In preparing for Sunday’s matchup between the Ravens and Seahawks, Field Gulls’ John Gilbert and I sat down for a short Q&A for one another’s publications.
1. Before the trade deadline the Seattle Seahawks landed defensive tackle Leonard Williams. Was this a move to go all-in? Was it to shore up the defensive line or pair somebody with defensive tackle Jarran Reed? Can you talk about where the Seahawks are as a team right now and what that move meant?
I wouldn’t necessarily call the acquisition of Williams going all in, but it’s certainly a sign that the front office and coaching staff believe they can be serious contenders this season. Since the beginning of the offseason there’s been a sector of the fanbase that has been very vocal about the need to add another big body in the middle of the defensive line, and preferably an impact player who could excel against the run and bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Hawks spent the offseason looking under every rock seeing where they might find an interior defensive lineman that could add to the defensive front. This included using a fourth round pick on Cameron Young of Mississippi State, signing former Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Roderick Perry and former XFL defensive lineman Austin Faoliu. So far, however, they simply haven’t found another big body that can contribute on the inside, as Young has played just 96 snaps through the first seven games, Perry was released months ago and Faoliu remains on the PUP list.
So, adding Williams gives the Hawks another big body in the middle of the defensive line to spell Jarran Reed when needed, and the Hawks are no longer resting their hopes for adding a body to the defensive line on Bryan Mone returning from the PUP list later in the season.
2. Looking over the Seahawks defensive unit, there appear to be big names at every level. Right now, the Seahawks defense ranks No. 15 by DVOA but with the addition of Williams and the team maybe not having yet gelled entirely, do you see this a unit on the rise? Why?
This is absolutely a unit on the rise, and, in fact, they’re exceeding my expectations for where I thought they would be at this point in the season. Between injuries, holdouts and other issues, there were so many players on the defense who did not even practice together until basically the start of the season. That includes Jamal Adams (quadriceps tendon), Jordyn Brooks (ACL), Devon Witherspoon (holdout, then hamstring injury) and Riq Woolen (offseason knee surgery), just to name a few, which meant that when they hit the field for games early in the season they had very little experience playing together. That inexperience showed, but since Week 4 the group has played at a very high level. How much of that is due to having faced the offenses of the Giants, Bengals, Cardinals and Browns during that span remains to be seen, but they’ve performed as needed, even if it hasn’t been against top flight offenses.
3. The Seahawks offense is among the top ten this season, and it looks like they’re not just a one-dimensional team, either. If you’re the Ravens defensive coordinator, how would you go about stopping or slowing down the Seahawks offense?
There have been two keys to slowing the Seahawks offense so far this season. The first has been to avoid giving up the long scoring play, and the second is to force the Seattle offense in to third and long enough that they need to throw the ball. Seattle entered the league with one of the youngest, least experienced offensive lines in the NFL in recent decades, and then injuries hit every single position in the group. Four of five Week 1 starters should be back on the field for the matchup against the Ravens, but it remains a group that is young and inexperienced enough that they struggle to pass protect on definite passing downs. The defenses that have given the Seattle offense the most problems so far in 2023 are those that have been able to consistently generate pressure on Geno Smith. Specifically, when teams have pressured Smith on greater than 40% of his dropbacks, the Seattle offense has averaged 16.75 points per game, compared to 29 points per game when Smith has been pressured on less than 40% of his dropbacks.
4. Who are two Seahawks players (one offense/one defense) Ravens fans should pay specific attention to in this game that aren’t household names?
I don’t know if Boye Mafe counts as a household name, but Ravens fans will almost certainly be familiar with his name by the end of the game Sunday. A second round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft he was buried on the depth chart as a rookie, but has absolutely surged onto the scene in 2023. He leads the Seahawks in pressures (23) and sacks (5.0), and has been very strong against the run as well.
When Seattle is on offense, it’s going to come down to how well the offensive line can protect Geno Smith, and in particular the right side of the line. That’s center Evan Brown, right guard is likely either Phil Haynes or Anthony Bradford, and right tackle is most likely to be Stone Forsythe, though Jake Curhan has also played there in Lucas’ absence, or the team could elevate Jason Peters (yes, that Jason Peters) from the practice squad for a rotation at either right guard or right tackle. In short, the center and right side of the line are likely to be the weak points where the Ravens look to create pressure on Smith in order to flummox the Seattle offense.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook set the line for this game at Ravens -6. Share why you agree/disagree.
I’d love to disagree, but this is a road game against an opponent with a very mobile quarterback, and so far this season mobile quarterbacks have given the Seattle defense absolute fits. This just feels like one of those games that will be close all afternoon, with the Ravens putting points on the board late to seal the victory at home.