The Las Vegas Raiders head to Seattle to take on the Seahawks as a little more than a field-goal underdog in Week 12, according to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook. Part of the reason the Raiders are road dogs is because of the Seahawks’ rookie running back, Kenneth Walker.
Walker was given the starting job in Week 6 and has the fourth-most rushing yards (442) among running backs since then, so he’s certainly a player to keep an eye on this Sunday. And I made sure to ask John Gilbert of Field Gulls about the young back to give Raider Nation a little background information on the situation heading into the game.
Question: The Seahawks currently rank 5th in the NFL in points per game, up 11 spots from where they finished last year and there’s been one significant change under center. What is Geno Smith doing that Russell Wilson wasn’t, and how is that helping Seattle’s offense?
Answer: Much of the early portion of Wilson’s career in Seattle saw a debate rage among fans and pundits regarding whether or not he was truly elite. He generated elite-level production, but he did so in such an unconventional manner that many questioned whether the production he generated was sustainable.
Now, he certainly produced at a high level for most of his time with the Seahawks, but there were on the record quotes from teammates like Doug Baldwin and former offensive coordinator that the team wasn’t reaching its potential because of shortcomings in Wilson’s ability to read defenses and execute within the structure.
In contrast, with Geno Smith at the helm, Seattle fans are getting to see a quarterback who obviously spent most of the seven years he wasn’t starting paying attention in meetings and getting to do the learning he was never afforded the opportunity to do early in his career when he was thrust into a starting role as a rookie.
For the most part, Smith has been absolutely lights out in terms of making the proper reads and executing, taking what the defense is giving him, which is what has been the big difference between 2022 and seasons past.
2. Building on that, DraftKings Sportsbook has set the over/under for the Seahawks’ total points at 25.5 which is about a point more than what the Raiders’ defense (24.2) allows per game. The over is a -115 bet and the under is -105, which would you take and why?
I’m taking the over. The biggest weapons for the offense, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were both battling injuries heading into the bye, so the time off should have allowed them to get healthy. That, combined with the Seahawks being one of the most pass-happy offenses in the NFL this season, combined with the Raiders' pass defense struggles at times should allow the Hawks to put points on the board. Add in an extra week of tape study for Geno and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, and things could be interesting.
A random sidenote, but Waldron was an offensive quality control coach for the Pats during the 2008 season, the final year of McDaniel’s tenure as offensive coordinator for New England prior to taking the head coach job with the Denver Broncos.
3. Kenneth Walker didn’t get the starting job until Week 6 but has almost immediately become one of the favorites to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. What took so long for him to win the job and what has he brought to Seattle’s offense? Who’s the lead back when Rashaad Penny is healthy?
The biggest factor that limited Walker’s time early in the season was a hernia suffered in the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That kept him out of practice in training camp and led to him being inactive in Week 1. Then, he played an extremely limited number of snaps the first couple of weeks, and it was obvious he didn’t have full command of the offense at that time.
However, in Week 4 he was on the field quite a bit as the team held a very big lead for good portions of the second half, and then in Week 5 Penny was lost for the season with a broken leg and torn deltoid ligament in his ankle.
Penny is set to be a free agent after this season, and it seems clear that Walker has planted his flag as the starter for 2023 and beyond. I think the team will certainly look to the draft in the spring to add competition at the position, but at this point, the job appears to be Walker’s to lose in 2023.
4. I think Uchenna Nwosu is one of the most underrated pass rushers in the NFL and was a pretty good free agent signing for Seattle this offseason. Can you shine some light on how effective he’s been for the defense?
Nwosu has been an absolute monster for the defense this season. He leads the team by a considerable margin in pressures, quarterback hits and sacks, and while he hasn’t been asked to drop into coverage much when he has, he has been up to the task.
In addition, because he was just 21 when he was drafted, he’s still just 25 (will turn 26 late next month), so I will not be surprised at all if the team opts to extend his contract in the offseason to keep him with the Hawks past 2023.
5. During this last draft cycle, I was one of Tariq Woolen’s biggest fans but even I didn’t see him having this much success in year one. What do you think has helped him make such a smooth transition from Conference USA competition to the NFL?
While there was certainly optimism surrounding Woolen’s athleticism, I think the fact that he came in as a Day 3 rookie and was expected to be on the bench early in his career behind free-agent signings Artie Burns and Sidney Jones gave him a chance to learn how to play without the pressure of thinking he’d be needed on the field right away.
Then, when injuries sidelined both Burns and Jones during training camp, it was an opportunity to get a lot of snaps in practice, and he obviously put those to good use. As it stands now, the most difficult part of the NFL game going forward may be living up to the high expectations his performance has created.