You will learn to appreciate my completely unsophisticated sense of humor. Both Brandon Mebane and Walter Thurmond haven’t practiced all week, so don’t cry into your morning Budweiser when both are declared inactive for Sunday’s game.
Seattle’s unbalanced defense will suddenly balance out … for the worse. The stout run defense will be handicapped without Mebane. After giving up far too many yards on far too few rushing attempts to two below average Arizona running backs, the Seahawks defense could easily have a long day against McFadden. The Seahawks best chance is to stack the box and force Jason Campbell to throw (the complete opposite strategy that Denver employed). He’s a terrible quarterback under pressure, and the Raiders have no wide receivers worth noting. But I digress.
Believe it or not, the Oakland Raiders defense is actually worse than Arizona’s. Shocking, I know. So, if there’s ever a game for the Seahawks offense to execute perfectly, it’s at Oakland. Doing so is will be critical in winning the game, because it’s unlikely the defense will pound the Raiders in the field position game, as the Seahawks have been doing oh so well this year. So let’s look at the Seahawks three biggest offensive opportunities:
1. Continue to frequently target Mike Williams. This seems like a no brainer, but I’m actually on to something. Believe it or not, according to Football Outsider’s DVOA defensive rankings, Oakland is dead last in the league when covering the opponent’s #1 receiver. Apparently, Asomugha isn’t so awesome. (DVOA stands for Defense-adjusted Value over Average; basically assigns a value to a player’s contributions and compares them to the league average.) Asomugha is a fantastic press, man cover cornerback, but the Raiders have been playing a fair amount of zone coverage this year and it has not been effective. Also, as of Friday, corner back Chris Johnson hasn’t passed concussion tests and has yet to practice. He’s listed as questionnable for Sunday’s game.
2. Make John Carlson a priority. John and Matt haven’t done a great job hooking up this year. But good news! Football Outsiders has Oakland ranked 28th in defensive DVOA against opposing tight ends. Matt has been a bit shy throwing down the middle of the field, but it’d behoove him to be a little more aggressive against the Raiders (a team that’s notched a whopping 3 interceptions all season, 31st in the league). For an in-depth (and quite eye-opening) analysis of John Carlson’s performance this year, check out John Morgan’s recent analysis on the topic.
3. Downfield blocking will be key to the run game. Oakland’s run defense is below league average, ranking 23rd in DVOA and ranking and 22nd in defensive EPA. (Kinda funny that two different ‘advanced’ football metrics websites rank this defense almost exactly the same. Pretty cool.) But, where the real opportunity lies is the 2nd and 3rd levels of the defense. According to Football Outsiders, the Raiders rank 26th in “2nd level” adjusted rushing yards and dead last in “open field” adjusted rushing yards. If Seahawks running backs can get through the first level of the defense, very good things could happen. The Beast and Priest will make it happen.
Barring complete suckage on Oakland’s part, I expect Oakland to score points. The Raiders run offense is on the verge of being elite, and when unmolested, Jason Campbell can be quite effective (he notched 16.2 Expected Points Added against Denver; the league’s leading QB in EPA is Peyton Manning with 68.6 for the entire season). The Seahawks must stack the box and pressure Campbell into throwing the ball.
With both defenses either hurting (Seahawks) or generally ineffective (Oakland), and two offenses with multiple legitimate weapons that are getting better and better as the season progresses, a legitimate shootout could be in the works.