A first objective look at the Seahawks game this Sunday against the Chiefs led me to the same conclusion as Vegas oddsmakers: Seattle deserves to be an underdog. Their offense has been inconsistent and their defense lost its foundation against the run in Brandon Mebane. Kansas City is one of the toughest venues in sports and will be at full yell for a “prove it” game against the defending champs. Their offense makes few mistakes and their defense has been surprisingly excellent. But taking another look at these teams has painted a plausible path to what would be a season-altering win on Sunday for Seattle.
Chiefs injured as well
Kansas City will play without two of their top three receivers as Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins are out. Neither is an impact player, although Avery is really the only legitimate threat outside of Bowe at the receiver position. Even so, the change will give the Seahawks defense an even better chance to play aggressive press coverage at the line and either attack the dismal Chiefs pass-blocking offensive line or deploy Kam Chancellor, Kevin Pierre-Louis and K.J. Wright in short zones to take away the quick passing game. Likely we will see a mix of both.
Starting tight end Anthony Fasano has not practiced all week and is listed as questionable. Travis Kelce is a great young player who will get more snaps, but the second tight end would be Phillip Supernaw, a player the team signed just a week or two ago off a practice squad. Fasano is similar to Zach Miller for the Chiefs in that he is dependable and makes some key plays for them. A team that has very few receiver threats and relies on short passing will have some trouble if two of their top four receiving options (Avery, Fasano) are out without any quality options stepping in for them.
As good as Kelce may be, the Seahawks defense has proven it can take away a team’s top threat. And all this talk of tight ends torching Seattle is overplayed. Kam Chancellor is back. Malcolm Smith is probably back. Ask Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis how Seattle does defending the tight end when it is their focus.
The injuries don’t end there. The Chiefs defense will be without starting cornerback Jamell Fleming, and backups Phillip Gaines and Chris Owens are both listed as questionable. That means more Marcus Cooper. Cooper is ranked 104th out of 108 cornerbacks in the NFL by ProFootballFocus.com. The Chiefs do not even list another cornerback on their depth chart, so who knows how they will handle nickel? Most likely play more three safety with ex-Seahawk Ron Parker playing corner.
Seattle’s passing game has been bad, but this is not an intimidating secondary.
Terrible offensive line
Seahawks fans love to rail on their offensive line, but the Chiefs group is ranked 22nd by ProFootballFocus in pass blocking efficiency (Seattle is 16th) and 29th in run blocking (Seattle is 6th). Alex Smith has been sacked at a higher percentage of his dropbacks than all but four other starting QBs.
Somehow, the Chiefs still average 4.6 yards per rush, but a lot of that is pure dedication to running the ball. They are sixth in the NFL in rush attempts.
A Seattle defense crowding the line that can put all their focus on the run and short passes sounds a lot like the game plan that worked so well against the Broncos in the Super Bowl, and then again when the Broncos came to Seattle.
Suspect run defense
One thing nobody doubts with the Seahawks is their ability to run the ball. They are the best in the NFL, and will be facing the team ranked 31st in yards per carry against. Seattle has to like their chances of being able to establish a running game, which could be the key to controlling this game.
It will be cold and could even snow a little. Neither team is deadly through the air. Whichever team can get their ground game going will have a big advantage. It is hard to see where the Chiefs offensive line versus the Seahawks run defense is a better matchup than the Seahawks offensive line versus the Chiefs run defense. Even without Mebane, the Seahawks enter the game ranked best in the NFL in run defense. And the return of Chancellor only helps. They may not be as stout, but they should still be worlds better than what the Chiefs run out there.
It will not be lost on the Seahawks that they are the underdog and that many experts will be picking against them. This is a perfect “us against the world” scenario that this team feeds off of. The Chiefs have been gaining confidence in a very good stretch of football, and can’t be feeling too intimidated by the Seahawks passing game.
What happens if Russell Wilson returns to the spot where he won the starting quarterback position in 2012 and finds his form again? The Chiefs will not have many cornerbacks to combat it. The run defense will have its hands full. The offensive line will have trouble protecting Alex Smith.
This game may turn out to be more fun for Seahawks fans than many of us have been expecting.