Blue Friday Fodder: Wet Weather and OL Injuries Add Twist to Home Opener
We have been waiting for over a year to fill the house at Lumen Field and cheer on our Seattle Seahawks like only we do. The team kicks off the season with a highly encouraging road win to further fuel fan enthusiasm. Even the opponent cooperated by looking abysmal in their opener. If there are 100 possible outcomes for this game on Sunday, roughly 80-90 of them result in a Seahawks win. One factor that could potentially give the Titans a better chance would be weather. What began the week as a 50% of rain, has become an almost certain wet Sunday, with possible thunderstorms. That, plus some new injuries showing up on the Seahawks offensive line have made this game harder to prognosticate.
Can Shane save wet weather Russell?
Russell Wilson, for all his spectacular play, has struggled to play well in wet weather. I did a tedious study on his performance during the rain using NFL Weather data a few years ago.
That was the day before he went out and played Lamar Jackson and the Ravens on a rainy Seattle day and put up a painful 65.2 passer rating during a 30-16 loss to Baltimore.
Wilson has been able to succeed in the NFL at a smaller size in part due to his high release and large hands. You would think his hands would be a great attribute in wet weather, but that has not been the case. Pete Carroll has admitted to trying to convince Wilson to wear gloves during inclement weather, but Wilson has made it clear he does not like throwing with gloves.
It is not entirely clear what causes Wilson to struggle in wet weather, and if we had all the data, we may find he struggles no more than the average QB in those situations. We can speculate that a quarterback who excels in the deep passing game might be more impacted by slippery conditions than one who makes his living on shorter throws.
That is where Shane Waldron may bring a ray of hope to the stormy outlook. Waldron showed off a smart and varied offensive game plan against the Colts that had a high percentage of simple throws. Brock Huard, of 710 ESPN, estimated that more than half Wilson’s completions were throws that almost any quarterback could make, and that about five were elite. That was not meant as a dig to Wilson, but rather high praise for Waldron.
If the Seahawks can put Wilson in an offense where the majority of his throws, or even just a significant chunk of them, are repeatable and simple, they will be very hard to stop. We marveled as Sean McVay managed to turn Jared Goff from a complete bust of a #1 overall pick to a viable starting quarterback who played in a Super Bowl. The idea that Waldron can elevate an already elite Wilson even a fraction as much as McVay did with Goff is thrilling to any Seahawks fan.
This weekend could be a great proof point. If the weather does turn nasty, will we see Wilson still able to complete screen passes to tight ends and swings to running backs? One would hope.
It may also impact more than the passing game. Footing could be less sure, which favors misdirection plays on offense. The jet sweep action and general deception Seattle featured on Sunday could leave an already suspect and slow Titans defense in even worse position to tackle ball carriers like Chris Carson, Alex Collins and possibly Penny Hart, who is the likely substitute for injured Dee Eskridge.
The wet weather is a near certainty, so we should just embrace the chance to see if Waldron can further establish himself as the Seahawks biggest offseason addition.
Focus on the running game
Wet weather tends to bring the running game front and center. The Titans almost certainly are coming to Seattle with the intent to establish Derrick Henry and the ground game. The weather will only increase their resolve. The Tennessee offensive line was putrid in the first week. What most may not know is they were not a great pass blocking line last year either. They excel in run blocking.
Falling behind the score or the chains can put them in more obvious pass situations and exacerbate their pass blocking problems. That will mean Seattle needs to be ready to bring down one of the toughest backs in the game early and often.
Arizona did a great job of attacking Henry’s feet instead of tackling him up high. Seattle missed a few tackles in week one and will be challenged by the slippery conditions in addition to Henry’s raw strength.
Al Woods becomes a critical figure in that type of game. He may be the Seahawks best run stopper on the interior. Poona Ford and Bryan Mone will have their hands full as well. As much as Rasheem Green has earned praise for his pass rushing of late, he earned the second highest run defense grade among all interior NFL linemen in week one from ProFootballFocus. Only Cameron Heyward of Pittsburgh (89.6) had a higher grade than Green (80.6). J.J. Watt, by comparison, had a 76.9 grade.
This will also put a spotlight on linebackers Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks. They played well against the Colts, and will have multiple moments where they will be the deciding factor between a short gain and a long one.
Jamal Adams was used as a blitzer for most of last season, but many Seahawks fans may not realize he is one of the best run defending safeties in the sport. He is an expert at reading and defeating blocks, and is an excellent tackler. He finished as the second-highest graded safety in run support last week with a 76.2 run defense grade.
Seattle has the players and coaches to slow down Henry. That will not stop Tennessee from hammering him time and again.
Henry is not the only rushing threat in this game
While Henry deserves the attention he will get, Seattle is not exactly hurting when it comes to the running game. The combination of Carson and Collins could be the key to winning a wet game on Sunday.
The injury to Rashaad Penny opens the door for Collins to potentially secure the second running back spot the rest of the season. He looked electric in the final preseason game and this matchup sets up perfectly for him to be a major factor.
Both Carson and Collins are punishing runners who rarely go down on first contact. Add in slippery uniforms, limited visibility, and the newfound deception of Waldron’s offense, and it makes for a serious challenge for the Titans defense.
Unlike the Seahawks, who have a variety of players capable of slowing the run game, the Titans have precious few defenders capable of slowing anything.
Jeffrey Simmons is a good defensive tackle who is a quality run stopper. That is about it. Safety Ken Byard has his moments, but is slow. Their linebackers are trash. Their corners are small and not great tacklers.
There is every reason to be hopeful about a big ground game for Seattle. Carson and Collins just need to protect the football, something both have struggled with at times.
A few new names popped up on the injury report yesterday for Seattle. Most notably, starting left guard Damien Lewis (groin) and backup tackle/guard Jamarco Jones (knee) did not practice Thursday.
Neither had been listed on prior days, which indicates the injuries are new. That they did not practice on a Thursday puts them at higher risk of not being available for the weekend. This led to lots of speculation on Twitter by fans, but Pete Carroll did not meet with the media yesterday so nobody really knows whether either of the injuries are serious or the team was just being cautious.
This could be a lot of hand wringing for nothing. Let’s assume, for now, that both are unavailable this weekend.
It is always an issue to lose a starting lineman. The further complication is Jones would likely be the one to replace Lewis. That puts Seattle at third on their depth chart for left guard, with their fourth guard needing to be ready in case any others are injured.
With Ethan Pocic going on injured reserve, they are down another backup guard. Not only that, Jordan Simmons was signed by the Raiders off the Seahawks practice squad this week. He had started a number of games for Seattle the past couple of years. So who would start?
My bet would be that Phil Haynes will be elevated from the practice squad and start at left guard. Haynes shined during the preseason and was a surprise cut after initially making the roster. Not only is he capable of stepping in, but he very well could establish himself as a guy the team needs to sign to the active roster the rest of the way. Nobody should fear Haynes starting.
It does get sketchy after that. Dakoda Shepley was signed to be a backup center, but he might need to be available as a guard option. Jake Curhan made the roster as a tackle, but was cross-training at guard in training camp. He is unproven at that position. Stone Forsythe is a tackle, and it would be hard to picture him at guard. They may not have a choice, depending on who is healthy. The only other option would be Pier-Oliver Lestage from the practice squad, who has played both guard and center.
The team may choose to start Curhan over Haynes. That would be either a testament to Curhan or the latest in a string of confusing slights to Haynes, who finished as the third-best graded OL in the whole league during the preseason.
We will learn more this afternoon. The hope is both Lewis and Jones are available and play, or that at least one of them does.
If both are out, the Seahawks have some viable options to slide in there against a very bad Titans defense. You certainly would not want to lose either of these players for long.