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Surveying the Enemy: Q&A with Field Gulls

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This week's segment brings us to the dreary city of Seattle, Washington, where a thick layer of fog blankets the enigma that is the Seattle Seahawks.

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The Seattle Seahawks seemed like the Ravens' NFC counterpart for a while. Strong defense, hardcore defensive leaders, and an offense that merely has to manage the game were the hallmarks of these two teams for many years. But things have certainly changed. The Seattle offense is very capable of scoring points, and Russell Wilson is much more than a game manager. The Ravens' on the other hand, are kind of lacking an identity at the moment, with injuries plaguing them in practically every facet of the game. Yet despite the stark difference between these two teams' form currently, there's no doubting that these organizations have a very similar makeup.

For more info on Baltimore's West Coast doppelgänger, I went to Danny Kelly, Managing Editor and Lead Writer of Field Gulls, the finest source for Seattle Seahawks news and commentary. Special thanks to Danny for answering my questions. You can find my responses to his questions on his site, right here.

1. The Seahawks' offense looked just out of sync to start the year. The team looked purposeless on some of their drives, and Russell Wilson was constantly dancing around, making something out of nothing behind what looked like a sketchy offensive line. What's changed since then?

The Seahawks offensive line had an extremely rough start to the season and that had a big impact on Russell Wilson’s effectiveness. He was sacked 31 times in seven games and that was on pace for the all time NFL record. Seattle made a change though, benching Drew Nowak (who had zero starts before this season) and inserting Patrick Lewis into the starting lineup at center, and that has been a catalyst for a lot of improvement. Lewis, who got some starts for Seattle last week, has gotten everyone back onto the same page in terms of protections, and over the past five games, Wilson has only been sacked five times.

The Seahawks also made a quicker passing game a huge focus and that’s been a big difference maker as well. Russell Wilson has been hitting his back foot and getting the ball out, which has mitigated a lot of the issues Seattle was seeing with some of their longer developing plays earlier on in the season. Overall, the execution has just improved a lot up front and from Wilson.

2. Thomas Rawls came out of, well, nowhere. What factors can explain how this undrafted rookie has arguably been one of the best rookie backs in his class?

It’s kind of shocking, to be honest. Rawls was a guy that I liked pre-draft and he was on my radar, but there was no way that I could’ve guessed he’d come in for an injured Marshawn Lynch and put up the crazy numbers he’s put up thus far. He’s second in the NFL in yards after contact so the first thing that jumps out at you is his elusiveness and tackle-breaking ability. He seems to run through contact with ease — and that might have to do with his compact frame and power. He seeks out contact too at the end of runs, something the Seahawks really like, and he sort of embodies the ethos of toughness that Pete Carroll wants his team to have.

He’s also been better in the pass game than I expected, showing soft hands and an ability to make yards after the catch. At this point, Rawls has me convinced that he’s no fluke.

3. The Kam Chancellor holdout was a huge deal around the league. Did the return of Kam to the team in Week 3 really change the tone of the defense?

It certainly helped to get Chancellor back and I think many Seahawks fans and maybe even the Seahawks’ FO underestimated how important he is to that scheme and also to the psyche of the defense. Chancellor brings an intensity and on-field leadership that was lacking in their first two games (both losses) so it was great to get him back onto the field in Week 3, where there was immediate improvement in the execution of the scheme. Seattle’s defense is predicated on running a relatively simple scheme but running it very disciplined and accurately, meaning you have to be in the right spot at the right time. You have to hit your depths in your drops, you have to be looking in the right spot, have to tackle well, all that kind of stuff. Kam is strong in all those areas.

That said, it’s not like the Seahawks’ defense has been perfect this year. I think him missing all of training camp and the preseason meant he came back a little rusty, and he hasn’t been completely dominant like we’ve seen at times in his career. It does feel like the Seahawks defense has started clicking during the last three weeks though.

4. The Seahawks have quite a few players who would likely get a very nice contract on the open market. With so many good young players, is there going to be a salary cap issue in Seattle soon?

Right now, the Seahawks don’t have a ton of cap room but they have a ton of cap flexibility, meaning there’s not a lot of dead money built into contracts and they can release players if they need to in order to free up room for other younger or better prospects. They will have big decisions to make on Russell Okung, Bruce Irvin, J.R. Sneezy, and a few others during this offseason, but overall their cap is healthy and the players making big money are players that are earning big that money, and that’s ultimately all you can ask for. You just want to avoid paying guys a ton of money and then seeing them on the sideline or playing poorly on the field.

The other big question this offseason will be the future of Marshawn Lynch. Releasing him (or seeing him retire) would free up some cash to do what they want to do in free agency, whether it’s re-signing some of their guys or going outside for guys coming onto the market. My guess is that Lynch will retire after this year.


5. How do you see this one going for the Seahawks. Score prediction?

The Seahawks are playing really well right now and the Ravens are super banged up. All signs point to Seattle being able to hold their own in this one because of those factors — I doubt any team could really function with the completely absurd amount of injuries Baltimore has seen this year, particularly with the loss of the starting quarterback — so I picked Seattle. I’m going to go with a 24-16 score prediction.