8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Seattle -7
Fresh off of their much anticipated Super Bowl Rematch, the defending champion Seattle Seahawks travel to the Nation’s Capital to battle the beleaguered Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. Seattle (2-1) entered an early Bye Week on a high note, dispatching the Denver Broncos for the second time in the last seven months. For the majority of the contest it was quite an uneventful affair for Pete Carroll’s charges, who all but smothered Denver’s vaunted offense for over three quarters. Suddenly things got interesting as Peyton Manning caught fire, engineering a seventeen-point comeback to force the game into overtime, where the Seahawks were fortunate enough to win the ensuing coin toss. From that point, the visitors wouldn’t see the ball again, as the hosts drove 80 yards to the end zone, ending the encounter with a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run. Lynch, was the decisive factor in the 26-20 victory, accumulating a total of 128 yards and two scores, 88 of which came on twelve carries and another 40 from three catches.
For much of that contest, Seattle’s defense proved that it was no fluke how they manhandled Denver in last year’s 43-8 rout of the Broncos in the Super Bowl, where they relegated the league’s most prolific offense to a mere 306 total yards, forcing four turnovers. The rematch proved to be far closer, but Carroll’s defense still handled their business; through three quarters, the Broncos had amassed just three points on 112 yards, with Manning a pedestrian 11-of-17 for 87 yards and no touchdowns. Their continued dominance over Denver is no mystery, for their star-studded Secondary possesses a rare blend of size, athleticism, and speed to deal with even the most dynamic of offenses. The boisterous Richard Sherman (10 tackles, 1 defended pass) is arguably the most effective Cornerback in the NFL today, if not the loudest, taking advantage of his lean 6-3 frame to smother opposing receivers. Together Earl Thomas (18 tackles, 2 defended passes) and Kam Chancellor (26 tackles, 1 interception, 2 defended passes) comprise a nasty tandem at Safety, with the former covering ground like a Centerfielder and the latter using his hulking physique like a Linebacker. These guys give Carroll three Pro Bowlers on the back end, a valuable commodity in today’s NFL. With talent like that on hand, it’s no wonder that the Seahawks rank among the league’s best in so many categories; Thus far Seattle has allowed 22.0 points (11th overall) on 321.3 yards (6th overall), including 249.0 against the pass (19th overall) on 6.0 Net Yards per Attempt (8th overall), and another 72.3 yards against the rush (5th overall) on 2.8 yards per carry (1st overall). Furthermore, they’ve managed to register five sacks () and three takeaways (22nd overall), two of which are interceptions (20th overall).
Defense aside, Seattle’s growth on offense had just as much to do with their run to the franchise’s first championship, or more appropriately the development of Russell Wilson. Now in his third season, the Quarterback has straddled the fine line between Game Manager and Playmaker with surprising ease, but no matter which end of the proverbial spectrum he trends towards he manages to win games. In 35 career starts, the diminutive Wilson has earned a stellar 26-9 record, along with a 4-1 resume in the Playoffs, headlined by his 18-of-25, 206-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Super Bowl. Now it’s all about tapping into his potential; through three games thus far, he has completed 69.0% of his passes for an average of 217.0 yards per game on 7.5 yards per pass, with six touchdowns and one interception, while also rushing for another 87 yards 4.8 yards per carry. With the aforementioned Lynch (234 yards, 3 touchdowns) lining up behind him in the backfield, defenses have to remain honest, leaving them susceptible to the big play. And speaking of big plays, that is precisely where Percy Harvin steps in; the explosive Receiver has been as versatile a weapon as anyone this season, racking up 106 receiving yards, 86 rushing yards, and 141 return yards with a total of one touchdown.
Meanwhile, just when they thought they had things figured out, the Redskins (1-3) are forced to go back to the drawing board. When Robert Griffin III suffered a dislocated ankle early in Week Two’s meeting with Jacksonville, Kirk Cousins replaced him and promptly lit the Jaguars on fire; the third-year Quarterback completed 22-of-33 passes for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns in leading his team to a 41-10 blowout victory. If that wasn’t enough of a first impression, he continued his solid play the following week at Philadelphia, shredding the Eagles’ defense for 427 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-48 passing, going toe-to-toe with Nick Foles in a 37-34 defeat. Cousins’ play over those seven quarters was so impressive that Head Coach Jay Gruden openly proclaimed that he could potentially supplant Griffin as the starter when he eventually returned from injury, for after all, the previous regime selected Cousins in the Fourth Round of the same Draft that they picked Griffin at Number Two Overall. So after two superb performances, it appeared that Washington had finally found the Franchise Quarterback that they had sought after for so long, but ladies and gentlemen, appearances can be deceiving.
Alas, all that good will evaporated last Thursday Night, as the New York Giants stormed into FedEx Field and humiliated it’s tenants in a 45-14 debacle. In essence, the Redskins were their own worst enemy, committing a startling six turnovers, four of which were interceptions and the other two lost fumbles. For his part, Cousins was terrible; under duress all night, the young passer completed just 19-of-33 passes for 257 yards, one touchdown and four picks, all of which occurred in the second half, three in the third quarter alone. However, he was far from the only culprit in that calamity, for the Offensive Line did very little to protect him, allowing a pair of sacks, and rarely opening holes for Alfred Morris int eh running game. Morris had 63 yards and a score on a dozen carries, but the team as a whole largely abandoned the run altogether after falling behind by seventeen points at halftime. The loss also continued a disturbing trend in that regard, as Washington has only managed to rush for 170 yards over the past two outings, after racking up 322 over the first two games of the campaign. Much of that can be attributed to Griffin’s absence, for his would-be successor is not a threat to attack defenses with his legs, in turn making the offense much more conventional, and in many cases predictable. Either way, another poor performance from Cousins will likely accelerate the timetable on RG3’s return, even if it comes at the hands of the defending Super Bowl Champions.
Another area of concern for Gruden and his staff is his defense, which after a promising two weeks to open the campaign, has regressed back to the dreadful unit that played a large role in costing his predecessor his job. Oddly enough, Gruden chose to retain Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett, after presiding over a unit that ranked thirtieth in both points allowed (29.9) and net yards per pass (7.1). Through Weeks One and Two, the Redskins were very stout on this side of the ball, allowing an average of 13.5 points on just 234.5 yards, including 164.5 through the air. However, things took a sharp turn for the worse in the following weeks, as the Redskins gave up an average of 41.0 points on 414.0 yards, with 310.0 of that figure via the pass. So what gives? Some rationale will point to the overall quality of their opponents; in the first two weeks, Gruden’s charges defended Houston and Jacksonville, whom rank seventeenth and next-to-last in scoring, while their last two opponents, Philadelphia and New York rank fourth and sixth in points scored. Other rationale will point out that since the team was unable to run the ball effectively, they simply didn’t own an advantage in possession, which exposed them defensively due to more snaps. Finally, as is often the case, injuries can swing the performance of a unit quicker than anything else. DeAngelo Hall (Achilles), Barry Cofeild (ankle), Duke Ihenacho (foot), and Tracy Porter (hamstring) are all out for tonight’s contest, with the first three players languishing on Injured Reserve, while Brian Orakpo (finger), Jason Hatcher (hamstring), Jarvis Jenkins (ribs), Akeem Jordan (knee), and Kedric Golston (groin) have left the Front Seven dangerously short on healthy bodies. Against an opponent as physical as the Seahawks, tonight’s tilt will serve as a test of their collective mettle.