1) Are there any clear mismatches in this matchup?
From a macro perspective, no. It’s strength on strength, weakness on weakness.
- The Redskins have the 30th ranked pass defense. But no worries, the Seahawks have the 27th ranked pass offense.
- The Seahawks have the 3rd ranked rushing offense. Ah, but the Skins have the 5th ranked rush D.
- The Skins have the #1 ranked rush offense. Meh, the Seahawks have the 10th ranked rush D.
- The only matchup of any disparity on paper would be the Redskins’ 20th ranked passing offense against the Seahawks’ 6th ranked pass D. However, it’s not like the Skins are inept at throwing the football, so we’re not really talking about a big advantage there.
2) Seattle QB Russell Wilson throws to the right side… a lot.
Almost 54% of the passes Russell Wilson threw last season went to the right side. This is typical for a young QB, as their first read is often to the right. For the sake of comparison, here’s the breakdown of where each QB liked to throw:
LOLB Ryan Kerrigan has made huge plays in each of the past two seasons on passes thrown to his side.
Last year, on the first play of the second half against the Giants, Eli Manning tried to throw a quick 2 yard stop route to Hakeem Nicks. For the play to work, a clean throwing lane would be preferable. And so, at the snap, you’ll see below that RT Kareem McKenzie will try to cut Kerrigan, forcing him to put his arms down so that Manning can fire in a pass with some zip and not have to worry about it being tipped at the line.
Unfortunately for the Giants, Kerrigan diagnosed exactly what they were trying to do, as he was able to avoid the cut block and instinctively throw his hands back up in the air as soon as humanly possible to try to get a hand on the ball. He wound up batting the ball in the air, locating it, catching and scoring, as the monotone Joe Buck will describe below:
This year against the Falcons, Kerrigan made a similar play. On this play, the Falcons were running a screen to WR Harry Douglas, who was lined up in the Falcons backfield. RT Tyson Clabo does a poor job selling that he’s actually trying to block Kerrigan, and just lets him have a free run at his QB. Kerrigan can also see that Douglas has no interest in blocking him either, so Kerrigan knows something is up. He diagnoses that it’s a screen, so he stops pursuing Matt Ryan, and gets himself in between Ryan and Douglas… Tip. Catch. Score.
Against a Seahawk offense that relies so heavily on passes to Kerrigan’s side, it might make more sense for the Redskins to play more of a “shadow” role, keeping Wilson from rolling right rather than using him as a full-fledged pass rusher.
3) The Seahawks are ball hawks, but is it sustainable?
In their first 8 games, the Chicago Bears outscored their opponents 236-120, for a point differential of 116. Turnovers were the key. In those 8 games, the Bears forced 28 turnovers (3.5 per game), and scored a staggering 8 TDs on defense and special teams, one per game. They went 7-1, and looked like they were going to cruise to an NFC North division title. Along the way, they suffered some key injuries, most notably Jay Cutler for 2 games, but the big plays on defense also dried up. Over the next 6 games, the Bears forced 9 turnovers (1.5 per game), and did not score on defense or special teams. During that stretch, albeit against better teams, they went 1-5, would eventually miss the playoffs, and fire their head coach.
Over their last 4 games, the Seahawks have had strikingly similar numbers in the turnover department. Like the Bears, they forced 3.5 turnovers per game (14 in total), and scored 4 TDs on defensive and special teams (1 per game). The Seahawks, however, outscored their opponents 170-43 during their stretch, a difference of 31.75 points per game, whereas the Bears were beating their opponents by a average of 14.5 points during their impressive stretch.
The high rate in which the Bears were forcing turnovers was not sustainable, and it caught up with them when they began to face more difficult opponents. The Redskins have the fewest turnovers in the league this season, with just 14. Obviously, turnovers aren’t the sole reason the Seahawks have been winning lately, but they certainly have played a major role. I wonder how sustainable their ability to force turnovers can continue to be.
4) Which team can tackle better?
The running back with the most broken tackles in the NFL this season was Adrian Peterson with 62, per ProFootballFocus.com. No surprise there. #2 and #3 in that category were Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (58) and the Skins’ Alfred Morris (57), respectively. Good tackling will be a major key for both defenses on Sunday.
5) Can Seattle’s CBs stop the Redskins receivers from getting yards after the catch?
The Redskins’ receivers do an outstanding job of becoming running backs once they have the ball in their hands. This is particularly true of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, who excel at breaking tackles and fighting for every yard after the catch. Unlike a number of other CB tandems the Skins faced this season, the Seahawk corners are big and physical. Richard Sherman is 6’3, 195. Brandon Browner is 6’3, 221. And for good measure, safety Kam Chancellor is 6’3, 232. Browner and Sherman love to get their hands on receivers coming off the line of scrimmage, and they’re all good tacklers. It will be interesting to see if the Seahawks can negate the Skins’ ability to make plays after the catch and limit big gains.
6) Will the read option work against Seattle’s defense?
The Seahawks have faced two teams this season (Panthers, 49ers) that run some of the same read option looks as the Redskins. Here are what their QBs were able to muster on the ground against the Seahawks’ run D:
Nothing overwhelmingly impressive there, and both QBs led their teams in rushing against Seattle. The leading running backs in those games, for the record, didn’t fare very well. Jonathan Stewart (Panthers) gained just 16 rushing yards. Frank Gore (49ers) gained just 28.
The Redskins may scrap the read option altogether, depending on how RG3’s knee is feeling.
7) How is RG3’s knee feeling?
To be determined. He was clearly very gimpy against the Eagles a couple weeks ago in Philly, although the knee looked better against the Cowboys. Still, he doesn’t appear to be anywhere close to 100%, and looked to be a step slower than normal. The Redskins ran the ball 42 times last week against Dallas, and only passed 18 times. That was partly because Dallas couldn’t stop the run, but also perhaps because the Shanahans may have felt that putting the ball in the hands of Alfred Morris was their best chance of winning instead of putting it in the hands of RG3.
8) Beware Red Bryant and the blocked kick
In 2011, there were 35 blocked FGs/PATs in the NFL. The Redskins accounted for 6 of them. In other words, they were on the wrong end of 17% of the NFL’s blocked FGs/PATs last year. In fact, one in every 8.2 FG attempts were blocked! This season, they had a couple punts blocked in the first two weeks, but have otherwise been vastly improved in their kick protection teams.
Two of those six blocked kicks last season came courtesy of Seahawks DT Red Bryant, who had 4 on the season in 2011, and one a couple weeks ago against the 49ers, which led to a TD return. Here are Bryant’s two blocks against the Redskins last season:
9) Both teams are heavily penalized.
The Redskins and Seahawks were 5th and 6th, respectively, in penalties this season. The Redskins committed 132 penalties, which cost them 985 yards. The Seahawks committed 131 penalties for 890 yards. Both Seattle offensive tackles were in the top 10 in the NFL individually in penalties. Right tackle Breno Giacomini had 12 for 120 yards and left tackle Russell Okung had 12 for 65 yards. Guard Kory Lichtensteiger led the Redskins with 11 penalties for 65 yards. He was the most penalized OG in the NFL.
10) How different a team is Seattle at home, as opposed to on the road?
They’re 8-0 at home, and 3-5 on the road. I’d say that’s a significant difference.