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Saturday, October 6, 2012

v/s Seattle, Pregame

The crafty Pete Carroll and the almost eternally lucky Seahawks come in for the 4:05 5th week game at Carolina.

Carolina can't buy a break lately - coming off a heartbreaking last second loss to Atlanta on the road, and prior to that getting humiliated at home against the defending champs, now taking on a second-level traveling team at home that should be a win, but potentially without two of its best defenders.

Neither Chris Gamble nor Jon Beason practiced this week, and while the team has spent time on backing Beason, they just don't have much for Gamble's caliber of cornerback.

While rookie Josh Norman has bounced back from an awful Giants game, he and Captain Munnerlyn aren't enough.  Josh Thomas remains, having been last year's nickel, but that's not something to brag about.  Starters Golden Tate and Sidney Rice are solid downfield receivers without many holes to their game - but luckily 3rd WR Braylon Edwards isn't as big a deal anymore.

The Seahawks do, however, use both TEs- Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy.  Most know that Miller has size, but for a 2nd TE that plays a lot of receiving snaps, McCoy is more a mirror than an H-back at 6'5, 260. They have a lot of size on the field at all times, which can be an issue for a smaller back seven.

But moreso, it's not the passing game that's the big issue, or Carolina's issues on 3rd down, it's getting to 3rd down - the Seahawks are 32nd in passing behind rookie Russell Wilson.

So being the 26th best rush defense against the Seahawks' 6th overall rushing attack is certainly the bigger issue. Marshawn Lynch means that whatever happens to replace the likely missing Beason (who would, at least, get a solid 2 week stretch to help heal, with the bye week) has to be rock solid, and it may mean less playing time for Dwan Edwards, a liability against the run at times.  There likely won't be as much reason to drop ends inside, either.   Seattle is also 32nd in attempts, and the very small Wilson is the team's second leading rusher.  Wilson does go down, though - the Seahawks do have 8 sacks registered against them.

Seattle's defense starts up front, where they invested a very high pick on situational rusher Bruce Irvin to bookend Chris Clemons.  The 250 lb Clemons had back to back 11 sack seasons, and already has 5 this year; Irvin has 2.5, and tackle Brandon Mebane has 2.  The Seahawks use massive DT Red Bryant situationally outside at times, using the old Ravens trick of using a big man to set the edge in exchange for very little pass rush in base.  Measuring that will be big for Carolina, and may have to manipulate that with more 2 TE looks to keep Bryant on the field on earlier downs (Carolina is often indiscriminant about using 1st, 2nd down looks that would bring out nickel defenders).   A lack of predictability would be massive, and the Packers found that not having much rush meant unleashing a bunch of small, fast ends on Aaron Rodgers.

The right side battle of Bryant and Carolina RT Byron Bell should be a pretty big run battle.  With Irvin in, and moreso for Clemons who plays most snaps, the option issues will be more similar to the Giants', where a very fast to crash DE can be disruptive at times, but Carolina may still be able to use it to their advantage - a bootleg veer option type play, where instead of running it after a fake handoff, Newton reverses to a pass/run option on the crashing end.

For traditional rushing plays, there's no way Irvin has any real shot at setting the edge against Bell, but Mebane and company do shut it down a good bit - the Seahawks aren't slouches at the run - 2nd in the NFL.  It's a big week for Newton has the passing offense - that may require some tricks to get around the Seahawks' fantastic pursuit.

Their weaknesses?  So far, shutting down backs in the passing game, and the 3rd WR.  They also had massive problems on 3rd down against the Rams last week, letting them have 82 yards on 3rd down.  So, it seems that to a point you would have to spread the Seahawks - potentially 4 wide with some motion out of formation - and team that with quick reads before the rush can affect things.  Getting some yards early in downs can't hurt either, and facing more 3rd and shorts with Carolina's combo of run threats would render a lot of the Seahawk rush ineffective.  Contrarily, getting behind early in downs will make 3rd down hellish.

Carolina's offense tends to be better in games without any turnovers - an obvious but still blatant issue that Cam Newton isn't doing a lot of coming from behind late in games - and the Seahawks don't force many.  Field position against a good running and defense team is critical, so Carolina may measure itself for a big play or two on 2nd down, being willing to punt and hope for the best.  The best way to handle Seattle would be to put on long, sustained drives - which would require more ability running the ball than they've shown most of this year, and a lot more dumpoffs (which hasn't happened much this year, either).

Carolina has to dig deep in this one.  Seattle has its obvious strengths and weaknesses, coming across the nation in what would normally be a tough trip.  Carolina also has to dig deep to replace two of its bigger leaders and producers defensively, which I'm not sure is likely.  This is a winnable game, if the right Carolina team shows, but how they handle those absences might be the biggest story.

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