Editor’s Note: Since these questions were asked, the news that Kam Chancellor is definitely out for tonight’s game broke, so keep that in mind as you read Kenneth’s responses.
Dave Choate: I understand Duane Brown may be out in this game. You've been dealing with injuries and ineffectiveness from the line for a long time against better pass rushes, so how concerned are you about the Falcons making Russell Wilson's life difficult in this game?
Kenneth Arthur: There are almost too many variables this week for me to make any sort of good judgment about that other than, "Wilson's life will probably continue to be challenging either way." Those variables include the fact that we don't know if Duane Brown or Matt Tobin will be the left tackle. To put it another way: We don't know if one of the top-8 left tackles in the NFL (when healthy) or one of the worst who is barely hanging on the thread of a 53-man roster, will be starting this week at one of the most important positions in football. The entire gameplan changes between Brown and Tobin at left tackle. If Brown is able to go, then I think he'll do a very good job of containing Atlanta's pass rush from that side of the ball. If Tobin starts, it will be a very frustrating day of offensive snaps for the Seahawks, I think.
That's only the first part of the equation. Luke Joeckel's been out for a month following knee surgery and he's potentially coming back this week too. If Joeckel starts, then he'll be an upgrade over rookie Ethan Pocic at left guard, but also how good is Joeckel going to play? Coming off of knee surgery, already being a fairly inconsistent offensive lineman, potentially playing alongside either Brown or Tobin ... And that's the best case scenario at left guard, because Pocic's been frighteningly inconsistent, with his lowlights being really low. If Joeckel returns, then Pocic competes to start at right guard with Oday Aboushi, which tells you how things are going on the right side. And it's not as though right tackle Germain Ifedi is inspiring any confidence -- there should be some question of whether Pocic should replace Ifedi, but offensive line coach Tom Cable confirmed that Ifedi is staying. (Ifedi is the most penalized player in the NFL and not that great of a blocker either.)
So if it's Brown-Joeckel-Justin Britt-Aboushi/Pocic-Ifedi that's fairly okay. If it's Tobin-Pocic-Britt-Aboushi-Ifedi, then maybe Adrian Clayborn breaks the record for sacks over a two-game period.
Dave Choate: The ground game appears to be wholly ineffective this year, which is a little surprising. Is it the backs, the blocking, or both, and can they take advantage of a struggling Falcons run defense?
For anyone to be this bad at running the football, it almost always has to be a combination of both. Seahawks running backs are often hit beyond the line of scrimmage, with Seattle ranking 28th in adjusted line yards, per FootballOutsiders. They are 28th in how often they get stuffed, and 31st in success at blocking at the second level. Things improve when Duane Brown is available, surely, but that is far from his strength as an offensive lineman. In general, they are a long ways from being the run-blocking unit that Pete Carroll intended to build from 2010-2015, or from having the type of broken-tackle running style of a player like Marshawn Lynch.
Rookie Chris Carson was among the league leaders in broken tackle percentage through four weeks, but then he broke his ankle just below the knee. There's a chance that he'll return before the end of the season, but he won't be out there soon. Eddie Lacy was signed because he was always compared to be a lesser version of Lynch -- tough running, broken tackles -- but it seems like the Lacy who had the ability to do that is currently on a long vacation. Carson averaged a broken/missed tackle on 37.1% of his touches. Lacy's rate is 15.7%. He's averaging 2.7 yards per carry because of a combination of the line not blocking for him and because he doesn't take much more than he's given, if anything. Unfortunately, the same can be said for Thomas Rawls this year. Rawls also used to be the type to do work without a line, just more of a "vision" guy that a bulky, break-through-it guy, however most of that burst and decision-making is M.I.A. Rawls is averaging 2.6 yards per carry and has a missed tackle rate of 14.3%.
In response, Seattle has placed C.J. Prosise on IR and activated Mike Davis from the practice squad. Davis had a nice preseason but that's all it is: Preseason. He could still get opportunities this week because what does Carroll have to lose? The other guy you'll see is the one that Falcons fans are most familiar with, which is J.D. McKissic. He's been that nice option outside of running the ball with your running back. He might get a few carries, but mostly it seems that he could break one off in the passing game. Overall, Carroll insists that they'll run the heck out of the ball against Atlanta. Hopefully that's not as ugly as it sounds it could be because no matter how bad the Falcons run defense is, I challenge it to be as bad as what we've seen from the Seahawks running game all year long.
(Side note that I never got to: Russell Wilson is the leading rusher on the team and all of their rushing stats are therefore skewed by having an athletic quarterback who can scramble and turn in long gains on the ground, which places a bit of a band-aid over the fact that the offensive line and running backs are just terrible at their jobs right now.)
Dave Choate: Without Richard Sherman (and maybe Kam Chancellor), who is suiting up in the secondary for the Seahawks, and how much of a downgrade will that be against this Falcons passing attack?
Kenneth Arthur: No Richard Sherman still means: "Huge, huge downgrade." No matter who is going to replace him, it's still not Richard Sherman. No cornerback has been as good as him since 2011 and that's backed up with a lot of facts and statistics and accolades. He had never missed a game up until this point, so the fallout is completely unknown. I think he was going to get an All-Pro nod this season, and deservedly so. Unfortunately, it's going to be a long break between now and when he gets back on the field after tearing his Achilles.
The starting corners look to be Shaquill Griffin, Jeremy Lane, and Justin Coleman on the inside. That means that there will be more responsibility for Griffin as the de facto number one, and he's only a third round rookie. Lane is a veteran, but not a very good one. He was starting on the outside prior to being benched for Griffin, so at least he's not wholly inexperienced from having the job. Coleman then took over as the starting nickel corner from Lane really, so maybe not much changes for him. He's fine. The Seahawks also signed Byron Maxwell this week, who played for them from 2011-2014. He was a very good corner in Seattle and I think had some good times with the Miami Dolphins last season. Ultimately, the Seahawks defense is where he was most successful and where he could channel some of those good moments again. I'm not sure how much of an impact he'll have this week or how much he'll play, but I don't imagine he needs much time to catch up; he's a vet and he's been here before.
As you mention, Chancellor's status is also in doubt and it doesn't sound to me like he'll suit up. There are some rumors that he'll hit IR too. It's a major bummer and at least with Sherman, we've had some time to cope. Without Chancellor, Bradley McDougald will start at strong safety. He's done a very nice job of filling in for Earl Thomas at free safety over the last two weeks, so we're hoping to see the same in Kam's spot. The good news is that Thomas is almost certainly going to return, so that gives the secondary their vital piece in the deep middle, at least.
That's what the secondary should look like. Missing two very important pieces, but maybe with better depth than they had a year ago.
Dave Choate: Matt Ryan is faring pretty well against the blitz this year. How good has this Seattle defense been at bringing pressure on four man rushes, and who are the guys to watch out for on the interior of this line?
Kenneth Arthur: The most I can say about the Seahawks pass rush is that it is "okay." In spite of how much talent they have on the defensive line, Seattle ranks only 20th in pressure rate, per FO, at 29.7%. (Falcons are at 31.9%). The Seahawks are tied for 10th in sacks with 25, but it sure feels like a defensive line with Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, Sheldon Richardson should be doing better than that. Cliff Avril played in four games and a neck injury seems to have put his career in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the team added Dwight Freeney, who as you know, is still a very effective presence at age 37; Freeney already has three sacks in three games; Dion Jordan returned to the NFL last week and recorded a sack in his very first game; Branden Jackson is an unknown name who has done a nice job of creating pressure in limited opportunities. That's what's going on with the outside rush, which I say is improving with Freeney, but the progress of the interior rush is even more encouraging.
The Seahawks have really lacked a solid interior pass rush since 2014 and Jarran Reed has improved that area of his game this season. He's questionable this week after suffering an injury (also) last week. Rookie third rounder Nazair Jones has two sacks and seems like he could be an integral part of the line for the next three years. Reed has 10.5 individual pass pressures, while Richardson has 6.5, and Jones has three, but in much more limited action. With a four-man rush, I think they're okay, but certainly it's been an underachievement for most of the season. The hope is that the additions of Freeney and Jordan will change that for December and the playoffs, if they make it.
Dave Choate: I'm always a believer in Seattle's ability to make the playoffs, regardless of the challenges facing them, and that hasn't changed this year. What are your expectations for the Seahawks season, and do they beat the Falcons in this one?
Kenneth Arthur: Yeah, I think the Seahawks are going to make the playoffs, even without Sherman, Chancellor, Avril. If they just win their remaining home games, they'll be 10-6. If they win their remaining home games and beat the 49ers on the road, they'll be 11-5. If they win 3 of their 4 home games and beat the 49ers, they'll be 10-6. If they win 3 of 4 home games but also beat the Cowboys on the road in addition to the 49ers, they'll be 11-5. I mean, most of the scenarios I play out in my head based on reasonable expectations of a Pete Carroll-coaches, Russell Wilson-led Seahawks team have them getting 10 or 11 wins, and I think that's enough to make the NFC playoffs as a wild card. Since they host the Rams, I think that also opens up the possibility of them winning the division again and getting a home game too. There's also the players they just added, got back or could be getting back: Joeckel, Brown, Carson, DeShawn Shead, Jordan, Freeney, Malik McDowell, and maybe even Avril. I'm not saying that they'll get the best case scenario of any situation, but I'm saying that there's a possibility they'll be a better team in December than they were in October. Even without Sherman. They could also go 8-8 because they play a lot of close games and will probably have a significant weakness on defense without Sherman. My biggest reason for optimism though is always Russell Wilson; he's incredible and he's even better in November/December than he is in September/October. By a wide margin, in fact. So he's going into these last seven games with better numbers than he's ever had, so hopefully he continues to dominate in the final two months like he usually does.
Same goes for the Falcons game: I could see Seattle losing. But I just don't bet against Russell Wilson on Monday Night Football at home. Ever. He's 6-0 on Monday Night Football over his career with 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's 37-7 at home in his career. He's 17-4 in games 9-12. He's 18-3-1 in primetime. I'm just gonna bet on Russell Wilson on primetime, at home, every time. MNF is the cherry on the top. Throw all other reasonable arguments out the window for me, I'll take those odds.
As far as deep in the postseason goes -- who knows. But it does not feel like a Super Bowl year to me. Hopefully I'm wrong but they'll have to improve significantly in both running the football and in pressuring the QB between now and January in order to do that.