I caught up with Rob Rang from Seahawfootball.com this week to exchange five questions and answers ahead of the Monday Night Football matchup between the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks.
Below you’ll find Rob’s five answers.
Question - The Seahawks enter this game with a perennial top-five defense and are perceived as an intimidating force. As the Lions offense sputters, this matchup looks as lopsided as one could possibly be. Where are the weak points in the armor of the Seahawks defense?
Answer - Seattle's defense returned to form last week in a 26-0 shutout of the Chicago Bears and with Kam Chancellor back and the team relatively healthy, there is optimism that dominating play on that side of the ball is returning. Over the first two weeks (losses at St. Louis and Green Bay), however, Seattle was uncharacteristically porous against the run and surrendered 12 passes plays of at least 20 yards. Communications breakdowns and missed tackles were the main culprits.
Two potential "weak points" in Seattle's defense Monday night are on the interior of the defensive line and at nickel cornerback, where injuries have left the Seahawks thin. Brandon Mebane is the club's best run-stuffer and he's questionable for this contest with a groin pull. His primary replacement -- Jordan Hill -- makes splashier plays because of his quickness but he doesn't hold up to double-teams like Mebane can. Meanwhile, at nickel, the Seahawks are expected to again primarily use Marcus Burley. If they were healthy, Tharold Simon or Jeremy Lane might hold this position, as each "started" in this role over Burley a year ago. Lane is definitely out and Pete Carroll sounded resigned to Simon being out again, as well.
Question - What’s Cliff Avril saying? He usually conducts himself professionally but is honest. I know he would have no regrets moving on from the Lions to the Seahawks and has gotten a Super Bowl ring out of it, but will he look to show up the team that never offered him the long-term, lucrative contract he was looking for?
Answer – Rob has provided direct quotes from Avril.
On if it means anything to be facing his old team: “No, not really, for the simple fact that it’s not even the same coaching staff. I think it’s the same GM, but no, just another game. Happy to be playing them, Monday Night Football in our stadium so we’re just going to have fun.”
On what he learned from going winless in a season: “What do you learn? You learn that you don’t want to experience that again or you’re going to get fired. I mean, I was a rookie just trying to find my way, just get on the field and try to make plays, try not to be the reason why. You wanted to be some kind of bright spot for the following year. I knew the coaching staff and all of that was going to change so for me it was just about getting on the field and trying to make plays.”
On why he played one side in Detroit: “We just played in right and left. Most schemes, most four-three schemes are like that, you just play right and left, but then you come to a scheme like this where the Leo position, you’re dropping sometimes. They just ask you to do more in this system, to be able to play both sides, be able to cover, to understand certain passing concepts and different things like that. In Detroit it was just go to the quarterback.”
On if playing with Matt Stafford gives him insight: “Nothing. I mean, like I said, they don’t even have the same coaching staff. He doesn’t even have the same quarterback coach there. I wish I had some keys on them, but he’s a heck of a quarterback. I’m going to try to make my presence felt as much as possible.”
On how connected he feels to Detroit: “I still talk to a few of the guys. My D-line coach is still there, I talk to him probably once or twice a month. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been talking to him. I even talked to him last week. Some of the defensive players, Steven Tulloch, DeAndre Levy, some of those guys I played with. I still communicate with the few guys that are still there. Other than that, coaching staff, just my coach. He’s the only one left so we talk from time to time, like I said. Other than that, new scheme, new people, just a different team.”
Question - We know we’re not going to get a completely Richard Sherman vs. Calvin Johnson Matchup as Sherman figures to stick to his left cornerback position but he did play from the slot in week 1 and has moved around a bit – albeit not much still – this year. What can we expect from Sherman?
Answer - Sherman's length, fluidity and instincts make him one of the league's elite defenders but he hasn't made the impactful players thus far in 2015 that Seahawks fans have grown accustomed to. Some of this, of course, is a function of the fact that opponents rarely target him. However, he was been challenged on a few occasions over the first three weeks of this season and has allowed some big receptions, including when slid inside in the Week One loss to the Rams. Physically-speaking, the 5-11, 185 pound Burley is more of a classic nickel corner than the 6-3, 195 pound Sherman and given Tate and Lance Moore's agility (as well as the presence of Johnson on the outside), it is anticipated that Seattle will line up Sherman and Cary Williams on the perimeter.
The "new" underneath concepts Detroit has been featuring Johnson so far this season could be the best way to getting him involved against the Seahawks. Sherman is remarkably effective at timing his leap and snaring interceptions on deep balls.
Question - What is the team saying about the play of the offensive line, particularly at the tackle positions?
Answer - Both head coach Pete Carroll and assistant head coach (and offensive line coach) Tom Cable have preached patience as the Seahawks have three "new" blockers up front in 2015 from a year ago with former undrafted free agents Garry Gilliam and Drew Nowak winning the right tackle and center jobs over veterans during training camp and former right tackle Justin Britt sliding inside to left guard to replace free agent defection James Carpenter.
Gilliam, who played tight end for much of his collegiate career at Penn State, is long and athletic at 6-5, 305 pounds but he's not particularly stout. He is quick and agile, helping him hold up to speed rushers but has been susceptible to bull rushes in the passing and running game, alike.
When healthy, left tackle Russell Okung is clearly Seattle's best offensive lineman and a potential Pro Bowler. His tendency to get nicked up annually has created some frustration and the club may not be able to afford him when his contract goes up following this season. He's balanced, strong, technically-sound and tough.
Question - What would change for the Seahawks if Lynch didn’t play and they had to go forward with Rawls? What is the feeling on Lynch’s status for Monday night?
Answer - After struggling to get loose last week and ultimately being taken out of the game after just five carries, Lynch underwent an MRI on his hamstring on Monday and hasn't practiced since. Carroll reiterated Thursday that the Seahawks may once again be forced to make a "game-time" decision with Lynch.
The team is optimistic that Thomas Rawls (another undrafted free agent) would perform well again against Detroit if again pushed into a starting role. Rawls ran for 104 yards on just 16 carries last week against Chicago and brings a similar aggressive, punishing style of play as Lynch. While he doesn't possess Lynch's underrated combination of vision, balance and burst, Rawls looks to initiate contact and does a terrific job of breaking tackles and falling forward. Seattle's game plan would not likely change much if Rawls got the start rather than Lynch. Either way, Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are looking to control tempo with the running game. If Detroit's pass rush becomes an issue, don't be surprised if third down back Fred Jackson gets moved involved as a receiver, as well.