Those among you that read 12thmanrising last season may recall that I did a weekly feature entitled “matchups of the game.” I looked at what I figured would be the most interesting one on one matchups in any particular contest. While Keith and I haven’t sat in a dark room over fine scotch and impossibly thick cigars (a common practice among blog writers/ “craft journalists”) and come to a formal decision on whether that feature will return this season I thought I might revisit it in a sense today.
Last year, as a result of this feature, I got to explore how the Seahawks lined up against a good portion of the league, but one thing I did not get to look at was how the Seahawks lined up against themselves. Given that a great deal of training camp will entail the Seahawks offense playing against its defense, I figured I would do a special edition of “matchups of the game”: Seahawks vs. Seahawks.
Instead of picking out three matchups I’ll deal with all the starters with the exception of the interior offensive and defensive lines because there is so much uncertainty as to who will start at the guard and defensive tackle spots. Additionally, I will treat Clint Avril as the starting LEO due to the fact that Clemons is injured and Irvin is suspended. I had the offense start in a 3 WR, 1 RB 1 TE package partly because that’s my favorite package, and partly because this team is three deep with starting caliber players at wide receiver and cornerback.
Matchup #1: Russell Wilson vs. Earl Thomas
It is very difficult to isolate a one on one matchup involving the quarterback, but if Russell Wilson wants to get anything done down the field against this defense he will have to go through Thomas. Thomas’s expansive range turns routine throws into difficult ones because his closing speed tightens the window of opportunity for opposing quarterbacks. Wilson had some success throwing down the field last year, but he might not have faced a safety quite like Thomas.
It would be hard to give one player and edge here as they are both elite talents at their respective positions. Thomas is probably closer to being the NFL’s top free safety than Wilson is to being its top quarterback, but a perfectly placed pass can beat virtually any coverage and the second year man has the ability to thread the needle. There is a real chess match here between two small but immensely talented players.
Matchup #2: Marshawn Lynch vs. Bobby Wagner
This is a matchup for the ages. Wagner is an underrated tackling machine with excellent range and solid tackling prowess and Marshawn Lynch is an animal while running the ball. Physically speaking, Wagner probably possesses the superior size/speed conbo, but Lynch has the kind of aggressiveness and strength that is incredibly rare in an offensive player. Bobby Wagner is on the way up and it won’t be long before Lynch is on the way down, but at this particular moment in time I would have to give the edge to Beast Mode.
Matchup #3: Russell Okung vs. Cliff Avril
Cliff Avril is a very capable speed rusher who I’m very pleased the Seahawks stole in free agency. He has 20.5 sacks over the last two years and is capable of putting a lot of pressure on opposing QB’s. However, when the two met in Detroit last year, Pro Bowler Okung absolutely erased Avril leaving him with a single tackle on the score sheet. I would imagine he would do so again if given the chance. He has a massive size advantage and quick feet to handle the speed rush. Avril is a good player but Okung is a great one.
Matchup #4: Breno Giacomini vs. Red Bryant
This is a battle of absolute titans with Giacomini at 6-7 and Bryant at 6-5. Both players struggled somewhat (or more than somewhat) last year, and are looking for a rebound. The difference is that Bryant has demonstrated the ability to be a true game changer in the past whereas Giacomini’s ceiling is that of an adequate starter. Bryant isn’t going to embarrass any offensive tackle with sack after sack, but given his superlative strength he could push Giacomini back and perhaps get some quarterback hurries as well as affect the passing lanes. As far as the running game goes Bryant is immovable when facing far better tackles than Giacomini.
Matchup #5: Zach Miller vs. K.J.Wright
Given the movement of tight ends it is hard to predict exactly who will end up covering them but in this case I think the best defensive candidate is K.J. Wright. Wright has the range to cover all but the quickest tight ends and using a safety here probably doesn’t work for the Seahawks because Earl Thomas has responsibilities in center field and Kam Chancellor would be exposed in one on one coverage.
Wright is a good athlete and has shown an aptitude for coverage in the past but given the opportunity Miller would probably get the best of him. Miller demonstrated in the Seahawks’ playoff loss to Atlanta that he has the ability to be a force catching the ball and a great deal of his lack of production in this offense relates to the way he has been used as opposed to any shortcomings on his part. I was hoping we’d see more of Miller catching the ball this year but with Anthony McCoy’s injury it’s unclear if there is anyone on the roster who could take on some of the blocking burden for Miller.
Matchup #6: Sidney Rice vs. Richard Sherman
I debated whether Sherman would go up against Harvin, since Harvin is so much a slot receiver and free agent signee Antoine Winfield is so much a slot corner that I thought it made sense to leave them together. Rice’s overall numbers don’t jump off the page, but that is mainly a result of him playing in a run-first offense. When called upon Rice has been excellent, and he is that prototypical flanker/deep threat that most teams are looking for.
Rice is a dangerous weapon and seemed to establish a good connection with Russell Wilson last year, but he is out-classed by his teammate Sherman. Wherever you place Sherman on the pantheon of great corners in the game today he is undoubtedly an elite player. Although Rice is quicker than Sherman, he has unremarkable strength and I feel like the corner would rough him up all day long. However, there is a chance Rice could slip by him once or twice and that’s all it takes to win a matchup like this.
Matchup #7: Golden Tate vs. Brandon Browner
This would be very fun to watch because you would be witnessing one of the strongest receivers in the league going up against one of the strongest corners. Browner is a force to be reckoned with physically and a big time hitter for his position but Tate is a human pinball who can take punishment, break tackles and gain big yardage. Although Tate isn’t winning any jump balls here his superior quickness and ability in the open field could make him a nightmare for Browner. Browner matches up best with big tall receivers by neutralizing their greatest asset, their enormous catching radius. Golden Tate is not one of those guys and I don’t think Browner has an answer for the skills that he brings to the table.
Matchup #8: Percy Harvin vs. Antoine Winfield
Antoine Winfield is a remarkable specimen and still an effective corner at an advanced age. However, although these two have never faced each other I am going to go out on a limb and say there are no 36 year olds who can cover Percy Harvin. He’s too quick and too explosive. End of story.
Although the Seahawks offense will never have to face its defense in meaningful action, training camp can get competitive and I bet some of the matchups described above will fun to observe. I am of the opinion that this team’s defense is still its best unit, but that gap has closed significantly over the last two years and there is no doubt that the two groups feed off each other to a large degree. It doesn’t really matter which is better, they are both plenty good with the potential to be elite and practicing against tough competition like each other is going to be an asset to both as the 2013 season approaches.