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Seahawks-Titans preview: Tennessee front-7 may offer Seattle OL a slight reprieve

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Google’s Dictionary defines ‘reprieve’ as:

Cancel or postpone the punishment of (someone, especially someone condemned to death).

(I don’t know if that really is from Google or if it’s just Google spitting out Webster’s answer but “Google’s Dictionary” was funnier to me.)

Not so funny is the fact that the Seattle Seahawks offensive line and the word “death” do seem to go hand-in-hand this year. Through two weeks, Russell Wilson has faced perhaps more pressure than any other quarterback this season (well over 40% of his dropbacks) and while the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have good front-sevens, they aren’t supposed to be quite of the level of a team like the Philadelphia Eagles.

Or maybe they are. I had the 49ers ranked pretty high in my defensive line and linebacker rankings headed into the season, while the Packers have some sneaky-good defensive players like Mike Daniels and Nick Perry. So it’s possible that these are two of the toughest challenges that the Seattle offensive line will face all year.

Hopefully it’s probable that the Tennessee Titans will be a welcome break for the line and most importantly, Wilson.

In their Week 1 loss to the Oakland Raiders, the Titans finished with the third-worst pressure rate in the league at 11.1%. The Week 2 numbers aren’t quite out yet as of this writing, but they sacked Blake Bortles twice in their win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and we all know Bortles is capable of quite a lot more. (Less?) And last season, Tennessee finished 24th on defense by DVOA, including 27th against the pass and 10th against the run. They were also 24th in pressure rate. So who are the main players?

Linebacker Derrick Morgan finished first on the team in pressures last season with 31, along with nine sacks. Morgan, the 16th overall pick in the 2010 draft (and a guy who a lot of people thought the Seahawks would/should draft instead of Earl Thomas), has had one sack in each of the first two games. He’ll certainly provide a challenge for Pete Carroll in terms of how to gameplan to keep him from killing Wilson.

Coincidentally or not coincidentally, Morgan’s career really seemed to take off after the Titans signed linebacker Brian Orakpo in 2015. Orakpo had 28.5 sacks over his first three seasons with the Washington Redskins, then missed most of his fourth season, then returned for 10 more sacks in 2013. He missed a lot of time again in 2014 and sort of just disappeared from public recognition, which allowed him to sign with the Titans unnoticed, and then had 17.5 sacks over the last two seasons. He had 28.5 total pressures last season.

The third player I’m going to mention is also really good, and perhaps the most dangerous threat to the Seahawks on Sunday. A pass-rushing defensive tackle has been potentially the biggest thing standing between Seattle and a third Super Bowl over the last two years; consider the problems they’ve had beating teams with Kawann Short, Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Gerald McCoy, Calais Campbell, and Daniels. Well, Jurrell Casey deserves to be in a category with those players as well. Casey had 10.5 sacks in 2013, didn’t make the Pro Bowl that year, but has in each of the last two. The former third round pick out of USC (yep, he was a Pete Carroll recruit) had 22.5 pressures last season.

That’s where maybe — maybe — the players who will give the Seahawks a minor break start to show.

Inside linebacker Avery Williamson is known to be very good against the run but struggles in coverage. Also at inside linebacker is Wesley Woodyard, a 10-year veteran and captain of the defense, but not one of the most significant threats in the NFL. The other two lineman with a hand on a ground besides Casey are DaQuan Jones and Sylvester Williams. Jones is typically a five-technique who comes off the field for third downs. He could be a nightmare in the run game but not a threat to Wilson. Williams signed a three-year deal with Tennessee after the Denver Broncos declined his fifth-year option, which gives you somewhat of an idea of what they thought about a nose tackle who did help them win a Super Bowl. I think he may be the weakpoint of the front-seven.

Depth includes 2016 second round pick Kevin Dodd, who I don’t believe has played this season, which continues of the theme of him barely playing as a rookie. There are injuries and other issues with Dodd that probably make him an inactive non-factor. They also re-signed defensive lineman Karl Klug, who again, has some credit in run defense but not pass rushing so much. And Austin Johnson, another defensive lineman drafted in the second round in 2016 who has barely done anything in his career up to this point.

I’m not saying the Titans front-seven is bad, because they hit you from literally all three thirds (is that an acceptable phrase?) of the field: Morgan and Orakpo on either side and Casey in the middle. But they do lack effective pass-rushing, pass-stopping, mega-threats at their other front-seven positions in a way that perhaps the Packers and Niners do not. It won’t be easy for the Seattle offensive line, because nothing is easy for the Seattle offensive line, but perhaps it is a slight reprieve.

Or just another in a far-too-long-line of disasters.