Behind Enemy Lines: Inside the Seahawks

Renowned football writer Rob Rang, who covers the Seahawks for Scout, gives us the inside view of Sunday's opponent.

What happened to Seattle's defense? Eight plays of 20-plus yards through the air against St. Louis? That's almost unheard of.

There isn't any one factor that led to the big plays. Certainly there were some lapses in coverage, most notably new starting strong safety Dion Bailey simply falling down in one-on-one coverage to surrender the game-tying touchdown with a minute remaining. Also to blame were some uncharacteristically poor tackling by the Seahawks' linebackers and defensive backs. Significant credit, however, also has to go to the Rams, especially new starting quarterback Nick Foles, who had a couple of spectacular throws, including one perfectly placed ball to slot receiver Stedman Bailey between All-Pros Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.

I'm sure you've talked the Kam Chancellor thing to death, but just how big of a deal is this holdout?

On the field, it is a significant loss because Chancellor provides such an intimidating presence in run support and against tight ends and receivers crossing the middle. Chancellor has shown a knack for making big plays at critical moments and sets the tone for Seattle's ultra-physical defense.

The intangibles Chancellor brings also are worth mentioning. His leadership on and off the field isn't limited to the captain role he earned a year ago. He's also quite savvy, sniffing out trick plays and helping Thomas and the rest of Seattle's secondary line up accordingly.

Finally, as you'd imagine, the Seahawks are likely getting sick of answering questions about his absence. The club can deny it all it would like, Chancellor's absence has been -- and continues to be -- a distraction.

Does Seattle have major issues on the offensive line? Or is that the byproduct of facing a really good defensive line on the road?

With Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn both legitimate All-Pro pass rushers, the Rams boast one of the NFL's elite defensive lines and therefore St. Louis (and highly aggressive defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) deserves plenty of credit.

However, Seattle has three "new" starters along its offensive line after trading center Max Unger to the Saints as part of the Jimmy Graham deal and watching former first-round pick and starting left guard James Carpenter take big money to play for the New York Jets. The Seahawks replaced Unger with former undrafted free agent defensive tackle Drew Nowak, who simply beat out veterans Patrick Lewis and Lemuel Jeanpierre to earn the starting role at center. That's significant because the Seahawks went 7-0 in the games Lewis or Jeanpierre started for Seattle last season while Unger was injured.

To maintain the grit lost with Carpenter moving on, the Seahawks moved second-year right tackle Justin Britt inside to left guard. He possesses the size, physicality and tenacity offensive line coach Tom Cable likes inside. Former tight end and NFC Championship game fake field goal hero Garry Gilliam has taken over at right tackle. He's very athletic but lacks Britt's functional strength at this time.

How much better is Seattle's offense with Jimmy Graham? From the outside, it's the star player Russell Wilson never has had in the passing game. And what did you think of the price tag - quality center Max Unger and a first-round pick?

Because Seattle had such success without Unger, he was viewed as somewhat dispensable, though he is a legitimate Pro Bowler when healthy and an even better teammate. Further, Seattle has traded away its first-round pick each of the past three years so the club doesn't appear to value these selections as much as other teams. Hitting on middle- and later-round picks is required when taking this strategy so it will be fascinating to see if general manager John Schneider's unusual strategy pays off in the long run.

Graham has been every bit as good as hoped. He's a legitimate mismatch, whose size, athleticism and soft hands have given the Seahawks their first true go-to option of the Pete Carroll era. He isn't going to duplicate the production that he enjoyed in New Orleans because Seattle's offense will always be run-oriented as long as Marshawn Lynch is on the roster but his presence makes everyone else so much more dangerous. Graham deserves credit for working hard as a run blocker, as well. He's not a dominating presence certainly but has answered the call to be more physical and aggressive at the point of attack.

Green Bay has had to deal with "hangover" questions for months after the NFC Championship meltdown. As it turns out, the Packers were just fine in beating Chicago. How about Seattle? Is the "hangover" a real issue after losing the Super Bowl?

Mentally-speaking, I do not believe Seattle is dealing with a "hangover" from the Super Bowl loss. Frankly, the feel I get from the Seahawks following last week's surprising loss to St. Louis is the same I had following their loss to the Patriots. The Seahawks felt that they were the better team in both games and allowed the game to get away from them because they didn't finish. The Packers likely feel the same way about the NFC Championship game.

Physically, however, could be another story. History hasn't been kind to Super Bowl losers recently with these clubs suffering through significant injuries the next season. Seattle is fortunate to not have suffered any major injuries to this point but the losses in free agency and Chancellor's holdout make this a very different team than the one who dominated Denver to end the NFL season two years ago. A loss to Green Bay wouldn't signal panic as the Packers, clearly, are one of the league's elite teams. An 0-3 start following next week's home game against those very same Chicago Bears, however, would certainly raise the question of a Super Bowl hangover.

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