Monday, August 19, 2013

A Few Things I Think After Two Preseason Games

Seattle has played two preseason games. So has the rest of the league. There is a limit to what can be learned from games that don't count, but here are some thoughts with what information I have.

Lotulelei is going to push K.J. Wright

Special Teams may decide the division

So much is made about the offense and the defense, and for good reason. They dominate the majority of the game. However, the special teams can easily be the difference in a game or two during the season. Look around the NFC West, and you will see an offense in Seattle and San Francisco that have similar potential. The Rams are building a more prolific offense (more on that below), and the Cardinals are dangerous with a competent passer throwing a ball anywhere in the vicinity of Larry Fitzgerald. The defenses of St. Louis, Seattle and San Francisco are all bunched together near the top of the NFL. Look at the special teams, though, and the separation starts to appear. FootballOutsiders.com had the Seahawks as the 3rd-best ST in the NFL last season. Rick Gosselin has been ranking special teams units in the NFL for 33 years, and he had the Seahawks as 5th in the NFL last year. In both rankings, the Rams, 49ers and Cardinals trailed by varying degrees, with some as low as 20th. The 49ers special teams looks out of sorts again through two preseason games, allowing big returns. Their kicking game can only improve after David Akers disastrous season, but their coverage teams look suspect. The Seahawks supreme depth, down to 70 or 80 deep on the roster, and great coaching from Brian Schneider, has that unit looking like it could rule the league in 2013. Great returns in punt and kick teams in both games. Flawless coverage, coupled with a great kicking tandem leaves the fewest questions about this group than any other in the division. 

Sam Bradford and the new Rams offense

Bradford has a career average of 6.3 yards per attempts. That is dismal. Dink and dunk quarterbacks would be insulted if Bradford was called dink or dunk. That has changed in a dramatic way through two games in the preseason. Bradford leads all quarterbacks (minimum 20 attempts) in YPA at 12.9. That is a Nintendo number. He already has two passes of over 40 yards, including a 57-yarder that was an absolute dime to the best speed receiver nobody knows in Chris Givens this weekend. He had eight passes over 40 yards all last season. He is doing it without sacrificing accuracy as his completion percentage is up to 65% from 59% last year. Small sample sizes and all that, but he looks like a player ready to make a step forward. I was not as wowed by Tavon Austin as I think I am supposed to be, but I still love Givens and TE Jared Cook. The running game remains the biggest question mark, both in blocking and in RB talent.

Eddie Lacy makes the Packers a different team

If you have not seen footage of Lacy against the Rams this weekend, find it. He runs with a determination that resembles a Beast in our backyard. Hard to tackle and possessing quick feet for a strong man, Lacy will make Aaron Rodgers that much more dangerous. He is the kind of runner that can make an offensive line look better than it really is.

Seahawks pass rush lacks individual dominance

This observation comes with the caveat of not seeing Bruce Irvin or Cliff Avril in a game with the Seahawks, but there does not appear to be a dominant individual rusher on the roster. That one guy that offensive coordinators and line coaches have to account for on every play is nowhere to be seen so far. Chris Clemons was very good, but never dominant. Justin Smith dominates. Darnell Docket dominates. Chris Long can dominate. None of this dooms the Seahawks pass rush, as Clemons collected 11 sacks for three straight seasons without being dominant, and there is a ensemble cast of characters of differing skills that will improve the rush. I just do not see a pass rush that will wreak havoc when rushing four just yet. It would be incredibly valuable to see Irvin and Avril suit up this week in Green Bay. Irvin is the biggest wild card as Dan Quinn's ability to rush at less expected times with Irvin at SAM could be the key to elevating the rush.

Steven Hauschka looks locked in

The only kick I've seen Hauschka miss through all the training camp practices and the two games, was a 60-yarder that hit the upright. He looks like he is on a mission.

Matt Flynn is going to get hurt

There is no way Flynn will survive the beating he is going to take behind that Raiders offensive line. They were atrocious versus the Saints, and Flynn is just not that big of a dude. He acquitted himself well by standing strong and leading a touchdown drive to end the first half after getting pinballed for the first 25 minutes of the game.

Dallas may win the NFC East

The Cowboys defense looks much improved over last year, and the offense is committed to a more physical style. The Eagles, Giants and Redskins all have real questions to answer, despite the HTTR crowd that expects Robert Griffin III to levitate to the end zone on his way to 1,000 TDs and 500K yards of offense. That defense is far from reliable. 

K.J. Wright has not flashed at WILL

Wright has been asked to play all of the linebacker positions thus far in this three year career. He did well at MIKE and SAM, but never truly broke out to be a Pro Bowl player. I thought his shift to WILL would be the ticket to far more plays and tackles, as he is among the best open-field tacklers on the team. He has been nondescript thus far in practice and in games. He looks a step slower than last year, and had a cast on his arm in the last game. It may be a transition, or injury, or hopefully just a rope-a-dope approach to get himself ready for the regular season, but he should be aware that there is now real talent behind him. John Lotulelei is ready to start on this defense, and the only thing holding him back is a highly talented player like Wright starting ahead of him. This could turn into a rotational position during the season to try and find snaps for Lotulelei, and the contrast in production could lead to a surprising demotion if Wright does not pick it up considerably.

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