Matchup: Seattle Seahawks vs. Buffalo Bills
Site: Rogers Centre (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
The Seahawks conclude their regular season road schedule north of the border in Toronto this week as they take on the Buffalo Bills. For the Bills, this is their annual “Bills Toronto Series” game which will take place at Rogers Centre; home of Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays. The Seahawks are riding in on a two-game winning streak and an 8-5 overall record. The Bills have not been as fortunate. Although they are still mathematically alive in the AFC playoff picture, they have a record of 5-8 and need a lot of help to make their microscopic playoff dreams a reality. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Bills 6-5. Their last meeting was kickoff weekend of the 2008 season when Buffalo trounced the Seahawks 34-10. This game is a must-win if the Seahawks want to keep their hopes of the NFC West title alive. Here are my focuses of this weekend’s game.
I think a lot of people look at last week’s 58-0 win over Arizona and expect our offense to keep its strong offensive momentum going against the Bills. I hate to break it to you 12th Man but there is no chance we will be nearly as dominant as last week you should still be satisfied if we are still able to move the ball and put up points at a normal rate. I look at the Chicago game two weeks ago to compare how to go about playing the Bills this week. There are two big things to look at this week on offense. First, the wide receivers. According to Coach Carroll, Sidney Rice is dealing with a bruised foot and has been held out of practice all week. Rice says he expects to play but his status is uncertain. He started the week with his foot in a boot. The boot has since come off but he is still questionable. If Rice can go, things will be normal on the outside and I could see Rice having a big game this week. If he cannot go, the wide receiver field will be somewhat switched up. Coach Carroll said in his Friday press conference that Charly Martin has been placed on injured reserve, ending his 2012 season. No receiver roster move was made after putting Martin on IR. Jermaine Kearse could see expanded playing time if Rice cannot play. I do not think Doug Baldwin will start because we will want to have some height starting on the outside. Let’s pray Rice will be able to play, since Kearse has not started a game in his NFL career.
Over the past three weeks, the Buffalo Bills have given up an average of 72 rushing yards per game. Before that stretch however, Buffalo had the worst run defense in the NFL. It is time for their run defense to get back to its original ways. Running back Marshawn Lynch is set to play in his first game against the Bills since he was traded from Buffalo to Seattle at the 2010 trade deadline. After a three touchdown performance last week I expect to see a lot of Lynch early this week. If Lynch gets off to a fast start, it is likely we will put up points, get out to an early lead, and be able to stick to the game plan and not make too many changes later on in the game. If the Bills are successful in stopping Lynch, the plan will change and I would not be surprised to see a lot of zone-read option plays where Russell Wilson tries to run.
With another appeal delay on tap, cornerback Richard Sherman is expected to play once again this week on defense. As with every road game, the biggest key this week is stopping the Bills offense especially on third down. This week the Seahawks appear to be healthy but two starters in the secondary have been hurt in practice this week. Cornerback Walter Thurmond is dealing with an ankle injury and safety Kam Chancellor is dealing with a groin injury. I am hoping both these guys can play but I believe Chancellor is the one guy who must play due to his ability to get to the play and stop the offense from gaining positive yards because he is such a hard hitter. Getting back to the defensive play on third down, I am hoping Bruce Irvin can have a big impact. Irvin leads all rookies in sacks with 8 and he himself predicted a double-digit sack season. If Irvin can record two sacks and get a couple more from a mix including Chris Clemons, Bobby Wagner, and Brandon Mebane, the defense will be in great shape.
The Buffalo Bills primary strength on offense is the running game. Buffalo holds the 6th best run offense in the league and this week due to the injury of Fred Jackson last week, the load will be entirely on C.J. Spiller. Spiller is a very talented running back who can be explosive especially if he gets loose. Spiller ranks first in the league in yards per carry with a 6.6 average. It will be very important for the Seahawks front four to penetrate Buffalo’s offensive line to make initial contact in the backfield to stop Spiller. Buffalo’s quarterback is Ryan Fitzpatrick who is averaging only 200 yards passing per game. Before last week against St. Louis, Fitzpatrick struggled as he did not throw for more than 168 yards in their prior 3 games and he has thrown only 4 touchdown passes in his last 4 games.
The Buffalo defense sports some great talent but their unit has been banged up as of late. The Bills biggest offseason acquisition was defensive end Mario Williams who signed a 6-year $100 million contract during the offseason. Williams is having a decent year but has arguably not lived up to the expectations of his contract. He has 37 total tackles and 10.5 sacks so far this season. Other than Williams, the Bills have other notable names staring on defense including Marcell Dareus, Nick Barnett, Jairus Byrd, Leodis McKelvin, and 2012 first-round pick Stephon Gilmore. Barnett and McKelvin are the two biggest names to keep an eye on because they have either not practiced or practiced on a limited basis this week. The Buffalo defense has the talent to make special plays happen. It will be up to Russell Wilson to exploit the flaws within this deep Buffalo defensive unit.
The biggest story in the Buffalo media this week is not the return of Marshawn Lynch surprisingly. Instead, it is the rumor that backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is not smart enough to handle the Bills offense. Jackson, who was acquired from the Seahawks at the end of training camp this year, has been Ryan Fitzpatrick’s backup all season and this week will be a unique tool for Chan Gailey and the Buffalo coaching staff to use to try to exploit the Seattle offense that he had learned prior to being traded. Gailey downplayed the notion that a player with ties to another team can help a whole lot in trying to predict what that team will throw at you. I think it will be really funny if Fitzpatrick has to leave the game and Jackson comes in to replace him.
Random Thoughts: The Seahawks have not won three road games in a given regular season since 2007… The Seahawks will debut the alternate grey uniforms this week. The jerseys will be paired with grey pants. According to seahawks.com this will be the only game the grey uniforms will be worn this season, which dashes my hopes of us doing a “grey out” for the San Francisco game… It will be nice to have this game be a 1:05 pacific kickoff for an east coast game. The last east coast game to start at 1:05 was the Carolina game in week 5. We won that game… The Bills have only won one game in their Toronto Series since it started. Their only win came last year against Washington. Let’s make sure that stat does not become a winning streak… How did Richard Sherman not win NFC player of the week last week? Two interceptions is not good enough for the NFL anymore?… Dick Stockton and John Lynch have the call for FOX this week. It’s nice to have a break from the inseparable duo of Chris Myers and Tim Ryan… The referee this week is Scott Green… This week’s game will be played in a dome and will most likely feature the smallest crowd at an NFL game this season. Rogers Centre only seats about 50,000 people anyway… Please New England, beat the 49ers on Sunday Night Football.
Prediction: The Seahawks should know what is potentially at stake this week. I do not see us losing focus, especially since we are coming off an impressive road win in Chicago and a complete annihilation of Arizona at home last week. This week, the offense will not be nearly as impressive but will put up a decent amount of points. The defense will struggle on third down like they usually do but they will be able to stop the Buffalo offense when it matters most.
Seahawks 31, Bills 17
Check back for my review of the Buffalo game and an updated playoff outlook on Monday afternoon. Enjoy the game everyone. Go Seahawks!