Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans
Site: Reliant Stadium (Houston, Texas)
The Seahawks now enter a brutal stretch where 4 of their next 5 games are on the road. This stretch starts Sunday when the Seahawks head to Houston to take on the defending AFC South champion Houston Texans. The Seahawks are 3-0 and are coming off a 45-17 butt-kicking of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans are 2-1 after a 30-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore last week. This is the third matchup all-time between the Seahawks and the Texans. They have split the two previous matchups. The last time they played was in 2009 when the Seahawks lost in Houston 34-7. That loss to the Texans was the first of 4 straight blowout losses that ultimately cost former head coach Jim Mora his job. We may look back on this game later this season and say this was one of the biggest tests of the season. Here are some things to watch for against the Texans this week.
The biggest key for the Seahawks to be successful on offense this week is to mobilize Russell Wilson. It may be a necessity considering the Seahawks offensive line and the talent Houston displays along the defensive line. All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt already has 3 sacks this season after recording a Texans team record 20.5 sacks last season. His size and strength gives him the ability to overpower the offensive line and get to the quarterback easier than a lot of other defensive players around the league. Having Wilson scramble to make throws could limit Watt’s role in Houston’s defensive game plan significantly. Wilson is the shortest quarterback Watt has ever played against so Wilson will also need to make sure to elevate his passes to prevent Watt from knocking them down. One other way to limit Watt’s impact is to be successful in the running game. The Seahawks have the highest running rate in the NFL so far this season (57% run, 43% pass). Getting Marshawn Lynch going early could benefit the entire offense to chew clock, score points, and rest the defense. If Lynch struggles, I believe Darrell Bevell will change to a more pass-heavy offensive scheme to try to improve the offense.
In my Jaguars review I briefly touched on how the Seahawks used many different receivers and how using all those weapons could come in handy against the Texans. Looking at Houston’s secondary, cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson are 5-11 and 5-10, respectively. Due to the undersized Texans secondary I am looking at Sidney Rice and Stephen Williams to make a big impact on the outside this week. Given the height advantage these two receivers have, Rice and Williams have the perfect opportunity to exploit Houston’s cornerbacks and gain large chunks of yards if Russell Wilson is confident enough to throw the ball in their direction. If Wilson is flushed out of the pocket, Doug Baldwin becomes an even bigger impact player. Lining up in the slot, Baldwin leads all Seahawks receivers with 177 receiving yards on the season. Baldwin is very good at improvising if plays are not executed as planned and he has an uncanny ability to get open if Wilson is looking downfield for a receiver while being chased. Keep an eye on these three receivers on Sunday.
On defense this week my focus isn’t really on individual matchups but on certain trends that need to come to fruition in order to be successful. The Seahawks tend to struggle a bit on the road no matter who the opponent is so the following things must happen to prevent our first loss of the season. First, they need to limit the number of penalties. On the road, penalties such as pass interference and personal foul penalties are called more often due to the reaction and influence of the home crowd. The Seahawks need to play clean football and make sure the defense can get off the field and the offense can stay on the field longer. Second, the defense needs to limit big plays. Fortunately for the Seahawks this point may not be as difficult as the common person would think. Starting Texans running back Arian Foster’s longest run of the season is only 16 yards and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ 30-yard catch against San Diego in week one is the longest catch by a Texans starting wide receiver this season. Third and most important, the Seahawks need to get off the field on third downs. In road games dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season (11 total), the opponent has converted 43.8 percent of third down opportunities. In road games dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season which resulted in a loss (6 total), the opponent converted 47.1 percent of third down opportunities. Although the margin between these numbers is small, they are both close to a 50 percent third down conversion rate which is utterly unacceptable. The Seahawks will not win this game if they cannot get off the field on third down. Stopping Foster, Andre Johnson, and running back Ben Tate is necessary in these situations because they are on the field for most of Houston’s third down chances.
In regards to the individual matchups between the Texans offense and the Seahawks defense, Arian Foster will face one of the best run stopping defenses in the NFL. Foster is averaging only 3.9 yards per carry so far this season. Wide receiver Andre Johnson is nursing an injured shin and will be a game-time decision on Sunday. If Johnson is active, he will line up across from Richard Sherman and DeAndre Hopkins will line up across from Brandon Browner. If Johnson is inactive, Sherman will defend Hopkins and Browner will defend the Texans number three receiver Lestar Jean.
When looking at the Houston Texans, most look directly at their defense and J.J. Watt. Although Watt is the most important player on defense for Houston, my Texans X-Factor player to watch this week is outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Mercilus, the Texans 2012 first round draft pick, is tied for the third most tackles by a Texans defender so far this season with 13. He also has one sack. Mercilus is the Texans weak-side linebacker meaning he will line up on the right side of the defensive formation and will blitz from Russell Wilson’s blind side. If Paul McQuistan struggles at left tackle this week for the Seahawks, Mercilus could wind up having a big day for the Texans solely from getting to Wilson behind the line of scrimmage.
Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will most likely wear white jerseys this week. I am not sure about our pant color… The nice thing about the Texans is that they post their uniform combinations for the entire season on their website. That makes it easier to know what we are going to wear opposite of them… Chris Myers and Tim Ryan have the call for FOX this week… Tony Corrente is the referee this week… I get the sense from a lot of my friends that 10am kickoffs in Seattle are kind of a pain in the ass. In Houston this week the game is a noon kickoff. The game I went to in 2011 in Dallas against the Cowboys was a noon kickoff and it was kind of too bad because I am used to going to Seahawks games here in Seattle at 1pm. It feels like the entire day gets going earlier when you go to a game that starts at noon… My hotel is walking distance from Reliant Stadium, much like my set up last season in Arizona. I’ll be pre-gaming in my hotel room instead of tailgating in the parking lots for the second straight year… On Saturday night a group called “Houston Seahawks” is organizing a 12th Man rally at a Buffalo Wild Wings a couple miles away from our hotel and I’m really excited for it. It will be cool to be in a different city but it will feel like I am right at home… I have seen 6 straight losses on the road. It would be nice to finally break that streak.
Prediction: This game will be close all the way until the end. Unfortunately, I think that J.J. Watt and the Houston defense will succeed in rattling Russell Wilson. The Texans will win the turnover battle 3-1 and it will feel like they will have a commanding lead in the game because of it, even though the game will be close. The Seahawks will get the ball one last time in the final two minutes but the final drive will stall at about midfield. The Seahawks will head home with their first loss of the season and for the 7th straight time, I will sit at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Monday afternoon disappointed (I hope I am wrong, obviously).
Texans 23, Seahawks 20
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Since I will not be around a computer all weekend I will not be able to post my Texans review until Tuesday afternoon most likely. Enjoy the game everyone! I’ll be sure to bring some 12th Man love to the lone-star state. Go Seahawks!