1. The Seahawks will be starting an undrafted rookie at middle linebacker. What do you expect to see from him? Does that position become a major weak spot?
The Seahawks' starting middle linebacker, Bobby Wagner, is one of the better players at his position in the NFL, in my opinion, so his turf toe injury is a huge blow to the overall cohesiveness of the defense. Wagner has speed, diagnoses plays extremely well, and is a very solid tackler. Further, he brings a certain intensity to the defense that they seem to have been missing these past few weeks. With Wagner out indefinitely, the Hawks had been leaning on OLB K.J. Wright in the middle - it's a spot that he played his rookie season so he's no stranger to it - but from what I've heard, they like Wright way more on the outside, where he can use his length and power to his advantage.
Obviously, it's a big step down to rookie UDFA Brock Coyle, who's slated to start in Wagner's place for the first time. That said, from everything we've heard out of Seahawks headquarters and in watching the preseason action, Colye looks like a natural in the middle, and plays the run very well. I'm guessing the Hawks will use Coyle in base downs when they're expecting runs from Oakland, then rotate him out in exchange for a nickel back when they go to their nickel looks, leaving K.J. Wright and rookie Kevin Pierre-Louis in at linebacker (oh, by the way, starting OLB Malcolm Smith is also out this week, meaning rookie Kevin Pierre-Louis will also get the start in his place).
Bottom line, for Seattle this will be a pretty interesting experiment this week, because Coyle and Pierre-Louis will be getting a good amount of snaps in this defense. Pierre-Louis looked really good in relief last week, so there's optimism, but frankly the Raiders should try to attack these two rookies as much as they can.
2. In the past three weeks the Seahawks have not looked like themselves. From the outside looking in, it appears they are beating themselves. What has gone wrong?
Yeah, there's been a crazy, seemingly unending string of unforced errors, penalties, and missed opportunities for the Seahawks this season. If Seattle wants to contend for the title again this year it seems to me that they'll need to get these things cleaned up, and fast - pre-snap penalties have been rampant, the defense has missed a good six or seven "easy" interceptions that just have bounced off their hands, there's been probably 10 fumbles that the defense has failed to recover, which is just weird, and the offense has managed to turn the ball over or miss huge opportunities to score on several occasions. It's just not "clean" football thus far.
That all said, this team still has played relatively well - they're currently ranked 3rd in Football Outsiders DVOA and their early season schedule has been among the NFL's toughest, so you have to take all these things in context. Seattle still has a ton of talent, but they're fighting right now to get through some injuries to major contributors. This means they're leaning heavily on new players or rookies, and you have to expect some mistakes and miscues.
Pete Carroll is all about "it's not how you start, it's how you finish," so there's still a good deal of optimism that things will get cleaned up. Hopefully that starts this week.
3. The buzz right now with regard to the Seahawks has been supposed locker room turmoil. First it was Percy Harvin, then Marshawn Lynch. What is the latest word on that?
Frankly, I believe some of, or most of the Percy Harvin discontent stuff because there's just no way the team would've shipped off one of their star players for peanuts unless something major was going on behind the scenes. Pete Carroll is a big believer in team chemistry and "buying in" and all that, and with the reports that Harvin took himself out of games late, there was just no way they could allow all that to go on and maintain credibility with the rest of the team.
As for Lynch, I don't really think any of the tension between him and the coaching staff and front office is new. Lynch famously flipped off Darrell Bevell during a game last year vs. the Cardinals (when he didn't get a carry at the goal-line), so I think there's been some discord about how he's used and how much money he's making for some time. That said, Lynch gives his all every time he touches the football and is a warrior on game days, so I don't think it's anything major to worry about for the team. I think the Seahawks can stomach a little tension, a few fights between players, or grumbling about usage and/or money, as long as the player(s) in question bring their all on game-days, and Lynch does that. It didn't sound like Harvin was - allegedly - and that was the final straw.
So, at the end of the day, I think the reports of turmoil are based on something, but they're probably way overblown because of the Seahawks' struggles to win this season. As they say, "winning cures all," and if the Hawks start winning again, these reports will just fade into the background. Things tend to get amplified when a team is losing, especially the defending champs. I'm not particularly worried the turmoil in the locker room right now, to be totally honest, but if the season snowballs and Seattle keeps losing, I expect more reports will surface. It's just the way it goes.
4. What is the most glaring difference between this year's Seahawks team and last year's Super Bowl team?
A couple things: first of all, Seattle's has had much worse luck in the injury department this year as compared to 2013, when they were among the most healthy teams in the league. Right now, starting center Max Unger, starting tight end Zach Miller, starting middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, starting outside linebacker Malcolm Smith, "starting" nickelback Jeremy Lane (part-time starter), and starting cornerback Byron Maxwell are all out. Starting left tackle Russell Okung has been really banged up all year, playing through a torn shoulder labrum and foot injury, and starting strong safety Kam Chancellor is battling ankle and hip injuries, severely limiting his explosiveness. That's not an excuse as for why they're 4-3 -- there have been other issues that compound all this -- but you have to take it into account.
Aside from the injury issues, something every team must go through, the Hawks have had trouble rushing the passer effectively on defense. Last year, they were probably the top team in rushing the passer from a hurries, pressures, and sacks perspective, and that translated to tons of turnovers on the back end when opposing QBs were forced to throw the ball quickly or off balance. This year, they're having more trouble getting home, and it's trickled down to every aspect of their game. That's the main thing that Seahawks fans have worried about this season, I think, so it's something to watch this week.
5. How would you expect the Seahawks to attack the Raiders on offense and defense?
I expect the Seahawks to feed Marshawn Lynch heavily in this one and try to control the football and the tempo on offense. With the Raiders' issues defending the run, it behooves the Hawks to try and get back to their identity as a smash mouth run team, then take a few shots downfield and see if they can't catch the secondary out of position.
On defense, like I said, I think the Hawks will try to pressure Derek Carr as much as possible and force the rookie to make some mistakes. He lit Seattle up in the preseason so you know he's pretty fearless as a thrower, but the Hawks will likely try to use that to their advantage to try and create some turnovers.
To see my answers to his questions, click here.