In the early slot Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks take on the Washington Football Team with a chance to slide into first place in the NFC West for at least a few hours before the Los Angeles Rams and New York Jets play later in the day. The game will be the final early start of the year for Seattle, with the team having gone 2-1 in the three earlier early games that they have played.
The Seahawks are all but guaranteed a playoff spot this year, and while the game Sunday against the Football Team gives Seattle a chance to clinch a playoff spot, it is largely meaningless in the team’s attempt to win the NFC West. The division winner is likely to be determined in Week 16 when the Rams come to town, so hopefully the Hawks remain focused and don’t overlook the Football Team by looking ahead.
In any case, Andrew York of Hogs Haven gave a preview of the game from the perspective of the other Washington. In addition, the game Sunday will give Seattle fans a chance to see a pair of former Seahawks in action in J.D. McKissic and Kevin Pierre-Louis.
1) The quarterback position in Washington seems like something that has been in a constant state of flux for several seasons now. What is the feeling among fans regarding the players the team currently has at the position and whether one of them is the answer for the team going forward?
We currently have 3 QBs to consider here: Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, and Kyle Allen. Alex Smith is a game manager, but he’s about the best game manager out there and the whole team seems to play better when he’s at the helm. Part of it is his conservative playstyle (few turnovers gives the defense long fields to defend, short passes keep the offense on the field longer), but part of it is due to his leadership and intangibles (players have said he does a lot to prepare them and has a calming influence during games). Assuming Alex is healthy and wants to continue playing, I think most fans would be comfortable starting him next year and expect to win games with a good team around him, but recognize that his age and somewhat limited upside means we need to be considering QBs in the draft if a good one falls to our pick.
Dwayne Haskins has a lot of natural ability and arm talent, but has terrible mechanics and has struggled learning many nuances of the QB position. At this point, it’s looking like he’s a bust, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t continue to try to develop him so long as he’s on a cheap rookie contract.
Kyle Allen is a bit of a wildcard. He doesn’t have Alex’s intangibles, but the offense has actually seemed to move the best when he’s under center. He’s an undrafted QB with a lot of mobility and a willingness to throw deep more often than Alex. He didn’t play enough games before getting injured for fans to have any confidence that he’s a starter, but he flashed intriguing talent and it would be interesting to see what he could do with more development.
So overall, I think Alex is the near-term answer and will probably be starting next year, but it’s hard to say our long-term franchise QB is definitely on the roster.
2) Ron Rivera was up and down during his time in Carolina. What have the first 13 games of his time in Washington shown in terms of the pros and cons of what he brings to the team?
It’s always tough separating the coach from the roster to make these evaluations, but there are some pros and cons that stick out. In terms of the pros, he’s done a great job of commanding respect from the players and getting them to buy in. The players play very hard for him, and it’s amazing how much better we do in the second half of games compared to the first. Rivera also runs tough practices and the players seem better conditioned than they were under the previous coaching staff. The players also seem more disciplined, make fewer mistakes, and commit fewer penalties, which I also attribute to good coaching. We also seem to have fewer injuries this year than in many previous years, and it sounds like Rivera actually pays a lot of attention to sports science and is doing some specific things to keep our players healthy. Another pro is that he is a man of integrity and has a good reputation around the league. This matters a lot given our previous leadership under Bruce Allen and already seems to have served a role in enabling the Trent Williams trade in the offseason. He also seems to be really good at developing young players (Carolina had more home-grown All Pro players during his tenure than any other team) and I think this is partly because of how detail-oriented he is and partly because of how good his position coaches are.
The only con that has really stuck out is clock management, but even then he’s not as bad as someone like Andy Reid and I actually think he’s improved his clock management as the games have become more important and the chance of winning the division has gone up. I also have the impression he’s a CEO-style head coach and relies heavily on his coordinators to manage the execution of their sides of the ball. I think that’s actually a good way to coach so long as he has good coordinators (and right now OC Scott Turner, DC Jack Del Rio, and STC Nate Kaczor have been doing a good job) as it allows Rivera to focus on all phases of the game, but I think he struggled in the past in Carolina when his coordinators got hired away and he didn’t do a good job replacing them (their defense never looked right after losing Sean McDermott).
3) The Seattle offensive line has performed better this season than in recent years, but Russell Wilson still takes a ton of sacks because of his style of play. Washington has four defensive linemen with 5.0 or more sacks already this season. Which of those linemen should Seahawks fans be most wary of heading into the game Sunday?
Definitely our two defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat. It’s hard choosing just one of them because they’ve both had such a big impact on games. Chase Young’s simple stats don’t reflect his impact on games because teams have been double and triple teaming him so much, though he’s still beating a lot of those double teams as shown here. All the attention Young demands has opened things up for Sweat a bit, and he’s been making the most of that opportunity, compiling 7 sacks, 10 TFL, and 15 QB hits in 13 games. He also does a good job getting his long arms up in the air to bat down passes and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of that in this game.
4) In 2010 the Seahawks won the NFC West at 7-9 and then managed to upset the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card game. Washington needs to win two of its final three games to get to .500 for the season. What is their best chance to upset the Seahawks to get one of those two wins?
I think the biggest thing is Alex Smith needs to be healthy enough to play. He had to leave our game against the 49ers due to a calf strain (troublingly, in the same leg as his previous injury) and as I write this, he is questionable to play this Sunday. If Haskins has to start, I don’t like our chances at all. Second, we need to limit big plays. It seems to me the Seahawks passing game has relied heavily on long passes to the WRs to give it life, so we need to limit that. Given that players like DK Metcalf are very tough to cover, the best way for us to limit those big plays is to get pressure on Wilson and limit his time to throw. We should also consider keeping two safeties deep more often than usual. Our pass rushers should also focus on getting their hands up to bat down passes and block Wilson’s line of sight when they get near him even if they aren’t close enough for a sack.
On offense, we need to focus on short, high percentage passes that move the chains while allowing high time of possession. It keeps the defense fresh and it keeps Russell Wilson off the field. Since Seattle plays a lot of zone coverage, we should try to create favorable matchups and attack them and try to find the soft spots between zones. We should rush enough to stay balanced, but it seems like Seattle has been weaker against the pass so that’s where I’d look to have more success.
5) Who is a Washington player that Seahawks fans might not have heard of that they should be made aware of heading into the game Sunday?
Normally I answer this with Montez Sweat, but since I already mentioned him above, I’ll go with TE Logan Thomas. Signed as a free agent from the Lions, he is making a position switch from QB to TE so he is rather raw, but he’s been flashing more and more talent as the season wears on. His athleticism is through the roof, he compares athletically to Rob Gronkowski, but he’s still learning a lot of nuances in terms of route running and blocking technique. He has taken over several recent games and I’d expect him to get some use in this one.
A big thanks to Andrew for answering my questions, and for those who are interested in reading the answers I provided to his questions over at Hogs Haven, you may do so by clicking here.