Seattle is struggling through some injuries in the early part of the season, but the good news for them is that their defensive line seems to be in good shape. They tend to play a fairly vanilla style of defense similar to the Cover 2 and prefer to pressure the quarterback with their front four, only blitzing in emergency situations.
The Seahawks do occasionally run blitz and did so a few times against the Bears in Week 3, but they generally play straight up, often putting only seven men in the box, even on running downs.
Their loose style of play has not been successful against the run so far, as Seattle currently ranks 25th in the league in run defense, allowing an average of 139.3 yards per game on the ground. They were effective against Chicago, though, and were able to bottle up talented sophomore tailback Matt Forte, holding him to 66 yards on 21 carries and no touchdowns, for an average of 3.1 yards per attempt.
They are vulnerable on the edges, as ends Patrick Kerney and Cory Redding are better pass rushers than they are run defenders, particularly when teams run around left end or right end. Opponents are averaging 6.67 yards running to Kerney's side and 5.33 yards per rush running at Redding. Expect to see a lot of slant and stretch plays run a bit wider to the right shoulder of Ryan Diem and the left shoulder of Charlie Johnson, who is still getting his bearings as a left tackle in this league, but is still a very capable run blocker.
The biggest hole in the defense is up the middle, where defensive tackles Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane are allowing an average of 9.38 yards per attempt on 21 attempts up the middle, which is worst in the league. Jeff Saturday, Mike Pollak, and Ryan Lilja have yet to blow a defense off the ball this season, Indianapolis is still averaging 4.5 yards per attempt up the middle, though they have only run eight plays in that direction, which ranks 29th in terms of attempts.
This is a battle that represents weakness against weakness and the team that is able to be successful in this battle will be able to dictate other aspects of the game. Some of the struggles for the Seahawks up the middle can be attributed to the absence of linebackers Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill, but, for the most part, the defense as a whole is responsible for stopping the opponent, especially up the gut, and Seattle had been positively dreadful so far.
In pass protection, the Seahawks have nine sacks so far in 2009, with six of those takedowns coming from defensive linemen. Seattle tends to blitz tactically and strategically, isolating one player to come free, so when they do blitz — usually with their linebackers — that player tends to be successful.
Kerney is the star of the defensive line and Johnson will no doubt need help. Mebane and Cole are not necessarily skilled pass rushers, so Pollak should be able to slide over and give Johnson some assistance, freeing up Joseph Addai or Donald Brown to pick up a blitzing linebacker when needed or to act as a safety valve. Diem should be able to handle Redding without any help.
The player to watch on passing downs is situational pass rusher Lawrence Jackson, who has managed to rack up three sacks. Diem will most likely draw him in known passing situations, so it will be important for him to lock down on Jackson and not allow him to get to the edge.
Editor's Note: For more on the Seattle defensive front, please click here for Greg Talmage's analysis.
Hill has been ruled out for Sunday's game and Tatupu was limited in practice, so the Colts will at least face reserve linebacker Will Herring and possibly backup David Hawthorne. Hawthorne and Herring were caught out of position a number of times against Chicago, mostly in the passing game, where they were too focused on stopping the run, overcommitted to the line of scrimmage, and left passing lanes open to slants and in routes from the Bears receivers.
Devin Hester scored on such a play for the game-winning touchdown, though he did most of the work himself after he caught the ball. Pierre Garcon and Dallas Clark could have a field day in these areas, particularly if Tatupu is unable to go.
The player to watch is rookie Aaron Curry, who possesses excellent instincts and rare athletic ability. He's still a rookie, so he will have his mental lapses, but he has already assimilated many of the subtle nuances of the NFL game at his position and will only get better.
For the sake of the Indianapolis running game — and Manning, as Curry registered a sack against Chicago and will likely be the player Seattle isolates on blitzes when they do bring extra defenders — the Colts had better hope that Curry does not make a quantum leap in his development on Sunday. He has the ability to change games and, since the margin for error is so slight at this level, Indianapolis needs to keep an eye on Curry as an X factor in this game.
For the most part, though, the Colts should be able to run to the edges and up the middle on this group and should have a great deal of success passing to the short middle and left, so don't be surprised if Clark lines up in the slot to that side.
Reggie Wayne would ordinarily draw Ken Lucas, but Lucas has been limited in practice this week, having aggravated a hamstring injury. He was not on the field for the aforementioned Hester touchdown, which was scored on reserve cornerback Travis Fisher.
If Lucas cannot go and Wayne does draw Fisher, look for Manning to focus on Wayne much the way he did in the Jacksonville game in Week 1. Wayne has established himself as an elite receiver and is a tough matchup for any cornerback, but the matchup becomes especially lopsided if he is paired up with Fisher.
Regardless of who starts on that side, the Seahawks cornerbacks have a tendency to give their receivers a fairly generous cushion, which means that Garcon will have room to operate at the snap. However, Curry is responsible for filling the slant and in pattern zones to that side of the field, so Manning will need to tread lightly and hope that Seattle decides to blitz Curry in emergency situations, opening up that side of the field — much the way the Dolphins did on Garcon's game-winning touchdown against Miami in Week 2.
Safeties Jordan Babineaux and Deon Grant tend to each cover half the field in the deep zone, leaving plenty of open territory in the intermediate middle and leaving the deep out as a very viable option. Since those areas of the field is where the Indianapolis passing game lives, expect Manning to attack from the outset.
If the Colts are successful running the ball early, that makes this opportunity even more inviting, as Manning will be able to freeze the pass rush and the safeties with playaction and operate the offense in the areas where they are most comfortable and most effective.
All in all, the matchups heavily favor Indianapolis in this game and Manning and company should be able to continue their roll, especially considering how wounded the Seattle defense currently is and that the Colts finally return home after consecutive prime time road games. Manning is a master of his craft and the matchups versus the Seahawks defense make his craft easier to execute.
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