The Seahawks return home to Qwest in week 12 of the NFL season to host the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs. As I noted in my last post, the Seahawks are going into the final six games of the season looking to surge into the postseason. Coach Pete Carroll noted in his Wednesday press conference, "The seasons have changed this week; it feels like we are shifting into the final stretch. We know this weekend is a great opportunity against another division leader and this is a championship game for us." The 6-4 Chiefs are only 1-4 on the road, as they too enjoy one of the most advantageous home fields in Arrowhead Stadium and rely on their crowd to help them win games. Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley noted his team is in a "tough stretch and trying to push through the marathon" that is the NFL season. The last time the Seahawks played a home game was the Charlie Whitehurst experiment against the Giants; since, Matt Hasselbeck has since excelled running the offense, especially the passing game, but Carroll still uses phrases such as "very, very good" and "suspect" to describe the Jekyll and Hyde nature of our defense. The Seahawks begin the push to the finish, looking to fix the defense and continue to rely on the passing game.
Can the Offense continue to carry the team?
Rotating receivers: The expected absence of Mike Williams changes the approach of the Seahawks passing game, one that has thrived the past two weeks by using Mike Williams as the centerpiece. The Seahawks must rely on rotating receivers and finding matchups to move the ball; they need to find a way to convert short throws on the outside on first and third down, a crucial element of the passing game added by Williams. Golden Tate returns from injury and will have an opportunity to make plays after the catch as he will be involved in the passing game, much like he was when Williams was hurt in Oakland. Brandon Stokely is the veteran Hasselbeck trusts, especially on third down. One remaining question is do the Seahawks have plans for Leon Washington to play a role in the offense; Williams' absence provides an opportunity to try. Hasselbeck finds his most effective tempo when the passing game is built around short passes and quick drops to set up downfield throws; he is best when he can orchestrate the offense on the move. The Chiefs are most likely without top Cornerback Brandon Flowers, putting more pressure on rookie Safety Eric Berry to continue his solid play. Furthermore, the Seahawks need to attack rookie corner Javier Arenas who is likely to see more playing time in Flowers' absence. Hasselbeck and Stokely must efficiently lead our young offense and if the offense hopes to take advantage of a very young Chiefs Secondary.
Attack Tamba Hali: Hali is the Chiefs best pass rusher, a 3-4 outside linebacker that has 8 sacks for the Chiefs this season. He is explosive off the edge and can cause havoc for the Offensive Tackles, but is poor in pass coverage. To neutralize his aggressiveness, the Seahawks need to use screens and quick Tight End throws to his area of the field to slow down his pass rush; by throwing over his rush, the Chiefs will be forced to alter their pressure package. Furthermore, the return of Fullback Michael Robinson will allow John Carlson to become more involved in the passing game and should be used as a counter to Hali; continuing to use Justin Forsett as a receiver out of the backfield on first and second down, helping him get to the 22 touches I advocated for in my last post, will further help slow down Hali's pass rush. The Seahawks can succeed in the short and intermediate passing game if Tamba Hali can be blocked.
Welcome Back Michael Robinson: The Fullback, one of the Seahawks most complete, versatile and tough players, returns from a hamstring injury after a four game absence and will provide a much needed boost in helping the offense consistently run the football. The former Penn State Quarterback prides himself on being a multifaceted player, a special team's ace, that does anything needed to win. His presence should help restore the "Beastmode" mentality the running game has been lacking; Robinson must be effective in blocking Defensive End Tyson Jackson, who has problems recognizing his assignment against zone blocking offenses, and Inside Linebacker Derrick Johnson for Marshawn Lynch to find holes to run downhill and attack the line of scrimmage. Expect the Seahawks to use Robinson in running behind the left side of the offensive line especially as Guard Mike Gibson returns from injury to replace the injured Chester Pitts; if the Seahawks are to score touchdowns Sunday running the football, Robinson must be effective.
Can the defense recapture early season effectiveness?
Stop Thomas Jones: The Chiefs running game is a two headed attack led by the 11 year veteran. He has received 19 or more carries in six of ten games this season, averaging approximately 4.5 YPC in those games; Jones is an extremely reliable option on all downs and will test the inside of the Seahawks Defensive Line. Defensive Tackle Junior Siavii must play a large role in disrupting the middle of the Chiefs All-Pro Offensive Line and the Linebackers must stay disciplined in playing their assigned gaps. The toughness of Jones opens lanes for Jamaal Charles in both the running and passing games; the Pro Bowl third year player has had 19 carries only once, but has had three or more catches in seven games, with a catch of 20 yards or more in six games; Three of Jones' four worst games came in losses. The balance Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis achieves by using his backfield is dynamic and versatile. The "Coal Miner's Son" Jones is the key to consistently moving the ball.
The Chiefs miss Arrowhead: Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis has revamped this Chiefs offense, as the unit ranks in the top 10 in scoring and total yards per game, while committing a NFL-low seven turnovers. However, the Chiefs offense is averaging 6.6 fewer points on the road, and their league-best rushing attack is cut in half, in terms of yards, in road games. Coach Carroll noted earlier in the week his familiarity with Chiefs Quarterback Matt Cassel, as Carroll coached him when he was the backup to Matt Leinart at USC; Cassel has been extremely responsible with the ball, always a major point emphasis for Coach Carroll, and made it difficult for opposing teams to win the turnover battle. As always, the Seahawks need to exploit home field and force Cassel to make mistakes. The Chiefs are in a tough position coming into Qwest as a poor road team and the Seahawks need to take full advantage of the mismatch.
A new personnel package: The Seahawks have done a good job of mixing personnel this season, notably resulting in the creation of the 7 Defensive Back "Bandit" formation. The matchup Sunday against the chiefs brings the need for a personnel combination that can cover 2 Wide Receivers, 1 Running back and 1 Tight End while still pressuring the Quarterback. While Coach Carroll noted that Lofa Tatupu feels the best he has in weeks as he was able to practice this week, I still believe David Hawthorne and Will Herring give the Seahawks versatility in covering Runningbacks and Tight Ends, a major strength of the Chiefs passing game, and help provide a backbone for the Defensive Line in the running game. As the Chiefs are not a spread formation team, the "Bandit" formation needs to be tweaked this week exploiting the Seahawks versatility at Linebacker, putting less Defensive Backs on the field.
Bracketing Bowe: Chiefs Wide Receiver Dwayne Bowe has 10 touchdown catches over the past six games, but he has had only one game with more than six catches; the challenge Bowe presents is with his size and ball skills, as both his yards per catch and red zone targets are among the best in the league. Marcus Trufant, healthy after a concussion in New Orleans, needs help covering Bowe. The Seahawks must use taller, reserve corners such as Cornerback Kennard Cox and Safety Jordan Babineaux, the only Seahawk corners over 6'0, to help in coverage against the 6'2 Bowe. The Chiefs are not deep at wide receiver, with depth lacking behind #2 Chris Chambers—If active for the game, rookie Dexter Mccluster is an X factor that must be accounted for—and the passing game can be slowed down if Bowe is unable to break free for the big catch.
Like Chiefs coach Todd Haley said earlier in the week, "this is the true grind-it-out period of the season where I think teams are going to start to define themselves as good teams, in-between teams and not-so-good teams." The Seahawks have an opportunity to prove they are closer to being one of those good teams if they can beat the Chiefs, one of the NFL's worst road teams but AFC West Leaders none the less; it's time for this Seahawks team to back up their words and finish strong, as the Seahawks look to successfully pass the first of six checkpoints in the race to win the NFC West.