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He Said / She Said: Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals

Friday, October 09, 2015

 

Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week five matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (2–2) and the Cincinnati Bengals (4–0).

When: 10 a.m. PT Sunday, Oct. 11 
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

Rogers: The Seahawks got off to another typically sluggish start offensively last week, when Russell Wilson put the team on his back for one drive. The home team finally put a touchdown on the first-half scoreboard with Wilson’s scintillating quick post to streaking Doug Baldwin. It was their only touchdown.

Despite some loose ball security, the blue birds have now managed to take care of business at home against two winless opponents. The schedule changes 180 degrees now, as they square off against the opposite conference’s top bully. Jess, are you surprised the Bengals are in the Super Bowl discussion one quarter of the way into the 2015 season? And how do you feel about Seattle’s chances in Cincy?

Ridpath: Unless you’re talking Packers or Patriots, I think it’s too early to pencil in any team for Super Bowl 50. That said, with playoff berths in five of the last six seasons and no victories to show for it, the Bengals may be the hungriest team in football. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton is showing more poise in the pocket than he has in seasons past — prompting speculation that he’s playing his best ever. He’s certainly throwing fewer interceptions (less than 1 percent so far this year, compared to upwards of 3 percent in recent years.) And after facing some setbacks last year, the Bengals defense appears on the rise again. They rank sixth in the league for rush yards allowed per game (just ahead of the Seahawks) and have 11 sacks on the books so far. Seattle has just six.  

Seattle also has an offensive line that remains sieve-like. If games were scored based solely on the performance of the O-lines, the Hawks would surely have lost to Detroit Monday night. That they didn’t is primarily a testament to Wilson’s slipperiness, his receivers’ doggedness, and, of course, a heads-up play by Kam Chancellor in the waning minutes.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but Tom Cable must find a way to shore up his struggling young line ASAP. The Bengals’ defense is miles better than any the Hawks have seen so far this season. Watching Wilson scramble for six-plus seconds and make heroic plays is terribly exciting … when it happens once in a while. It’s nerve-wracking and gray-hair-inducing when it happens all the time. He needs protection, and he needs it now.

Julian, it’s pretty clear I’m skeptical about Seattle’s chances in Cincy. Can you give me any reasons to be hopeful? Besides building a force-field around Wilson, what can the Seahawks do to steal a victory on the road against this tough, undefeated team?

Rogers: You want to paint me as the Seahawks optimist? Uh … thanks, pal. You must think I’m a real lone wolf. If I think the Seahawks are going to win in Cincy, I’ll be the only one, this side of “everything is beautiful” Russell Wilson, “Positive” Pete Carroll and their mothers. That’s five people. We could form a (mostly) optimistic basketball team.

What we can’t do is beat the Bengals in Cincinnati. Not with the way Cable’s offensive line is gifting defensive coordinators with myriad ways to crumple the oft-scrambling Wilson.

You mentioned Dalton’s newfound effectiveness, which is right on. He is immensely aided by a healthy wide receiver corps: A.J. Green is at full strength (missed 2014 playoff and 3 other games), Marvin Jones (zero 2014 games) and Tyler Eifert (one 2014 game) are all functioning at high levels. This is a different team than what finished last season with a thud. Let’s not forget about reliable Mohamed Sanu, who is picking up steam as the season unfolds. Cincy’s top four receivers have 60 catches among them for 965 yards. The Seahawks’ top four receivers have 54 catches for 717 yards. Advantage: Bengals.

The Bengals also lead in turnover differential (+3) compared to the Seahawks (-1). They are the fourth-highest scoring team in the NFL (121), where the Seahawks are 18th, with 87 points. But the needle is pointing down in terms of the Seahawks’ offensive productivity. The Seahawks have struggled to put points on the board since week one in St. Louis. Over the past three weeks, including two games at home against winless opponents, the Seahawks are averaging 18.66 points per game.

The Seahawks are not chopped liver in all comparisons to the Bengals. They are tied with the Bengals with the seventh-best rushing attack, and they outpace the Cincy Stripers in pass defense: 5th in yards allowed, compared to the Bengals’ 27th ranking. The Bengals just edge the Seahawks in rush defense (6th vs. the Seahawks’ 7th ranking in yards allowed).

So after all that number crunching, and more, I don’t see the Seahawks coming away with a win on Sunday. Sorry.

If you want to put your chips on anything colored Seahawk blue, then you could hope for the Seahawks’ defense (which is clearly rounding into form) to smother the Bengals, who have yet to face a top-tier defense. The Bengals have feasted on Oakland (26th in points allowed), San Diego (28th), Baltimore (23rd) and Kansas City (tied for 31st). Of course, they had a lot to do with those teams earning those rankings. (Statistics via Profootballreference.com.)

How’s that for some sunshine? No?

Well, before you jump off a cliff, perhaps you could unpack the Seahawks’ running back situation. Is it the Thomas Rawls show, with Marshawn Lynch and possibly Fred Jackson on the shelf? Wilson is already too large of a part of the Seahawks’ running game. Are we relying on Rawls and Russ to tote the rock again and are they enough?

Ridpath: I’m going to need to see a therapist after that jaunt down Depressing Stats Lane. Your gloomy outlook aside, the good news is that Seattle may have some choice among running backs this Sunday. The recently injured Jackson does not have a broken ankle, and the “not quite right” Lynch is expected to be back in action this week. So it sounds like Wilson and Rawls won’t have to shoulder the burden on their own.

If we do find all three backs available for duty, I hope the Hawks’ line can hold steady enough in the first quarter to enable some big rushing yards. The goal shouldn’t necessarily be to win the game with a steady helping of run plays — it should be to get the Cincy defense off balance early.

The key is to take advantage of their previously unknown depth in both the run and pass game to keep the defense guessing. If the Bengals’ marauders are busy keeping track of Beast Mode plus one, Wilson will have more time to find the magic downfield. I’ll be watching for lots of play action, with second-look passes to Baldwin, the still-not-tapped-for-all-he’s-worth Jimmy Graham, or any member of a receiving corps that seems more sure-handed than in years past.

Do you see how I cleverly turned us back to the passing game? I’m not really trying to dodge your question. Here’s the thing: With the offensive line being what they are (and how could we expect much different from such an inexperienced crew?), the 2015 Seahawks must find another way to buy their quarterback a little bit of time. In that sense, Lynch and Co. are equally valuable as decoys as they are as playmakers. So, Julian, before you go running for your sunglasses to fend off this glaring optimism, here’s something to consider: Has Wilson gotten too used to throwing on the run? You and I were talking during last week’s game about how he (oddly) seemed to be missing easier throws from the pocket. He also (quite uncharacteristically) lost two fumbles. What gives?

Rogers: Those rolling-out-to-the-left throws under duress are hard for righties. Everyone lets loose a clunker now and then, so I’m not too worried about Wilson’s ability to execute that throw at this stage. As for the fumbles, I think this is just the law of averages catching up to him. He had 11 fumbles last year and lost exactly zero of them. That’s insane.

But we’re going to see more loose, tumbling footballs given the quality of protection he gets. Wilson is not only a larger chunk of the Seahawks’ running attack than he should be, he’s also the starter button for the offensive engine. Opposing teams know that the key to stopping Seattle is to focus on holding down Wilson. Until someone else stacks a couple breakout games (140 rushing yards or 120-plus receiving yards) the target will not be taken off Wilson.

With as much film as there is out there on the Seahawks’ line, I see the ninth-ranked Bengals’ defense, featuring Carlos Dunlap (3.5 sacks), Geno Atkins (3) and Domata Peko (2) adding to their totals. Those are all defensive linemen, by the way. The line is getting home, so the Bengals’ linebackers can take care of other business.

I don’t foresee a blowout, but I think the Bengals can out-point the Seahawks at home while Seattle tries to locate its offensive identity … on the road, where they are winless in their last three attempts (counting the Super Bowl). Prediction: Bengals 27, Seahawks 17.

Ridpath: I see my argument wasn’t enough to sway you. I’m not surprised … it wasn’t enough to sway me either, especially in light of your torrent of statistics.

However, I expect the score will be closer than you think. Why? Because the Legion of Boom and the rest of the Seattle defense will be eager to re-establish their dominance, especially against an undefeated team. They also have the momentum provided by Chancellor’s game-winning heroics last week. Dalton may be playing better now than in years past, but he’s due for an interception. Lord knows the LOB is due to snag one — and they need it to be a pick-six to help keep this one close. Prediction: Bengals 23, Seattle 20.

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

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

What he got right: The game winner. I’m 3–1 on the season. I also predicted Kam would have a major impact. Nailed it! I called the Lions a slightly improved version of the Bears. This turned out to be true as they really only had one decent scoring drive and almost a second all game.

What he got wrong: I expected bigger things out of Calvin Johnson (7 receptions for 56 yards). He lost the fumble of the year in addition to his scant receiving production. I also asserted that Wilson doesn’t roll out and throw passes in the dirt. And then he did.

What she got right: The game winner — and the importance of the spark brought by Russell Wilson. With this victory, I’m 2–2 on the season. I also predicted we wouldn’t see Detroit score more points against Seattle (10) than they did against Denver (12).

What she got wrong: I thought we’d see more (some?) improvement from the Hawks’ offensive line and better protection for Wilson. I also thought we’d see Matthew Stafford get rattled. He didn’t play great by any stretch, but he didn’t show his spazzy side as much as I’d expected.

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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