasons, he's had two very good seasons and two not-so-good seasons. Which one is the real Cassel? We're hoping to find out this year."
For the past couple of seasons, I've actually kind of thought that the way the Chiefs were being built was and is sort of similar to the Seahawks - and it goes past the Eric Berry/Earl Thomas debate from 2010. They've invested in big, outside deep threats like Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin, a versatile playmaker like Dexter McCluster, and those three will look to create explosive plays to balance a very strong run game and a 'game-manager' type of quarterback. Well, in 2011 they got away from this a bit when Jamaal Charles went down - finishing middle of the pack in rushing, but this season, Thorman thinks things may get back to "Chiefs football," so to speak.
"I think the Chiefs have a very good chance to return to the form they had in 2010 when they led the league in rushing," says Joel. "There are some question marks, though, but I feel good about most of them. Peyton Hillis looks strong, like he's back to where he was two years ago when he eclipsed 1,100 yards rushing for Cleveland. It was nice seeing him truck someone in training camp a few weeks back."
"Charles has been limited throughout camp," he continues, "but not necessarily because he can't go 100 percent -- the Chiefs are just being cautious right now. The offensive line is turning out to be one of the strengths of this team. Branden Albert is a steady pro at left tackle. Ryan Lilja is a decent veteran on the downside with a second round pick right behind him. Rodney Hudson is replacing Casey Wiegmann at center but few people have any concerns about him. Jon Asamoah is a young but already solid guard. Eric Winston, a free agent signing this year, completes the biggest upgrade any one position saw this year. This can be an awesome rushing attack."
The Chiefs are also similar to the Seahawks in that, as Thorman puts it, they "are young in a lot of places."
Specifically, "Watch Rodney Hudson, the center, and at times you'd think he's been doing this for a decade. WR Devon Wylie, a fourth round pick, is really quick. He's also got some return skills. Brandon Bair (Oregon - we looked at him here at Field Gulls some too) is a reserve defensive end I really like but an undrafted reserve defensive end in a 3-4 scheme might be too under-the-radar."
Of major interest to Seahawks fans though this week, is the question of whether the Chiefs will be playing their starters for significant amounts of snaps. Russell Wilson, by most accounts, has the chance to grab the reins of the starting job this week with a very strong showing, but the team would be best served by seeing meaningful action against a very good defense and their major contributors. Can we expect that this week?
"Romeo hasn't given us any hints on that," Joel notes, "but I can guess. I think the starters will be running a series or two into the third quarter. Crennel's handled the starter's snaps pretty traditionally, increasing the ante over the last two weeks. Most of the starters played until halftime last week. I think, this week, they'll play midway through the third quarter, if not the entire third quarter."
That's good. But, on the offensive side of the football, the defense may not be getting such a realistic test. "That likely doesn't include Jamaal Charles or Tony Moeaki," Thorman passes on, "who are both coming off ACL tears. The Chiefs have been cautious with them."
However, "Notice I didn't include Eric Berry, who also tore his ACL, there. He's a freak of nature and looks like nothing ever happened." concludes Thorman. This, my friends, is a good thing. Seeing a player like Berry out there should give Russell Wilson one of the best possible tests - how he can move and manipulate a top-level free safety in the NFL.