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Rams/Seahawks Preview

28 Dec
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Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

After losing to the Arizona Cardinals last week, the Seattle Seahawks have a third and final chance to clinch the NFC West division title and home field advantage throughout the playoffs this week against the St. Louis Rams. The Seahawks come into this week’s game at 12-3 after last week’s loss and the Rams enter Seattle having won 4 of their last 6 games. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Rams 19-12 and have won the last two games including a 14-9 win in week 8 in St. Louis on Monday Night Football. It is also noteworthy to point out that the Rams currently have an 8-game losing streak in Seattle. Their last win at CenturyLink Field came on January 8th, 2005 in an NFC Wild-Card playoff game. This week’s game has become the biggest game of the season and I expect and anticipate a playoff-type atmosphere on Sunday. This is what will be in the way and what the Seahawks must do to be the 2013 NFC West champions.

Forget about how well the defense played. Forget about the bad calls that went against us. The primary reason why we were unable to win and clinch last week was the inept play by the Seahawks offense. Protecting quarterback Russell Wilson is by far the most important thing the Seahawks must do in order to be successful this week. J.R. Sweezy has been practicing this week and it is logical to believe he will be back starting at right guard, adding stability to a position that was a brutal weakness last week with Michael Bowie filling in. As important as the running game will be with Marshawn Lynch this week, it is the Seahawks passing game that will need to step up to move the ball in chunks, extend drives, and get into scoring range on a more consistent basis. Last week Arizona forced 7 Seahawks three-and-outs, which was a significant factor in Arizona being able to control the clock and tire our defense out. If the Seahawks offensive line does a sub-par job protecting Wilson, look for the Seahawks to utilize a screen pass package that could feature Golden Tate on bubble screens and Marshawn Lynch on conventional screens out of the backfield.

The Seahawks defense has not allowed more than 20 points in a game since before the bye week. This week, in an effort to improve exposed aspects of our defensive game plan last week, it is imperative that the Seahawks must be able to stop Rams running back Zac Stacy. Stacy has been on a tear as of late, running for 133 yards and 104 yards in the last two weeks respectively. Stacy also ran for his season high 134 rushing yards against the Seahawks back in October. Although St. Louis quarterback Kellen Clemens has been playing decent football since starting quarterback Sam Bradford got hurt that does not diminish the fact that Clemens will have to play in front of a revved up 12th Man that will be at full roar on Sunday hoping to boost the Seahawks into the division title. The Seahawks have intercepted 9 passes in their last two games and putting pressure on Clemens could significantly up that number this week. This is why Stacy becomes such a viable weapon for St. Louis and by eliminating Stacy’s production and forcing Kellen Clemens to throw will give the Seahawks a tremendous advantage this week. Look for the Seahawks pass rush to also make an impact on the left side of the Rams offensive line, as starting left tackle Jake Long is out for the season. Rodger Saffold will start in place of Long this week.

The last time these two teams played, the St. Louis Rams defense did a surprisingly incredible job of shutting down a Seahawks offense that had been rolling in their previous few games. It was this game that the Seahawks were unfortunately introduced to defensive end Robert Quinn. Quinn is currently the NFL leader in sacks with 18, racking up 5 sacks in his last two games, thus he comes into Seattle very hot. The way the Rams control this game is to make life miserable for Russell Wilson. And the way Seattle blocked against Arizona will not cut it this week as the Rams pass rush may be one of the league’s best right now. The Rams like to use pressure early and they will use packages that include Quinn, defensive end Chris Long, defensive end William Hayes, and defensive tackle Michael Brockers. Quinn will be the primary focus of the Seahawks offensive line and it would not surprise me to see Quinn line up at defensive tackle to try to penetrate the soft spots in the Seahawks offensive line. Double teaming Robert Quinn will be necessary at times but being able to harness the rest of the Rams pass rushers will make it easier for the Seahawks to take care of Quinn.

On offense for the Rams there will be a gigantic emphasis on the running game because St. Louis averages less than 200 passing yards per game this season. If the running game cannot pick up steam, quarterback Kellen Clemens will be forced to throw. Much like how I think Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense can effectively run screen passes this week, I think the same goes for the Rams. Kellen Clemens does not want to throw into the Legion of Boom and being able to play conservatively in the passing game could benefit the Rams offense overall. Using screen passes could be the best way to move the ball through the air this week and my X-Factor player to watch this week is a man who has suddenly become Clemens’s most popular target; wide receiver Stedman Bailey. Bailey is a rookie wide receiver from West Virginia and was taken two rounds after his college teammate Tavon Austin was also taken by St. Louis. With a season-ending injury to Austin, Bailey has seen significant playing time and has seen an increasing number of targets over the past 4 weeks. Last week Bailey led all Rams receivers in targets with 5, catching 3 of them for 44 yards. Bailey is short yet quick and I consider him a possible Doug Baldwin/Golden Tate hybrid. Using Bailey in the quick passing game is what I will look for this week while the Rams are on offense. If the Rams decide to throw bubble screens, expect Bailey to be the top target on the outside.

Like I previously stated earlier in this post, after last week’s loss the sense of urgency this week has blossomed from easy comfort to overblown panic. To all of the fans, especially those attending this week’s game, I remind you that we still control our own destiny but the Seahawks need us to do our part now more than ever. The 12th Man needs to enter CenturyLink Field on Sunday with the belief that this is a playoff game. I expect an extremely loud atmosphere (even for a Sunday afternoon game) that will make St. Louis struggle as badly as San Francisco and New Orleans did in primetime atmospheres. Plain and simple, this is a playoff game. Get to your seats with plenty of time to spare during pregame and cheer and yell like it is a playoff game.

Random Thoughts: This week’s game theme is fan appreciation and the Seahawks will be giving away tons of prizes throughout the game. I haven’t won anything on fan appreciation day since 2008… Last season the Seahawks chose 60 season ticket holders randomly to be on the field for player introductions. If they are doing it again this year I didn’t get picked. Oh well… The Seahawks will wear all blue this week and the Rams will likely wear white jerseys and white pants… Chris Myers and Tim Ryan will broadcast their final Seahawks game of the season this week on FOX… Jeff Triplette is this week’s referee. Triplette’s crew has been rather controversial this year. In a Sunday night game between the Giants and the Redskins a few weeks ago, Triplette’s crew incorrectly told Redskins coach Mike Shanahan that they moved the chains for a first down but they really had not gained enough yards for a first down. The Redskins could not convert and the Giants won the game… This week I am taking my sister to a Seahawks game for the first time since her birthday in 2008. This is also the first time I’ve taken a family member other than my Dad to a game since then. She recently turned 21 so I will be able to show her what a normal gameday is like when I take my friends. Pregame at the Hawks Nest Bar starts at 9am… Shortly after the afternoon slate of games the NFL usually releases the schedule for both Wild-Card weekend and Divisional weekend. The Seahawks will likely know what day and what time they play their first playoff game by 5pm Sunday night. Congratulations to Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Max Unger, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas for being named to this year’s Pro Bowl and congratulations to Russell Okung, Golden Tate, and Steven Hauschka for being named Pro Bowl alternates. However, hopefully they trade their trip to Hawaii for a trip to New York to play in the Super Bowl instead.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: As we enter the final week of the regular season there are 3 scenarios that could determine the Seahawks road to Super Bowl XLVIII.

Scenario #1: A Seahawks win clinches the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.

Scenario #2: A Seahawks loss and a 49ers loss to Arizona clinches the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.

Scenario #3: A Seahawks loss and a 49ers win over Arizona clinches the NFC West for San Francisco; the Seahawks would be the #5 seed in the NFC Playoffs.

The NFC North and NFC East division titles will be decided by win-or-go-home games that will determine who will be the #3 and #4 seeds.

The Carolina Panthers can clinch the NFC South and the #2 seed with a win over Atlanta. The New Orleans Saints can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Tampa Bay. New Orleans wins the NFC South with a win and a Carolina loss.

Here are this week’s games with NFC playoff implications. Teams to note are bolded.

St. Louis (7-8) at Seattle (12-3)

Carolina (11-4) at Atlanta (4-11)

San Francisco (11-4) at Arizona (10-5)

Green Bay (7-7-1) at Chicago (8-7)

Tampa Bay (4-11) at New Orleans (10-5)

Philadelphia (9-6) at Dallas (8-7)

Prediction: This game will feature shades of our first game against St. Louis and last week’s game against Arizona. The Seahawks offense will struggle to get going and the Rams will have the lead at halftime. A couple of big gains in the passing game and a touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch from just outside the goal line will give the Seahawks a late lead. The defense will play a consistent game throughout the day and they will step up when we need them to the most. The Rams will need to put together a touchdown drive in the final minutes to win the game but Richard Sherman will pick off Kellen Clemens, giving the Seahawks the win, the NFC West title, and home field advantage.

Seahawks 21, Rams 16

Check back for my Rams/Seahawks review as well as a brief outlook on the start of the NFL Playoffs on Sunday night. Thanks for reading and enjoy the game. Go Hawks!

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Combine Thoughts Part One

6 Mar

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*I have split my combine review and thoughts into two parts. The first part is my thoughts on the offensive players who participated*

The NFL Scouting Combine took place last week where I counted over 325 players participated in both the on-the-field football drills and the off-the-field team interviews. At the combine, a player’s draft stock can either rise or fall depending on how they perform on the field and if they can impress coaches and general managers in a meeting room. This year’s broadcast and coverage of combine drills put a focus on the 40-yard dash, bench press, and various football drills depending on the position. Of course I am not a part of the coaching staff or front office so I can only judge character and off the field traits based on what I hear. I can only go off of what I see.

The first two days of the 2013 combine focused on offensive players. I have noted some players who I believe helped themselves at the combine and who I would have an eye on for the Seahawks to draft; broken down by position. An example of a player who can help their draft stock is a player who can put up above-average numbers in both the 40-yard dash and bench press. Those two drills are the most important activities in my eyes.

Offensive Line

Jeff Baca (UCLA)

David Bakhtiari (Colorado)

Emmett Cleary (Boston College)

Reid Fragel (Ohio St.)

Rogers Gaines (Tennessee St.)

Eric Herman (Ohio)

Joe Madsen (West Virginia)

Vince Painter (Virginia Tech)

Brian Schwenke (California)

J.C. Tretter (Cornell)

With offensive lineman my number one priority is strength. I like an offensive lineman at the combine who can do at least 27 bench press reps. In my opinion I do not believe any of these lineman will be picked in the first round. I am looking for value at this position much like was the case with J.R. Sweezy last season. The guys on this list who really caught my eye were Vince Painter and Brian Schwenke. Painter was one of only four offensive linemen at the combine who ran a 40-yard dash under five seconds. He also tied for 5th for most bench press reps among his position group. A guy who can put up numbers in the top 5 in both categories is a guy whose stock will rise and a guy I would be interested in for the Seahawks to take a look at. Brian Schwenke may be one of the best guards available in this year’s draft and is currently projected to be a 2nd round pick. He is a Pac-12 guy so Coach Carroll may be more familiar with him than other prospects. Schwenke could be a guy who could challenge Paul McQuistan for the starting LG spot.

Tight End

Chris Gragg (Arkansas)

Vance McDonald (Rice)

Dion Sims (Michigan St.)

With the signing of TE Darren Fells, I think it is safe to say the Seahawks will not be in the market to take a tight end early in the draft. You can scratch both Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz off the board. I think it would still be possible to add more competition to the tight end position later on in the draft. Any of these three guys I think I would like to see in Seattle. I think another vertical threat would help Russell Wilson. If Fells does not pan out, it will be interesting to see how the Seahawks attack the tight end position in this year’s draft.

Quarterback

E.J. Manuel (Florida St.)

Matt Scott (Arizona)

I am split on Matt Flynn. I think he is a reliable backup in the event Russell Wilson gets hurt but he runs a different offensive package. Without a third quarterback currently on the roster I think it would be beneficial to bring in another athletic quarterback who could step in and mirror Wilson’s offense. These are the only two quarterbacks I would be interested in. E.J. Manuel was the MVP of the Senior Bowl and ran the second fastest 40-yard dash behind potential top 5 pick Geno Smith. Manuel is expected to be a 2nd or 3rd round pick. Matt Scott was a player who surprised me. He ran a sub 4.70 40YD and looked pretty good in the on-the-field quarterback drills. If Scott is still available in round 5, I think it is realistic to think the Seahawks could use a pick on Scott.

Running Back

Giovani Bernard (North Carolina)

D.J. Harper (Boise St.)

Onterio McCalebb (Auburn)

Kerwynn Williams (Utah St.)

The Seahawks have their franchise running back set in stone with Marshawn Lynch. They also have their 3rd down power back locked in with Robert Turbin. Leon Washington is still a solid kick returner but is getting older. Could it be time to start thinking about replacing Washington? These four guys I think could have the potential to come into Seattle and make an impact in 2013. My spotlight is on Onterio McCalebb. McCalebb ran unofficial 40YD times of 4.27 and 4.21; the fastest running back at the combine. His stock is sure to rise but imagine him returning kicks for the Seahawks. With his speed and footwork (which looked good in running back drills), McCalebb could be a nightmare for defenders to try to tackle and he could set the Seahawks up for great field position. Kerwynn Williams could be a guy to keep an eye on because he was teammates with Robert Turbin in college.

Wide Receiver

Marcus Davis (Virginia Tech)

Mark Harrison (Rutgers)

Justin Hunter (Tennessee)

Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee)

Da’Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech)

In my opinion, unless an offensive lineman projected to be a top 15 pick falls to the Seahawks at 25th overall, the only offensive position the Seahawks will be looking at in the first round is wide receiver. I am really high on both Tennessee receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. Patterson and Hunter are 6’2” and 6’4” respectively and could be long, tall vertical threats that could line up opposite Sidney Rice. In order to draft Patterson the Seahawks will have to trade up and given the conservative draft strategy of general manager John Schneider it is highly unlikely that will happen. The only way I see us trading up to take Patterson is if Patterson really impressed the Seahawks in his combine interview and if the price is right to pull the trigger on a trade. Hunter is a more realistic pick. Hunter is projected to be a mid-2nd or early 3rd round pick and could be one of our choices on day two of the draft. I like Hunter because of his leaping ability. He tied for first in the vertical jump among wide receivers with a jump of 39.5 inches. I think we need another tall receiver who can jump high to make catches.

Tomorrow I will post part two of my combine thoughts. Part two focuses on the defensive participants.