The Pittsburgh Steelers are making the cross-country trek to play the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12 action in the NFL. Leading up to this rematch of Super Bowl XL, I was able to sit down with Danny Kelly, editor of Field Gulls, SB Nation's Seahawks website, to talk about this upcoming matchup from the other side of the fence. We discussed everything from Seattle's amazing home field advantage, to Thomas Rawls carrying the load in Marshawn Lynch's absence.
Take a look at the interview below, and if you are looking for great coverage from the Seahawks perspective, be sure to check out Danny and his crew's work at Field Gulls.
The Seattle Seahawks will be without Marshawn Lynch on Sunday, and for weeks after. Thomas Rawls has filled in nicely, but how confident are fans that Rawls will be able to carry the team's running game in Lynch's absence?
It's obviously still a bit of an unknown as to how he'll carry the load when called upon to be "the guy" for multiple weeks, but his performances this season when he's started in the place of Marshawn Lynch have been very, very impressive. He runs really hard, shows good vision, breaks tackles, finishes runs, catches the ball, and has been really effective — the only question I have right now concerns his durability.
The depth behind Rawls isn't great right now — it's Fred Jackson, who at this point is more of a third-down back — and either Derrick Coleman (typically a fullback) and Bryce Brown (just signed as a street free agent). I think the fans are very confident in Rawls to be a good fill-in for Lynch, but if he goes down with an injury, things get a little scary.
This is the first time Ben Roethlisberger has ever played in Seattle. He has talked about how he is excited to play in Seattle. What makes "The 12th Man" such a tremendous home field advantage?
Seahawks fans are known to be loud and raucous, and over the last few years Seattle has been at or near the top of the league in forced false starts, so they know when to be on their feet and yelling. The stadium is also designed to retain and direct crowd noise to the field area so down at field level it's very, very loud — it's a noticeable difference compared to most stadiums. Otherwise, there are weather factors — it's frequently rainy, and the Seahawks are built to play in that with a heavy run game and stifling defense. Geographically, Seattle is pretty isolated too, as compared to many NFL teams, so I'd wonder if the percentage of Seahawks fans compared to visiting fans might be greater here (that's just a random guess). Whatever the case, Seattle has just been really, really good at home — they're 29-4 at home since 2012 (including playoffs), the second best mark among any team at home during that period (Patriots are #1).
Crazily enough, two of those four losses have come this season alone. They've been uncharacteristically vulnerable at home this year, but obviously, the Seahawks want to get back on track and playing at home like they've done over the last few years. Losing three games at home in a single season would be pretty shocking, honestly, based on how well they've played at home the last three and a half years.
The Seahawks, at 5-5, have under performed by most people's standards. What is the biggest difference in this team, compared to the team which claimed back-to-back NFC Championships?
Yeah, it's been a number of variables and it's obviously a little bit hard to quantify. The loss of Kam Chancellor for the first two weeks when he held out (and the subsequent delay in getting up to speed once he did come back) surely affected the defense and the numbers in the beginning of the year were not good. Marshawn Lynch, who has been the engine that powers this offense over the past few years, has been banged up all year and has missed four games (and counting). Losing Byron Maxwell (even with how badly he's playing in Philly) has been something that has hurt the Seahawks (Cary Williams was benched last week mid-game), and overall, I think the shocking and disastrous ending to the Super Bowl has played a psychological part in their struggles. The one big thing that you can easily point to, though, is that the offensive line has been atrocious this season from a pass pro point of view. It's the biggest difference between this year and last year, and it's really affected Russell Wilson, in my opinion.
Overall though, the Seahawks remain largely the same team as last year, especially on defense, so there's no reason to think they should've regressed this badly in the win-loss column (though, to be clear, they were 6-4 at this time last year, so they're really only one game off their pace from last season). Football Outsiders DVOA still really likes Seattle from a per-play efficiency standpoint, but the Seahawks have really struggled badly in situational football, particularly late in games while holding a lead. Seattle has led in the fourth quarter in all five of their losses this year, so they really just need to finish. It feels like they're close to getting back that mojo that they had the last two seasons, but honestly at this point it feels like it could go either way. A win this week might galvanize them and send them onto a roll to wrap up the season, or a loss could make things snowball out of control. It's tough to make a guess as to which might happen.
The Seahawks have a lot of big names on their roster. Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, etc. Who are some not-so-known players Steelers fans should keep an eye on this Sunday.
Linebacker K.J. Wright has had a really strong season and he's one of the more unheralded players on that defense, so he's one to watch. Keep an eye on Jeremy Lane this week as well — he's the guy that broke his arm in the Super Bowl after intercepting Tom Brady and he's likely to get his first action of the season this week against Pittsburgh. Cornerback DeShawn Shead is another one to watch — he's the guy that replaced Cary Williams last week when he was benched. Obviously, with Pittsburgh's ridiculously good arsenal of weapons at receiver, Seattle's corners are going to have to step it up.
One other player to keep an eye on is Tyler Lockett, Seattle's rookie receiver that has been making some waves of late. He leads all rookie receivers right now with five all-purpose touchdowns, and gives Seattle a deep threat while also featuring heavily into the return game.
How do you see this game playing out, and if you are up to it, what is your prediction for the game?
Like many Seahawks games, I think this is going to be a close battle down to the end, and Seattle's ability to keep some of Big Ben's deep shots to Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown will be key, in my opinion. I actually picked the Steelers to win — mostly because Seattle's just been so inconsistent defensively, and I am a really big fan of how the Steelers are playing on both sides of the ball. The defense is underrated, the offense looks unstoppable at times, and with the way the Seahawks have swung on the pendulum this year between good and bad performances, I just don't know which team we'll see this week. Obviously, I hope I'm wrong.