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He Said / She Said: Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens

Friday, December 11, 2015

 

Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week 14 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (7–5) and the Baltimore Ravens (4–8).

When: 10:00 a.m. PT Sunday, Dec. 13
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md.

Rogers: It’s an understatement to say the Seahawks are back. More like, “they’re ba-aaaack.” After dismantling the disinterested Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis last Sunday — a supposed playoff preview — the Seahawks are re-established as NFC contenders of note. Jess, with remaining matchups against losing teams (the Ravens, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams) and a possibly resting-for-the playoffs Arizona Cardinals, what’s to stop the Seahawks from finishing 11–5?

Ridpath: What once seemed like a pipe dream certainly seems doable after watching Seattle return to form in their recent 5–1 stretch. And it’s not just that they’re back — it looks like they’re back and possibly better than ever. Mike Freeman, lead NFL writer for Bleacher Report, is going so far as to say the NFL should “be afraid.” He offers several good reasons why:

In their romp in Minnesota, the Seahawks’ defense not only smothered the League’s #1 rusher Adrian Peterson (18 yards on 8 carries), they often brought him down with just one tackler. Defensive personnel are doing their jobs as individuals and regaining their swagger as a team.

As you pointed out last week, Julian — and as the Vikings demonstrated in spades last Sunday — victories in the NFL largely depend on success in the passing game. Russell Wilson is putting up more yards and more touchdowns than ever before, and is still “multi-dangerous” — repeatedly stunning defenses with his quickness and escapability.

The against-all-odds scenario is well-worn in Seattle: Slow starts and devastating injuries (this year it’s Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham, and Ricardo Lockette) have been repeatedly overcome thanks to the team’s ability to adapt and the surprise emergence of new stars (this year it’s Thomas Rawls, Tyler Lockett, and Wilson’s right arm).

Given their cushy schedule, the only way the Seahawks won’t close the season at 10–6 or better is if something fundamental breaks down. Julian, if you were John Harbaugh, where would you look to try to find a chink in Seattle’s armor?

Rogers: The last team to put a whuppin’ on the Seahawks, the Arizona Cardinals (at home, no less), did it by riding the arm of an elite quarterback (Carson Palmer: 363 yards, 3 TDs, 1 Int.), while simultaneously benefitting from an off day by Wilson (14 of 32, 240 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int.). The Cardinals supplemented their very potent, explosive air attack with a clock-eating / chain-moving running game that ground out 117 yards on 33 attempts and held time of possession: 38:52 to 21:08.

This would have been a dream scenario and a recipe for a route of the blue birds, if it weren’t for a late fumble which Bobby Wagner returned for a TD, giving the Seahawks a temporary fourth-quarter lead.

The problem for coach Harbaugh is that he cannot replicate this recipe. The Ravens have not been very good all season and lost their most productive offensive stars to season-ending injury: quarterback Joe Flacco (knee), running back Justin Forsett (arm) and wide receiver Steve Smith (Achilles’). In their place are Matt Schaub, Javorious Allen and Kamar Aiken. The Ravens’ defense is a shell of its recent-vintage dominance (currently ranked 14th overall) but it’s not Baltimore’s biggest problem. The Ravens offense has no identity and little to scare the Seahawks’ second-ranked defense.

Since losing Flacco in week 11, the Ravens managed a season-high 33 points against the hapless Cleveland Browns, but could only muster 16 against the St. Louis Rams (when they lost Flacco and Forsett) and 13 against the Miami Dolphins. Consider the Browns game an anomaly. Expect more scoring in the teens against the Seahawks.

The Ravens’ overall team stats reveal a mediocre team, but they earned them when they still had their stars, for the most part. The Ravens will be hard-pressed to achieve even a mediocre standing against the Seahawks’ fourth-ranked pass defense and the third-ranked rush defense.

The few remaining defensive assets reside at the linebacker positions and include team sack leader Elvis Dumervil, and Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosely. They’ll be able to make some plays against the Seahawks’ still-evolving blocking scheme, but I don’t see them holding down the now-humming, Beastless Seahawks offense.

Jess, is there anything that scares you about the Matt Schaub-led Ravens offense?

Ridpath: To be honest, the Ravens have been completely off my radar this season, because they’ve been so … forgettable. And, as you mentioned, their mediocrity set in long before their injuries did. So that’s my excuse for why I had to do some reading before I could answer this question. Here are two things I learned — and why neither matters as they face the Seahawks:

One bright spot for the Ravens struggling offense is rookie running back Javorius “Buck” Allen, who was a dual threat last week in Miami with 107 passing yards and 63 rushing yards. Combined, that was nearly half of Baltimore’s total offense last week. But these totals aren’t nearly as impressive when you consider they came against the League’s 27th-ranked defense. There’s no way Allen will fare so well against Seattle’s veteran marauders.

Schaub and his offense could very well have come away victorious last week were it not for two questionable calls: an offensive pass interference penalty that reversed a first-quarter touchdown and a bad spot that negated what appeared to be a successful quarterback sneak on fourth down at the two-yard line in the second quarter. For arguments sake, let’s reverse these calls and assume Baltimore scores on both drives. That’s still just 27 points — not enough to beat Seattle in any of its last four games.

I’m not sure there’s much else we can say about the Ravens-Seahawks match-up. Seattle is the clear favorite — mostly because the offense has been on such a roll. Julian, what is the secret behind their scoring turnaround?

Rogers: It’s never just one thing. On Sunday, I saw the Seahawks take advantage of the Vikings’ secondary in a simple, yet clever way. Early on, they threw quick outs to slot receivers, who managed to get clear behind congestion caused by X and Z receivers running lazy slants in at defenders. The Vikings repeatedly demonstrated they could not stop this basic pass play, so the Seahawks kept going at it on both sides.

This did two things. One, it quickly put the Seahawks in favorable down and distance by nabbing 6—8 yards on first and second downs. Second, it loosened up the deep secondary for later in the game. The end results were banner days again for Wilson (274 yards, 3 passing TDs, 1 rushing TD), Lockett (90 yards) and Doug Baldwin (94 yards, 2 TDs).

Another good thing the Seahawks did (aided tremendously by being ahead all game) was keep feeding Rawls, even though the results were not stellar from the start. After Rawls’ first seven rushes, the rookie only had 26 yards. On his eighth rush, he busted loose for 20 and was well on his way to ultimately a 19-carry, 101-yard day.

Some form of figuring out the opposing team’s pass defense weakness and a steady diet of feeding Thomas Rawls has been the ticket for the Seahawks as they’ve risen to an average of 34.5 points per game over their last four games. They averaged 20.875 points per game before their week nine bye.

Clearly, the blue birds have found the chemistry they lacked through the first half of the season. I see no reason why they won’t continue their winning ways against the beat-up Ravens. Prediction: Seahawks 28, Ravens 14. But you’re not buying any of that, right? Can I goad you into picking the Ravens at home?

Ridpath: Fat chance! Anyone with a brain who is not a tried-and-true Ravens fan will be expecting a one-sided game. I can’t help but think this expectation drove the NFL’s decision to move the Seattle-Baltimore match-up out of prime time and into the 10 a.m. slot on Sunday.

Even if the game isn’t close, football fans might find some excitement in continuing to observe the upward trajectory of Seattle’s two rock-star rookies. Rawls is up for NFL Rookie of the Week honors for the fourth time this season (weeks 5, 11, 12, and 13). And Lockett has been in the mix twice (weeks 3 and 11). I’ve heard both names mentioned in the chatter about the race for Rookie of the Year — in statements from teammates and sports enthusiasts alike. I, for one, will tune in Sunday morning just to see what these two talented guys will do next. Prediction: Seahawks 34, Ravens 17.

--------------------

Owning up

Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: The game winner. I’m 8–4 on the season. I predicted the Seahawks would have a field day against the Vikings pass protection, which occurred throughout the game. I expected another good game from Russell Wilson and Thomas Rawls and neither disappointed. As predicted, the Vikings receivers were no challenge to the Legion of Boom.

What he got wrong: I expected a competitive game. The Seahawks took great advantage of the Vikings, who did not show up to play. A supposed moderate-scoring, competitive game against two playoff-bound teams was a laugher almost from the start.

What she got right: The game winner, keeping me neck-and-neck with my esteemed colleague at 8–4. I predicted a handful of sacks on Teddy Bridgewater, and the blue birds’ defense obliged — taking the young QB to the turf four times. I also expected Wilson to take advantage of the wide range of talent in his receiving corps. He did — hitting seven different receivers, most of whom made all (or most) of their catches. The exception was tight end Cooper Helfet, who went 1–4. (Of note, both rookies were perfect on the day — with Lockett catching all seven of his targets and Rawls nabbing all three of his.)

What she got wrong: I predicted a high-scoring game for the Seahawks — but my numbers were nowhere near the 38–7 blowout that came to be. And like most of the rest of the football world, I expected the Vikings would show up ready to play a good (if not great) game of football. Instead, it seemed the lights were out and no one was home.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

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