There are obvious matchups to watch in this game: how well our tackles protect against Chris Long, James Hall, and Robert Quinn (3 pretty good pass rushers); how well Lynch plays against the worst rush defense in the NFL; if our DE’s can finally get some sacks. Those have been covered. These are the 3 things I’ll be watching tomorrow.
Seahawks Pass Game vs. The End Zone
Simply put, we gotta score touchdowns. Not ‘gotta’ as in “if we don’t get 7, we’ll lose”, but ‘gotta’ as in “I want to see some touchdowns and progress from this offense.” You know it- we were gifted exceptional field position twice against the Ravens, both ending in field goals. The offense can and has moved the ball pretty efficiently, but tends to slow down the closer it gets to the goal line.
This is a disturbing stat: Whitehurst and Jackson have combined for only 7 touchdowns in 9 games. Two of those touchdowns came on free plays- defensive offisides- where the entire defense basically gave up after the flag. Without those two “free scores” (not to take away the importance or legality of them, but to emphasize the offense’s ineptitude), that’s 5 passing touchdowns in 9 games. Five passing touchdowns in nine games. That has to change for this team to be competitive, not just against the Rams, but every single game. Ever.
Luckily, Lynch has 5 TDs on the year, but even so, the passing game really needs to pick up its touchdown production. With 6′-5″ers like Rice and Williams, speedy little Baldwin and Tate, and Zach Miller in the seam, passing touchdowns should not be as big of a problem as they are (I do realize, there have been a few big drops). They have a chance to put up a few on the reeling Rams secondary.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Steven Jackson
I am of the opinion that the Hawks will end up passing more often than we expect. Does that mean Lynch won’t get his carries? No, I don’t think so; it won’t surprise me at all if he goes 25/120, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if he runs 14/65. Lynch and Jackson are pretty similar runners, both are extremely physical, fight for the extra yards, and punish defenders if they can’t wrap up a tackle. Jackson seems a more violent runner (maybe it’s the hair flying all over) but the Hawks defense is beginning to adopt a ‘violent’ reputation as well.
Similar to the game plan for Lynch, Jackson may see less carries than we expect. SJax, however, is a much larger part of his offense than Lynch is to the Hawks; if Jackson can’t get it going fast, he’ll still get touches, that’s just the way the Rams play ball. News is that Roger Saffold is now out for the year, so Jackson may have a tougher time finding a running lane. If he can’t get yards on the ground, and this is what I’m most nervous about tomorrow, he’s also a huge receiving threat. As Keith noted, the once very strong Hawks run D has been exposed recently by DeMarco Murray and Ray Rice (who, if not had been abandoned early, could have given the Ravens a W). That being said, the Hawks will focus on stopping the run, get physical with Brandon Lloyd and *whichever other randomly selected receiver decides to step up*, and force the Rams to beat their corners. Bringing me (sort of) to my last point…
Brandon Browner vs. Penalties
I have been very impressed with Richard Sherman in his two starts thus far. He’s played exceptionally well against good competition and seems to be a draft day steal. Brandon Browner on the other side, though playing pretty okay as a CFL transfer, scares the hell out of me every time the ball comes his way. He is a penalty machine. Hear me Brandon? YOU’RE TOO PHYSICAL! He really needs to get this under control if he expects to remain a starter. Like I said, the corners will be rough on the Rams receivers, and that’s just fine. But Browner has to cut down the penalties that keeps drives going. He may not define the outcome of the game, or even the outcome of some drives, but this is called “3 things I’m watching”, and I’m watching Brandon Browner in coverage, watching to see if he can match up with below-average receivers and limit the penalties that have frustrated me all year.
Though there’s no playoffs on the line this time, it should be a good game, and hopefully another addition to a good rivalry. Go Hawks.