Welcome to the Week 2 edition of What to Watch, where we take a look at a key matchup of position groups that are likely to effect the outcome of the game. The obvious candidate for this section would be a look at the Seahawks’ run game vs. Green Bay’s run D, but that is actually rather straight forward. I wanted to dig into something with a bit more meat on the bone, and perhaps I am just feeling pessimistic after last week’s game, so I am picking the spot most likely to lose Seattle the game.
Last week we looked at the coverage of the Rams vs the Seattle receivers, but this week we’re turning it around. Seattle’s Defense is highly efficient and effective, but an area of concern is the number of yards and big plays that TEs and RBs seem to pile up. Let’s take a look at those non-receiver pass catchers Green Bay has and the players Seattle will probably be counting on to stop them.
The Packers have Aaron Rodgers, who has a great argument for best QB in the NFL today. With that in mind, you better believe they will attempt to exploit the areas where St. Louis found success in Week 1. The question is, do they have the playmakers to pull it off? Well…the Rams did it with Nick Foles throwing to Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, and Benny Cunningham so maybe elite talent isn’t the biggest factor.
That being said, Green Bay does have some playmakers in Eddie Lacy at RB and Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless at TE. Against a suspect Chicago defense in Week 1 they combined for 5 catches as 41 yards, with Quarless not recording a single receiving stat on the day. If we dig a little deeper we can see some interesting facts emerge about these players last year.
In 2014, Eddie Lacy was a very good receiver working to the tune of 10.2 yards on average and catching 79.6% of balls thrown his way. Lacy established himself as a quality back in the receiving game, which makes him an every down back and a real weapon for the offense. That being said, in two games against Seattle last year he only had 3 catches averaging 3.7 yards each time. This gives two divergent thought patterns: will Lacy be a weapon as a better pass catcher than Benny Cunningham? Or, does Seattle have his number? I am inclined to believe that Lacy will show up and play, but I also think the Seahawks can hold him short of that 10.2 number from last season. If they can’t, it will be a really long day for the Seattle D.
Rodgers and Quarless each recorded receiving stats in 1 of the 2 Seattle games last year, combining to catch 7 passes for an average of almost 9 yards each. That is almost 2 yards less than their season average, but still is about a first down every time one of them gets the ball. This is the part where safety play will be big for Seattle as a lot of their catches come over the middle. If the zone is good it could really slow them down a lot and keep the big play away, if not they are good enough players to manage what Jared Cook did last week.
The 4 players most likely to be tasked with covering TEs and RBs for Seattle are ILB Bobby Wagner, OLB KJ Wright, OLB Bruce Irvin, and SS Dion Bailey. If it looked like they were being torched all day long last week, that is because they were. In Week 1 against the Rams those players combined to give up 10 receptions for 208 yards, which means on average they gave up a 20+ yard play whenever someone caught the ball against them. That is really bad.
However, it hasn’t always been bad for the Seahawks. Though they have been gashed in the past by RB and TE plays, over the course of the season those players did fairly well in coverage. Dion Bailey doesn’t have any real NFL stats outside of last week, so it is hard to say exactly how he will play but it is easy to imagine every game he will be a bit better and more comfortable. Bobby Wagner was 14th in the league among ILBs giving up catches on 71.4% of throws, but he finished in the top 5 allowing only 7.6 yards each time. The story is similar for KJ Wright, who ranked 8th in the league for a 4-3 OLB giving up catches on 70.8% of throws and 16th with 9 yards each time. Considering that Wagner and Wright combined to give up 24.2 yards per catch to the Rams, anything that even resembles a regression to the mean would be a massive improvement.
Bruce Irvin is a different sort of player than the other 3, as coverage is not really his primary job. Last week Irvin did surrender 1 catch for 30 yards, but in 2014 he was respectable giving up catches on just 64.7% of throws though he did give up 13.5 yards on average. Irvin’s primary role on passing downs is the pressure he helps provide, and with that being the case you have to take some of the big play bad with the big play good that he provides (like slamming the door on the Panthers last year).
Last week the team put the hurt on the Rams with 11 Hurries, 8 Hits, and 2 Sacks and pressure like that is key to helping these players rebound after looking so bad last week. If these numbers stay the same that is likely enough to make a difference. However, if Irvin and the rest of the pass rush crew can get a few more negative plays with sacks, it could allow for longer down and distance and that could really serve to help out a lot.
The other factor to consider are two players not necessarily covering TEs and RBs but altering the way coverage works for the Seahawks. If Earl Thomas has shaken off the rust and plays the whole game more like he played toward the end of the game it would mean very good things as having such a fast and instinctive safety serving as the lid shuts down a lot of big plays. Additionally, if Therold Simon is healthy that could allow the team to mix up coverage more as well as maybe tightening up what was a pretty leaky zone in Week 1.
So what I am seeing after writing everything down is that this is a big game of “ifs” for the Seahawks. IF Simon is healthy and able to play, and IF the pass rush continues to pile up great stats, and IF Bailey looks better and Earl Thomas has shaken the rust off, then I like the odds of looking better this week. However, the talent at RB is without a doubt better for Green Bay than it is for the Rams and that makes me worry a lot.
I think in the end I will stick with what I said in the podcast, this is not a team that often plays poorly in back to back games. I think the defense will recover and the pass rush will get home, but if they don’t this one could get ugly and the Packers could win by 2 touchdowns or more.