Raiders-Seahawks: Three Key Matchups

As much as any other professional sport, the NFL is a team game. No one player can be successful without the assistance of others. That said, individual matchups can and do determine winners and losers on a weekly basis. Scout.com brought in greater Seattle resident and NFL scout Rob Rang to help determine the individual matchups that will determine whether the Seahawks will win or lose this week.

Here are his thoughts on the three critical one-on-one matchups for this week’s game.

Raiders RBs vs. Seahawks MLB Brock Coyle - The Raiders are led on offense by exciting rookie Derek Carr, whose impressive performance in the preseason finale against the Seahawks was the catalyst that led to his beating out veteran Matt Schaub for the starting role. That said, while Carr was surgical against Seattle (11 of 13 for 143 and three touchdowns) two months ago, head coach Tony Sparano knows that the best way for the rookie to be successful in a meaningful game will be complementing him with the run.

The Raiders rank dead last in the NFL in rushing yards, averaging just 69.6 yards per game. That is a misleading statistic, however, as the Raiders have abandoned the run, at times, due to being down. The team is led by Darren McFadden, a 6-1, 218-pound slasher who still possesses the speed to gain yardage in chunks. He’s supplemented by Maurice Jones-Drew, who the club signed in the offseason in the hopes that he’d form a formidable 1-2 punch with McFadden. Second-year pro Latavius Murray and former Washington Husky Marcel Reese have more juice.

If the Raiders can commit to running the ball, the offensive line can create some holes. Rookie guard Gabe Jackson has teamed with center Stefen Wisniewski to form a solid interior and left tackle Donald Penn, another free agent addition, has played well. The Raiders, in fact, rank second in the NFL with just eight sacks allowed through seven games. Even with the Russell Wilson’s mobility, the Seahawks, by comparison, have allowed 15.

Tasked with keeping Oakland’s running game in the doldrums is Coyle, an undrafted free agent from Montana. The 6-2, 245 pound Coyle is alert and a fine open-field tackler, though he catches ball-carriers while falling back rather than driving them backward, on occasion. His squatty, powerful frame helps him get under the pads of would-be blockers and plug things up, though Coyle doesn’t have ideal arm-length or recovery speed. Expect him to finish among team leaders in tackles against Oakland but if the Raiders spring a big run, it’s very possible that Coyle got caught up with a block, leaving a lane for the backs to exploit. Coyle recognition impressed the Seahawks throughout training camp and his insertion into the starting lineup allows the team to move K.J. Wright back to outside linebacker, where his length and athleticism are better suited.
Seahawks TE/FB vs. Raiders OLB Khalil Mack - Like Wright, running back Robert Turbin showed impressive versatility and selflessness in being willing to play another position when starting fullback went down with injury. Turbin did a serviceable job in this role but the Seahawks are hopeful that new addition Will Tukuafu will be an even more forceful lead blocker.

The 6-4, 280 pound Tukuafu was a defensive end at the University of Oregon and impressed with his size and physicality as an undrafted free agent with the Seahawks and during a run with the 49ers. Tight ends Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet have the athleticism and hands to help in the passing game but neither is as reliable a blocker as Zach Miller, who remains sidelined with injury. Tukaufu’s size and physicality should help Seattle contain Mack, the No. 5 overall pick of May’s draft and an edge defender who is quickly emerging as Oakland’s best player on that side of the ball.

Though he hasn’t yet recorded an NFL sack, Mack has the burst to penetrate gaps or off the edge to harass quarterbacks. He’s just missed on several QB takedowns and once they start, the Mack Attack could really get rolling. Sacks are just one part of the game. It is the rookie’s stout play against the run in recent weeks that is really turning heads. Mack has long arms and an explosive pop to disengage from would-be blockers. Of his 43 tackles, 10 have come behind the line of scrimmage – more than twice as many as any other Oakland defender.

Without more sacks and wins, Mack isn’t likely to earn the Defensive Rookie of the Year but no first-year pro has been more impressive, thus far – and that’s with full respect to St. Louis Rams’ penetrating defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Seahawks C vs. Raiders DTs - Seahawks Pro Bowl center Max Unger practiced a bit this week but with the bye game already in the rear view mirror, the club may elect to let him sit once more to rest his sore foot. The pressure to start Unger will be increased, however, if Stephen Schilling is unable to play. The former Michigan (and Bellevue) standout has proven a capable fill-in the past few weeks but missed Thursday’s practice with a knee injury of his own. If Schilling and Unger and Schilling are both out, the next man up would be Patrick Lewis, who only joined the team on October 8.

Oakland doesn’t boast big names on the interior of their defensive line but they do have big bodies, including rookie nose guard Justin Ellis, a 6-2, 334 pounder from Louisiana Tech blessed with surprising quickness given his massive frame.

Unger’s agility, smarts and leadership would certainly give Seattle a boost if he were able to return. Even at his best, however, the 6-5, 305 pound Unger has struggled with shorter, squatty defenders who are able to get under his pads and anchor the middle. At 6-5, 313 pounds, Schilling has a similar frame as Unger and isn’t quite as balanced.

Lewis, at 6-1, 311 pounds, has more of a “Coke Machine” frame that may help get Ellis or future defenders moving.

As last week’s fumbled exchange between Schilling and Wilson proved, however, nothing is more important than familiarity between the center and quarterback and therefore regardless of who is hiking the ball for Seattle, this is a matchup to watch.
Prediction: Seahawks 24 – Raiders 16


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