Week One Preview: Seahawks at Cardinals

At long last, the Seahawks will be playing their first game of the regular season tomorrow.  Here’s a few things to keep in mind as they take on the Cardinals:

1) The offensive line is Arizona’s weakest unit.

With their starting left tackle Levi Brown and best backup tackle (and former starting right tackle) Jeremy Bridges on injured reserve, the Cardinals will be forced to rely on D’Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie to keep their quarterback upright.  Massie, a fourth-round rookie and the team’s new starting right tackle, will likely have his share of problems, but the guy who should really have the Seahawks’ new crop of pass rushers licking their chops is Batiste at the left tackle spot.

Batiste is a 30 year old player with minimal regular season experience.  After going undrafted in 2004, he spent two years playing in the AF2 and being rejected by CFL teams, then spent the next few seasons bouncing between various teams’ practice squads and 53-man rosters before landing this starting job in the desert.  He has some starting experience – four games for Atlanta back in ’07 – but he’s only played in 15 career games. 

The Cardinals will likely help him out early and often by keeping in a tight end to block and throwing in a few chip blocks by running backs, but running max protect to assist their tackles on both sides of the line will severely limit their receiving options.

The interior of their line isn’t so hot either.  Ex-49er Adam Snyder still has the goods at right guard, but center Lyle Sendlein and left guard Daryn Colledge are not top-shelf talents.  If Seattle is going to improve its pass rush, it starts by carving up Arizona’s soft o-line.

2) Larry Fitzgerald is still Larry Fitzgerald.

No matter how bad things get for the Cardinals, they can always count on number eleven to bail them out by making the most of anything the quarterback manages to toss his way.  Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor have been hyped as one of the best young secondaries in the league, but if they want to keep that reputation they need to prove they can stand toe-to-toe with elite receivers like Fitzgerald.

3) Bobby Wagner v. Ken Wisenhunt

Back in 2005, Lofa Tatupu put himself on the map from day one by holding his own against a Jacksonville team that went on to post a 12-4 record that season.  The 2012 Cardinals appear to be in no danger of matching the ’05 Jaguars’ win total, but Ken Wisenhunt still knows a thing or two about putting together an offense.  

In short, this is a great opportunity for rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner to show he can measure up to the Tatupu standard, both in his play and his ability to quarterback the defense.  K.J. Wright will be nearby to help the rookie out with his reads and adjustments, but the more Wagner is able to do on his own out there, the more secure the future of Seattle’s Mike position will start to feel.

4) Don’t underestimate John Skelton.

Last year, Skelton had a 7 yard per completion average, a 54.9% completion rate, an 11:14 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and a QB rating of just 68.9.  Not the worst stats, perhaps, but not anything to put the fear of Skelton into opposing defenses, either.

However, his situational stats tell a much different story.  Skelton is genuinely awful early in games, like Ryan Leaf awful, but look what happens as the game progresses (all stats are from 2011):

Quarter Completions/
Attempts
Comp.
%
Yards Yds/
Att
TDs Ints 1st Downs
per Att (%)
Comp. of
20+ yds
QB
Rating
1st 21/50 42.0% 225 4.5 0 3 20.0% 3 30.8
2nd 34/62 54.8% 365 5.9 3 3 25.8% 3 68.3
3rd 35/60 58.3% 488 8.1 2 5 33.3% 9 61.0
4th 56/98 57.1% 752 7.7 6 3 30.6% 14 89.3
Final 2 Minutes
of Half
21/35 60.0% 192 5.5 2 1 25.7% 0 82.1
Overtime 5/5 100.0% 83 16.6 0 0 60.0% 2 118.8

Granted, the pattern isn’t perfect, but in general the longer Skelton plays in a game, the better he performs.  Something similar emerges when you break down his stats by field position:

Field
Position
Comp/
Att
Comp.
%
Yards Yds/
Att
TDs Ints 1st Downs
per Att (%)
Comp. of
20+ Yds
QB
Rating
Own 1-20 29/51 56.9% 327 6.4 0 3 31.4% 0 51.7
Own 21-50 69/126 54.8% 981 7.8 1 8 27.0% 9 56.3
Opp. 49-20 37/70 52.9% 511 7.3 2 3 31.4% 17 68.2
Opp. 19-1 16/28 57.1% 94 3.4 8 0 35.7% 5 103.3

Again, the comparison isn’t perfect; nobody throws many TDs from the shadow of their own end zone, for instance, and it’s impossible to throw a 20+ yard completion inside your opponent’s 20 yard line.  Even so, the general trend is still clear enough.

I enjoy poking fun at Skelton as much as the next guy, but there’s no denying that the man is a closer.  I don’t know what his deal is, exactly; maybe it takes a couple quarters for his nerves to settle, or perhaps he just needs to spend more time warming up before the game.  Either way, the Seahawks’ defense will need to keep its guard up all the way to the final whistle.

5) The door is wide open for Braylon Edwards.

With Golden Tate already ruled out for the game due to a twisted knee, Braylon Edwards will get the start at split end opposite Sidney Rice.  Once upon a time, Edwards was a receiving superstar for the Browns and Jets, but is coming off a forgettable, injury-plagued season with the 49ers.  If he can return to form, Edwards’ presence on the field will really help open up the passing game for Russell Wilson by keeping the defense from focusing all their attention on Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, and Zach Miller.

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