As documented earlier in the week, this weekend's matchup against Oakland is the Seahawks first test playing as a division leader under the leadership of Head Coach Pete Carroll. Playing this unfamiliar role, the Hawks look to build on the momentum of a two game winning streak; the team will rely on a blend of superior energy and competitiveness mixed with a sound, disciplined game plan, hoping to extend the streak to three. The defense looks to carry the momentum that was established last week into Oakland, both continuing the units' stellar play and providing a spark for the rest of the team, especially the offense, to feed off.
For the offense to be successful the unit needs to start the game both sharp and unpredictable. Based on the Seahawks offensive performance last week against Arizona, it may seem a little off kilter to say this weekend the offense's first drive needs to replicate last Sunday's first offensive drive. The truth is, however, I was pleased with the play calling and execution of the offense on the first drive; The Cardinals defense was off balance as the Seattle offense spread the ball around, immediately trying to get all weapons involved and in sync. After two consecutive running plays resulted in a first down to start the game, the Seahawks threw to Leon Washington out of '11' (1 RB- 3WR-1TE) shotgun formation, the play ending in an incomplete pass; Lynch ran for 39 yards off left tackle the next play. In last week's entry The Bears to The Birds, I advocated for involving Washington in the passing game out of the backfield on first and second downs simply to keep the defense a bit more off balance and further open the power running game; this 2 play sequence exemplifies the possibility. The offense continued its aggressiveness throughout the drive, ultimately working its way to the goal line, but also losing Left Tackle Russell Okung along the way. Sitting first and goal, a tackle down, the offense proceeded to stall and the drive resulted in a field goal. While it's impossible to say, given the strong offensive game plan shown on the first drive, I do not believe the offense would have struggled nearly as much as it did last week had Okung not been hurt. The offense flashed new wrinkles when it had a healthy first unit on the field, and there is no reason to believe that this week's game plan won't involve new wrinkles, with a healthy offense, as well.
In my last post, I mentioned the success the San Francisco 49ers had when motioning out of Trips formation into a standard 1RB-4WR set and how emulating the 49ers could result in success for the Seahawks this weekend. One key element of the 49ers game plan was using Tight End Vernon Davis on the inside of the Trips, attracting the attention of the safeties and opening lanes for the receivers both underneath and downfield. Given this week's increased attention on the role of John Carlson I believe there is opportunity to get him, as well as Leon Washington, involved in the offense. Stacking Williams, Washington and Carlson on one side of the formation will dictate where the defense focuses coverage, ultimately leaving Washington open on short routes to the outside or Carlson more room to work over the middle. As the Seahawks have been struggling to spread the ball around, I believe its imperative to get both players involved early and often, as they have previously shown the ability to consistently pick up small chunks of yardage and move the chains. Furthermore, rotating Lynch and Forsett in the backfield of this particular formation will keep the defense even more off balance, as both backs can win a 1 on 1 battle with a defender, via handoff, en route to the second level or motion out wide as a fifth receiver, further confusing the defense with an empty backfield 2 RB-2WR-1TE formation. The Seahawks have the ability to use power to overwhelm the Raiders' speed, such as getting the ball into the hands of our polished receiving backs in matchups vs. corners or safeties. The 49ers showed how a combination of speed and strength can neutralize the speed of the Raiders defensive backfield, and I believe Sunday's game presents the Seahawks offense with an opportunity to use the units' speed and strength in a new, potentially explosive manner.
The defense must bring the same energy as last week for the Seahawks to leave Oakland victorious this weekend; The Seahawks need to avoid the letdown that can often follow a very strong performance, similar to the situation the Oakland offense is facing this week. Darren McFadden and Zach Miller are the two players the Hawks defense must focus on neutralizing if the unit is to avoid a letdown Sunday.
McFadden has proven to be very versatile out of the backfield, consistently catching passes and scoring touchdowns in the passing game, while Miller has shown to be the team's most consistent receiver. McFadden achieved ample success both running and receiving behind the left side of the offensive line last week vs. Denver; a major piece of this week's defensive game plan should be focused taking away the productivity McFadden provides out of the backfield, especially on the edge, and disrupt the rhythm he was able to establish in running behind the left side of the line. I will continue to note the importance of stopping the screen game for this Seattle defense, as the Raiders are very capable of exploiting the lack of discipline the Seahawks have shown against the screen game. Miller provides a threat to the middle of the Seahawks defense on all levels of the field, an explosive, consistent Tight End that can stretch the middle and provide matchup problems. The Seahawks defense needs to let Earl Thomas continue to play Center field and not get forced into providing help in the middle against Miller. Taking away McFadden and Miller will allow the defense to focus on forcing less proven players to step up and make plays for the Raiders, a philosophy that should prove helpful in creating pressure against the Raider offensive line.
Injuries will play a role in the outcome of this week's matchup of the Seahawks defense vs. the Oakland offense. The Raiders are without their top two receivers: Louis Murphy, Oakland's leading receiver, and #2 Chaz Schilens; 2nd year, top 10 draft pick Darrius Heyward Bey and rookie Jacoby Ford will be responsible for creating plays down the field for the Raiders. On the other side, Seattle is hoping to be down one Cornerback, at best. One player who I have been waiting to see in regular season action is former Miami Dolphins Corner Nate Ness who was acquired in the preseason; he is big, physical and talented, but raw. Roy Lewis said if he (Lewis) were to start, he'd still slide back inside in the nickel package with Nate Ness taking over at the corner. Lewis, "I've become a third down expert. Now, it's a whole different dynamic. The vision changes, the technique changes and the mental game changes." If Jennings and Thurmond are out Sunday, Ness' performance will be crucial in successfully defending the Oakland passing game, as the Seahawks must force the Raiders to feature their young receivers, and ultimately force mistakes.
Sunday's game in Oakland is a true toss up. The team that is most composed, fundamentally sound and ready for adversity is going to win the football game. It's a game of two, inconsistently even teams looking to rekindle an old rivalry and gain a game in their respective divisions, both sides knowing that only one is going to frighten the rest, especially on Halloween.