Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks at Chiefs, Pt. 2

In Part Two of our pregame preview, C.E. Wendler of Warpaint Illustrated asks five questions about the Seahawks. What did the Chiefs miss in Aaron Curry, how can Matt Cassel exploit Seattle's defense, and why doesn't Seattle have a running game anymore?

CEW: Last week the Chiefs got a stiff test against Minnesota's defense. Running the ball was extremely difficult and pass protection was spotty at best. What sort of challenge can the Chiefs expect in facing Seattle's defense?

DF: The Seahawks are stout up front with tackles Brandon Mebane and newcomer Colin Cole, and the ends are generally reasonable run-stoppers. However, this ain't no Williams Wall. Seahawks team president Tim Ruskell has moved slightly away from his belief that light, fast defenses are the way to go, and you're starting to see some girth up front – not unlike what the Colts are doing. That might be more effective against an inside banger like Larry Johnson than against the directional speed of Jamaal Charles. Pass rush hasn't been an issue, especially from seventh-round end Nick Reed, who's been the pleasant surprise of the preseason.

Pass coverage is going to be spotty at best – Ruskell has a passion for height-impaired cornerbacks, and it's starting to catch up with him, especially now that Marcus Trufant is out for an undisclosed length of time. Several Chargers quarterbacks abused Seattle's backups in the preseason opener, and Kyle Orton found this secondary to be the cure for what ailed him after his three-pick performance against the 49ers.

CEW: A lot of Chiefs fans wanted to see the team pick Aaron Curry with the third overall pick in April's draft. That didn't happen, obviously. How is he faring in Seattle? What did the Chiefs miss out on?

DF: Curry's progress has been halted by the standard-issue big rookie contract holdout, now long since resolved, and the groin injury that kept him out of last Saturday's game. When he gets up to speed, Curry has everything it takes to become one of the best linebackers in the NFL. His speed for his size (6-2, 254) is truly remarkable; he's half a head taller than fellow linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill, and he's probably faster than either one of them. At Wake Forest, he was kind of a stand-in-place-then-go linebacker – he didn't have his hand down a lot. He played strongside 98 percent of the time, and his job was to read and react. He'll rush the passer more in Seattle, and he needs to work on his coverage in the flats – that's the one debit. Other than that, I don't see a lot between Curry and a Defensive Rookie of the Year award. I understand why the Chiefs didn't pull the trigger on that one -- you don't spend $60 million on a 3-4 ILB – but it was a bad time to switch to a 3-4 in that regard. I also wonder if the Chiefs might not regret not taking Curry if Clancy Pendergast has to call more four-man fronts that expected.

CEW: You got an opportunity last season to watch Matt Cassel bring the Patriots from behind and beat the Seahawks. What did he show you in that game? How do you think he'll fare against Seattle's first-team defense this weekend?

DF: I wrote the Patriots chapter in the 2009 Football Outsiders Almanac, so I watched him all season. Cassel's pocket presence improved exponentially through the season, and the Patriots were smart enough to keep him away from those things he can't do. He's much better in shotgun because he needs a little more time to throw than the average bear, and he doesn't have a deep arm at all, so the Pats led the NFL in receiver and tight end screens. The Seahawks aren't great at defending screens of any type, so I'd expect to see a lot of that as long as Cassel's in there.

CEW: Is there an explanation for Seattle's poor ground game this preseason? The Chiefs had problems stopping the run last year and a good showing against the Seahawks' running attack - or any team's running attack, for that matter - would be an indicator of improvement.

DF: To have an elite ground game, you need two things: A great running back, and a great offensive line. This would seem to be obvious, but the concept has eluded Ruskell over the last few years. Since 2006, he has disassembled what used to be the best line in football by letting Steve Hutchinson walk out the door, failing to be proactive enough in replacing Walter Jones, and believing that the zone blocking system installed by new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is a cure-all that will allow the Seahawks to plug in a bunch of no-names and get the job done. You work the AFC West, and you've seen enough of Ryan Clady – zone blocking or no, you need talent to make a system work.

Ruskell really likes Julius Jones, believing that he is a perfect fit for the one-cut-and-go blocking system, and he recently signed Edgerrin James for depth. Problem is that neither back has ever demonstrated the ability to transcend below-average blocking, which is what they're probably going to get this year. If the Seahawks don't start restocking the line with elite talent, the problems will continue.

CEW: Bobby Engram hasn't exactly impressed this offseason after seeing a decline in his numbers with the Seahawks last season. Do you think he's hit the wall, as all old players do, or does he have something left in the tank? The Chiefs plan to use him primarily as a slot receiver/third-down specialist.

DF: It's difficult to explain how much Seattle fans appreciate what Engram brought to the team during his time here – he's the consummate professional and he was Matt Hasselbeck's only consistent weapon for a long time. But sadly, yes, it may be over for Bobby. The Chiefs may be able to get another season out of him in the slot, taking three-yard dink passes downfield, but I'd have to think it's about over for him. It's a shame – you'd like to hope that guys like Engram would be able to play as long as they wanted.


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