By Chris Cluff
When the Seahawks resume practice today for their mammoth Monday night home against the Green Bay Packers, it’s pretty obvious what the focus will be on both sides of the ball: the quarterback.
The Packers have 10 sacks in their first two games. The Seahawks have just two. If those trends continue, the Pack will walk out of CenturyLink Field with the win.
The key to the Hawks protecting QB Russell Wilson is, as everyone knows, running the ball. They couldn’t do it consistently against Arizona (3.5 yards per carry) and lost. After a slow start against Dallas, they pounded it for 182 yards (4.4 ypc) and won.
Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews is the heat-seeking missile the Hawks are going to have to cool down. He had half of the Packers’ seven sacks of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in their Thursday night game last week.
Of course, the Bears also ran for just 94 yards, so they didn’t exactly take the pressure off Cutler. And Cutler has never been known for his intelligence or efficiency (or effervescent personality, for that matter).
The Seahawks started slowly against Dallas, but pounded the Cowboys in the second half and largely kept linebacker DeMarcus Ware and company away from Wilson (two sacks, none by Ware). They will have to do the same against the Packers, who gave up 186 rushing yards to San Francisco in a season-opening loss.
There are reasons to think the Hawks can do it. For one, they are built almost exactly like the 49ers: strong defense, power running attack, efficient QB.
The Seahawks’ defense has been dominant in the running game through two games – No. 2 in the league with 92 yards allowed and 2.6 yards per attempt. Their failing has come on third downs, where they have allowed 43.5 percent (10-of-23) to be converted.
They have notched only one sack in each game. However, they got pretty good pressure on Dallas QB Tony Romo, hitting him half a dozen times and batting down two or three passes. They did it with all kinds of blitz packages, using all three linebackers and various defensive backs and employing stunts with four linemen. Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will have to come up with the same kind of scheme to try to throw off reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Meanwhile, if the Hawks’ offensive line can push the Packers, Seattle can utilize the play-action game it obviously prefers and keep the pass rush off Wilson.
However you look at it, this game will boil down to the QBs vs. the pass rush. The winning team will be the one with the cleanest QB.
WIDE ENDS? OR TIGHT RECEIVERS?
A lot of people scratched their heads when the Seahawks cut Kellen Winslow because he reportedly would not take a pay cut. And a few more wondered whether Winslow might have made a difference at the end of the Arizona game.
Fair concerns all around. But the Dallas game showed why the Seahawks were OK making that move: (1) They really like Anthony McCoy and (2) Evan Moore could be a younger, bigger version of Winslow (who, by the way, just signed with New England in the wake of Aaron Hernandez’s injury).
Wilson threw the ball to McCoy a game-high five times, and he caught all five – including a 22-yard touchdown pass.
That play came on a great formation in which the Hawks lined up all three tight ends – McCoy, Moore and Zach Miller – on the right side. The Cowboys were so flummoxed they managed to cover only two of them, and Wilson quickly found McCoy wide open for the easy TD pass.
With an average receiving corps that continues to be bothered by injuries, the Hawks need to continue to utilize their three tight ends in creative ways like that.
Practice squads are limited to eight players, but it seems like the Hawks have a squad of 10-12 guys. They keep shuttling players in and out every week, and there are a couple of possible reasons for it: (1) to keep the players familiar with the Seahawks’ system and thus available in case of injury and (2) to help give the Hawks the scout-team look they like each week.
They made three moves on the squad before the season opener even arrived. After Week One, they made four more moves. And this week they made two more.
Linebacker Korey Toomer, a fifth-round pick who did not make the 53-man squad, and undrafted guard Rishaw Johnson were released from the squad Sept. 13 but brought back Tuesday.
Linebacker Allen Bradford started on the squad, was released Sept. 6, was brought back Sept. 13 and was released again Tuesday. Receiver Ricardo Lockette, who had a very disappointing camp after a promising 2011, was let go Tuesday as well.
As of Wednesday, the taxi squad looked like this: QB Josh Portis, TE Sean McGrath, WR Jermaine Kearse, LB Korey Toomer, OL Rishaw Johnson, DB DeShawn Shead, DT Hebron Fangupo, OT Mike Person.
OTHER PRACTICE THOUGHTS
- The Hawks kept running back Kregg Lumpkin only because Marshawn Lynch’s back made him questionable, but Lynch’s performance the first two weeks was enough for the coaches to realize they no longer needed Lumpkin. So they cut him – and signed an 11th defensive back. Carroll obviously can never have enough of those guys.
- LT Russell Okung (bruised knee) should be good to go Monday, but if he isn’t, Frank Omiyale showed he can be a functional, if not great, player for Tom Cable.
- Cornerback Byron Maxwell (hamstring) simply cannot stay healthy, and you have to wonder how long the Seahawks are going to wait on his potential.
- The extra day of rest this week will benefit not only Okung, but Miller, Lynch, OG John Moffitt, WR Sidney Rice and WR Charly Martin (who figures to miss one more game anyway).
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.