Oregon Sports News writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath discuss and predict the week nine matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (4–2–1) and the Buffalo Bills (4–4).
When: 5:30 p.m. PT, Monday, Nov. 7, 2016
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Rogers: It’s hard to know what to make of the Bills. They were outclassed by the New England Patriots on Sunday, which puts them on a two-game losing streak right after a four-game winning streak. They came up short largely because they were missing resurgent running back LeSean McCoy. The Bills’ offense was further depleted with three of its top four receivers sidelined, including Marquis Goodwin (concussion).
Like most teams, they’re a different animal when their star players can play. The Seahawks had their offensive threats available in their loss to the New Orleans Saints, (minus Thomas Rawls), but another underwhelming performance by the offensive line and the banged-up Russell Wilson delivered only 13 points on offense, which is a step up from the six they garnered the week before.
Jess, I’ll ask you the same question I asked last week: Have the Seahawks been figured out, or are they ready to make a move with some home cooking against the middling (16th-ranked) Bills defense?
Ridpath: If there’s anything Seattle has shown the league in the last two weeks it’s that they’re almost as likely to get a penalty as a first down. The blue birds were penalized for 166 yards on 21 calls in weeks seven and eight.
That’s an ugly number that gets even uglier when you hold it up against their other combined stats from the past two games:
- Only five more first downs (26) than penalties. (New Orleans had 28 first downs in week eight alone.)
- Almost three times as many penalties as 3rd-down conversions (8).
- 40 more yards lost to penalties than gained on the ground (126).
It’s as if someone hit the self-destruct button.
There’s also a Bizarro World aspect to what happened last week in New Orleans. Wilson passed for more yards than Drew Brees (285 versus 252), while the Saints — whose defense was ranked 29th before last Sunday — topped the Seahawks in rushing yards (123 versus 74). What??
Looking to the Seahawks’ chances against the Bill next week, I’d like to find some bright spots for 12s to hang their hats on. But I’m coming up empty. Seattle’s defense is overworked, injured, and tired. And its offense could only muster 13 points against one of worst defenses in the league.
Julian, it’s rare that I look to you for optimism. But I’m hoping you can find something positive to say about the Seahawks as they prepare to face Buffalo.
Rogers: I’ve got to play the part of Mary Sunshine? How about this: Home field helps, that won’t be enough on its own. Here’s another real plus about the Seahawks’ current state of affairs: Their loss to the Saints didn’t hurt them one iota in the NFC West standings. Arizona lost badly to Carolina and the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers don’t exist anymore. Or maybe they just had byes … I dunno. Hardly matters the way they were playing.
Yes, the Seahawks are not dominating. But the NFC is wide open. Lots of time left for the blue birds to make a move in the conference. They have games remaining against two likely NFC playoff entrants, the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles, so they can make their case then.
Regarding this Monday night, is it just me or did Tyrod Taylor and 2012–2015 Russell Wilson switch jerseys this year? Taylor has nine touchdown passes to Wilson’s five, and they both have two interceptions. Taylor has piled up 319 rushing yards to Wilson’s 44. Jess, is it possible that the Bills come into this game with a quarterback advantage?
Ridpath: Historically, both Wilson and Taylor have struggled with comfort level in the pocket and a tendency to drop back too quickly and miss later reads. But both have demonstrated that they can offset this weakness with their impressive scramble-ability.
At least that used to be the case for Wilson.
But unlike Taylor, Wilson has been showing significant growth as a passer — a trend that really took off in the latter half of the 2015 season and has continued out of necessity. Looking at Wilson’s pass attempts per game, we see a steady increase from 24.6 in 2012 to 34.4 in the current season. Taylor’s numbers, on the other hand, are still lingering down around 28 attempts per game — close to where Wilson was in 2014.
That said, Wilson still has a long way to go to make his name as a pocket passer. And until Seattle has an offensive line that can consistently protect him — and a run game that can keep defenses guessing — he won’t have the opportunity to fully embrace that side of himself.
Without McCoy to buoy the offense last week, Taylor found himself in unfamiliar territory. And it showed, as he was clearly struggling in the pocket. But then again, so was Wilson. Check out the similarities in these two critiques:
“[Wilson] was antsy in the pocket most of the day, and never seemed to have confidence in his ability to escape pressure, let alone voluntarily scramble.” (From For the Win, October 30.)
“Taylor was overly antsy in the pocket … when there were yards to be had as a scrambler, [he] uncharacteristically shied away.” (From Buffalo Rumblings, October 31)
The obvious difference is that Wilson was unable to run while Taylor seemed unwilling. And that’s the key to the Seahawks maintaining a quarterback advantage this week: The defense has to scare the crap out of Taylor so that he loses confidence in his legs again.
Julian, whenever you ask me about Seattle’s offense, I wind up looking to its defense for an answer. We’re at the season’s halfway mark, and it’s clear that the Seahawks are only contenders because of their stout defense — which spent more time on the field than they should have again last week. Are you concerned about the squad’s ability to maintain this level of performance through the final eight weeks?
Rogers: Football success is situational and relative. I’m a big believer that a strong offense really helps your defense and vice-versa. In other words, I’m skeptical of defensive rankings of teams that have powerhouse offenses and really stout run defenses. Those teams tend to rank high in rush defense because the other team doesn’t run it against them as much.
For the Seahawks, however, I don’t buy it. The Seahawks have had only one runaway victory (week three at home against the San Francisco 49ers). The Seahawks defense has had to play legit defense in every other game. They’ve earned their ranking as the 6th overall defense (7th against the run, 9th against the pass) without the aid of a productive offense.
Even though the blue birds have and will continue to miss Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor for as long as they are out, Cliff Avril is having a Pro Bowl year. Bobby Wagner is also earning his hefty paycheck. K.J. Wright continues solid play and DeShawn Shead may be the defense’s biggest surprise this season. I could go on, but we know the Seahawks’ failings on defense: too many penalties; up-and-down play all year from Earl Thomas and Kelcie McCray.
But the offense is the real drag on the Seahawks’ overall success formula. The defense has only been helped out by the offense in one game this year.
So to answer your question, Jess, I think the Seahawks defense will continue to keep the blue birds in games. This Monday night, they are going up against a bottom-third, one-dimensional offense that is lacking playmakers. Even though the Bills are second in the league in rushing, they still rank 24th overall in offense due to a DOA passing game. They just had to bring Percy Harvin out of retirement in a desperation move to get something going. That will make for an interesting storyline Monday night, but it won’t be enough to beat the Seahawks at home. I’m expecting the Seahawks offense to reignite in this game. Prediction: Seattle 30, Buffalo 17.
Ridpath: Thanks, Mary Sunshine, for that optimistic evaluation. Evidently you and I are living in Bizarro World now, because I’m a lot more skeptical about the Seahawks’ prospects this week. But you’ve convinced me that they can secure the win at home. Barely. Prediction: Seattle 23, Buffalo 20.
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.
What he got right: The game winner. I’m 4–3 on the season. Penalties played a large role in this game, as they did a week ago. I wildly predicted that a late Seahawks penalty would help decide the game. Richard Sherman’s holding penalty that kept the Saints’ final scoring drive alive sealed the game when Wilson could not lead the Seahawks to a final touchdown as time expired.
What he got wrong: I had no inkling C.J. Prosise was going to break out this game. His overall effect was muted due to lack of touches, but his averages (5.8 YPC, 20 YPR) were impressive.
What she got right: I was worried that we’d start to see overwork-induced injuries among Seattle’s defenders. Get well soon, Michael Bennett.
What she got wrong: The game winner, dropping me to 3–4 on the season. I predicted the Seahawks offense would find opportunities against the Saints’ “soft” defense. A mere 13 points (and too many penalties) later, they proved me wrong.