In what will be their one and only date with the dulcet tone of Sean McDonough and the contagious excitement of Jon Gruden, the Seattle Seahawks host Sexy Rexy and the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. Primetime brings out the best in the CenturyLink Field crowd, setting up what should be yet another memorable game for Pete Carroll’s Seahawks in front of the nation. Two superb defenses will go up against two sputtering offenses, with serious playoff implications on the line in both the AFC and NFC. Anytime two teams mirroring one another so closely get together, the game is bound to be decided by the closest of margins. If Seattle can be victorious in at least one of these three key matchups, they should be in a position to be riding high into Foxborough in Week 10.
The Seahawks’ offensive line vs the Bills’ defensive line
One matchup to rule them all, one matchup to find them, one matchup to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
Just like against the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams, the nasty Buffalo defensive line has the ability to completely ruin this game for the Seahawks. After admittedly sabotaging the talent in his front-seven last year, Rex Ryan’s simplified, attacking scheme has Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams playing back to their best. Hughes is tied for fifth in the NFL in pressures with 26, while journeyman defensive end Lorenzo Alexander is leading the league in sacks with nine.
The most talented of the Bills’ defensive lineman, Marcell Dareus, is still getting his legs under him after beginning the year serving a suspension, and is now nursing an injury that will keep him out for this week.
Seattle’s protection is inept and they’re wildly out-gunned in this game, so to give Russell Wilson and the offense a chance, they’ll have to hit their stride in the same way we saw in New York against the Jets in week four.
Christine Michael and Seattle’s offensive line vs Buffalo’s back-seven
As Kenneth Arthur explained earlier this week, Christine Michael has been part of the problem the past few weeks. He has been leaving yards out there, and on at least two occasions, that has led to punts rather than first downs. It’s part of why Thomas Rawls will be reinstalled as the starter once healthy. But regardless of that, Michael is going to have the chance at multiple chunk plays on Monday night.
During the Miami Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi’s 214-yard romp against the Bills in Week 7, there were several instances of Ajayi reaching the second and third level of Buffalo’s defense only to continue rolling because defenders were shooting low and missing. As a whole, they’ve been a poor group when it comes to tackling in both the run and pass game. Middle linebacker Zach Brown has been the best inside linebacker in football in 2016, but aside from that the Bills’ back-seven has been a wasteland of arm tackles and whiffs.
What Seattle’s offensive line lacks in competence, they make up for in athleticism. Across the line, the unit has the ability to hit on combo blocks and that only improved with George Fant coming in for Bradley Sowell. The freakishly athletic left tackle was so quick to get to the second level of New Orleans’ defense last Sunday, and if that can continue against the Bills - while making a concerted effort to wipe out Brown - then there will be a huge chance for Michael to spin, gash and dash his way to multiple long runs. With Wilson still hobbled and the offensive line not giving him the chance for explosive plays, it’s time for Michael to deliver a few of his own.
Tyrod Taylor’s legs vs the Seahawks defensive line
It’s no secret that Rex Ryan and Buffalo butchered the handling of LeSean McCoy last week. After a hamstring injury hampered him all week in practice, the team decided to let him roll out against the New England Patriots full bore, only for him to leave the game with - yup, you guessed it - a hamstring injury. Shockingly, again the team is talking up McCoy’s availability for Monday.
With a hobbled star running back and no Sammy Watkins, quarterback Tyrod Taylor is the Bills’ biggest threat on offense, particularly as a runner. Taylor is the NFL’s most dangerous running quarterback at the moment and he can beat you in a variety of ways.
His three biggest runs this season have come in three different ways. A 49-yard QB-keeper to the left side on a read-option against the Arizona Cardinals, which could’ve gone for more had he not outrun his blockers downfield. A 26-yard quarterback draw against the Patriots, right up the heart of the defense after New England’s pass rushers found themselves too far up-field past the quarterback. And, finally, a 22-yard scramble on 3rd-and-19 against the LA Rams after the pocket broke down. Taylor can beat a defense with his legs in a variety of ways, but there is one constant with how the defense can stop him: play disciplined football and keep contain.
No freelancing is a key to Pete Carroll’s defense, and it should help the Seahawks to keep Taylor in the pocket - or as best you can - and keep the Bills offense stagnant. The vaunted Legion of Boom should have no problems with Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and company; LeSean McCoy’s incredible 2016 form will still be slowed by injury. As long as Taylor is kept in the pocket and forced to try to win with his arm, the Seahawks can come out of primetime at 5-2-1.