I’m headed out of town with my family this afternoon so that I can attend my brother’s wedding, and since we’re traveling with a baby I’m not terribly confident that we’ll arrive in time to catch the game tonight. I hate missing Seahawks games, but 1) he’s my only sibling, 2) my extended family is awesome and their presence all but guarantees a good time will be had by all, and 3) people get kinda pissy when the best man doesn’t show, so I should probably not be a no-show.
Before I get into talking about a few things to look for in this game (and yes, I really do plan on writing about more than that around here, things have just been hectic), I feel a deep and abiding need to say something: I don’t care about the Green Bay Packers’ feelings, and I care even less about what their fans think about the Seahawks. The loss to Seattle didn’t hurt Green Bay’s 2012 season. The legality of the reception aside, Tate’s catch didn’t prevent them from winning the NFC North crown and dominating the Vikings in the wild card round before being edged out by the 49ers in a high-scoring divisional round shootout.
Yes, Golden Tate’s catch to end last year’s game was controversial (well, controversial if you don’t understand how the rules governing possession of a catch works) but the endless whining, howling, and bloviating the cheeseites are still spouting from their perceived high horse is really starting to get on my nerves. Watching adult men and women throw hissy fits like angry toddlers is one thing; watching them throw that same fit for eleven straight months is something else entirely. In the years I’ve been running this place, Packers fans remain the only NFL fans who have ever sent me hate mail after their team lost to the Seahawks – scratch that, they’re the only fans who have ever sent me hate mail, period. A few of them even sent me more hate mail the following week to gloat about Seattle losing to St. Louis.
Tonight’s game is going to be a hostile environment for all things Seahawks, and there’s a better than even chance that the national broadcast announcers will jump on that bandwagon, too. My advice is to kick back, mute the TV, and root for Pete Carroll’s guys to stroll into Lambeau Field and dominate the whole way through, ‘cause a thorough, ceaseless, merciless beating is just what the good fans in Wisconsin have been begging for all year long.
Anyway, enough about all that — here are some things to watch for:
1) Pressure the (First String) QB, Take Three
In 2012, the Seahawks had serious difficulties mounting a consistent, sustained assault on opposing quarterbacks. And with Chris Clemons’ return from knee surgery still up in the air and Bruce Irvin suspended for the first four games of the regular season, the Hawks’ defense is going to have to try to improve their QB pressure without the services of their top two sack artists.
Right now, the most promising guys to fill the vacancy on the outside rush are undrafted rookie Benson Mayowa and Arizona castoff O’Brien Schofield. Both have shown Clemons-like quickness off the line and great body lean around the edge, with Schofield notching one sack in limited snaps and Mayowa racking up a whopping 2.5 sacks and 4 QB hits. Unfortunately, all that production has come against opponents who were second string players and below; when given a chance versus Denver’s starting lineup last week, Mayowa and the rest of the defense rarely got anywhere near Peyton.
This week also marks the return of Tony McDaniels, who is slated to fill Alan Branch’s starting DT position. I’d still prefer to see Michael Bennett get a shot at the job – he has a lot of promise as a passer-devouring 3-tech – but if McDaniels makes a strong case for himself tonight I’ll be happy with that, too. As I’ve said before, I don’t care who provides the rush so long as I get to see Rodgers pick himself up off the ground after every play.
2) …And Then There Were Three (Guards)
Now that John Moffitt is playing in someplace that isn’t Seattle, the competition for the starting guard spots has come down to a three-way race between Paul McQuistan, J.R. Sweezy, and James Carpenter. And seeing as how Carpenter is still too injured to play, the situation may not even be that competitive.
Regardless, I think can live with McQuistan and Sweezy as the starting guards. Sweezy still needs to develop his pass-blocking skills and sometimes struggles with one-on-one blocks, and McQuistan is still himself (i.e. decent but not great), but on the plus side both of them are actually suiting up and playing, which is more than I can say right now for Carpenter.
As for Moffitt, well, I can’t say as I’m too torn up about seeing him go. He’s a likeable human being, but his health is still questionable and his blocking is painful to watch. He likes to reach on his blocks and get himself off-balance, and that’s a tendency that will get you beaten by opposing d-linemen each and every time. Moffitt still could have been a serviceable backup, but the emergence of promising rookies Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie as viable guards made him overpriced and expendable. Had he not been traded, he would have almost certainly been cut.
3) I Want to See McGrath Start (Also, Something about Receivers)
I know Luke Willson was a draft pick this year and all, but after watching him in two preseason games I find myself really quite lukewarm on the prospect of him being the number two tight end on the roster. Sean McGrath, on the other hand, has caught my eye with his solid play on several occasions, enough so that I’d love to see what he can do against first team competition.
As for receivers, Jermaine Kearse and Stephen Williams have gone a long way toward making me feel better about the Seahawks’ passing game without Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin currently available to suit up. Chris Harper and Arceto Clark are also making strong cases for themselves, especially Clark with a great catch in traffic last week toward the end of the third quarter. With two games to go, it’ll be interesting to see which of them will manage to sustain their momentum and distance themselves from the camp bodies.
4) Backup QB Competition = Checkdown versus Touchdown
Okay, so “checkdown versus touchdown” is a gross oversimplification, but it sums up my feelings about the competition between Brady Quinn and Tarvaris Jackson for the number two QB spot. Watching Quinn reminds me of Joey Harrington’s post-Detroit career, in that he looks like he’s been beaten gunshy behind a porous line and spends his time on the field frantically looking for someone, anyone to hold on to the ball instead of him. Jackson, on the other hand, looks and plays with poise and confidence. Based on that alone, there’s no question which one of them I would trust more to step in and win a game should something unfortunate happen to Wilson. Add in Jackson’s comprehensive understanding of Bevell’s offense and his superior mobility and athleticism and Quinn’s already thin chances of earning the job pretty much evaporate.
5) Nickelback: Thurmond v. Winfield
I’ve always been a big fan of Winfield, and I'm excited to finally see him wearing a Seahawks uniform. At 36 his speed and man coverage abilities have diminished a bit, but he’s still a savvy zone defender and no CB in the league is a surer or more physical tackler. That said, Thurmond has really been coming on strong this preseason, and right now I’d say that Winfield is a nose ahead in the competition by virtue of his solid health (Thurmond’s injury history is about as troubling as it gets). With so many promising young DBs competing to make the team, I doubt Winfield and his maxed-out veteran minimum contract will survive the final cutdown if Thurmond pulls off the upset hear and beats him out for the job.