Seahawks vs. Bills: 10 Keys to the Game for Seattle
Don't look now, but the Seattle Seahawks are on a roll.
A few weeks ago following their disappointing loss to the Miami Dolphins, it seemed like the 'Hawks had hit bottom, especially with the team's two starting cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, testing positive for a banned substance.
Yet rather than collapse from the pressure, the 'Hawks channeled their energy by rebounding with two impressive wins.
The turnaround was so dramatic that even Steve Kelley at The Seattle Times is dreaming big:
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Wait a minute, why not get ahead of ourselves? Sweet anticipation is one of the great pleasures in sports. We don't have to take these games one at a time.
What if the Seahawks go to Toronto on Sunday and win on the road against Buffalo? And what if San Francisco goes to New England and loses to the Patriots, who hardly ever lose at home, especially in December?
We could be looking at a Sunday night game between the Hawks and 49ers on Christmas Eve eve with first place in the NFC West at stake. How would a game like that sound in front of the crazy Hallelujah Chorus of Seahawk fans inside Century Link?
It's a beautiful idea, but...
Don't Believe the Hype
I hate to pour cold water on things, but the 'Hawks do need to play the Bills before taking on the 49ers.
Meanwhile, a win like the one last Sunday is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing.
What are the odds of seeing something like that again anytime soon at the professional level, let alone with the Seahawks?
That's not to take anything away from what was a solid all-round performance by Seattle, but the game was so terribly one-sided that even Russell Wilson's lone interception towards the end of the second quarter was offset three plays later by a Richard Sherman interception.
The problem with a lopsided win like this is determining whether the 'Hawks were that good or whether the Arizona Cardinals were that bad.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
This Game Is Toronto?
Strange isn't it?
Let's hope everyone has their passports ready before getting on the plane because they're going to Canada and will likely be playing indoors, rather than freezing outside in Buffalo.
The Rogers Centre will play host to the Bills and Seahawks on Sunday, which should serve as a fairly neutral environment, according to Buffalo coach Chan Gailey.
As reported by the seattlepi.com's Nick Eaton, Gailey said in a conference call with reporters:
Yeah, it is more like a road game—at least it was the first year...Last year it felt a little bit like a home game. We were playing better, we had a crowd there and it felt like a home game a little bit more.
Making matters even better for the 'Hawks, the game will start at 4:00 PM EST / 1:00 PM PST, so there shouldn't be any excuses about jet lag or getting off to a slow start.
Dominate from the Start
This season the Seahawks have struggled on the road and often seem sluggish in the early going.
Meanwhile, before the season began, Buffalo was a trendy pick to make some noise in the AFC, but at this point in the season, the Bills are holding on to the slimmest of playoff hopes at 5-8.
In short, Buffalo isn't a great team, but they can be good enough to beat you if you're not careful.
Rather than let the Bills think they have a chance, the Seahawks need to do themselves a favor by not only getting on the scoreboard first, but by imposing their will on both sides of the ball with the kind of physical play we've seen recently.
While it's not likely Seattle will be able to duplicate the domination we saw last Sunday on the scoreboard, the team can't afford to come out flat or, worse, fall behind early.
Russell Wilson Gets Back in Rhythm
Unlike last weekend, I expect Russell Wilson this week will need his offensive line to protect him against a pretty solid Buffalo pass rush in order to get into a rhythm.
Facing a defensive front that consists of Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus on the left side along with Kyle Williams on the right, the Seahawks' big men up front will have their hands full, especially Russell Okung who will need to have a solid day to keep the left side locked down.
If given time, Wilson hopefully can get the ball to his receivers or take off running to help the 'Hawks move the football.
I don't think Wilson will need to piece together a heroic performance akin to the one against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, but he will still need to be sharp, especially in short-yardage situations and on third down when Buffalo applies pressure.
Next Man Up...Receivers
In addition to the offensive line, Russell Wilson will need his receivers to continue their steady improvement as well.
Unfortunately the team's leading receiver, Sidney Rice may not play on Sunday.
The good news is that I think the team can survive this week without Rice, but it will need pass-catchers Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Zach Miller to step up to fill the void.
There is always a chance that someone like tight end Anthony McCoy will have a solid day as well, but honestly I'd like to see Baldwin have a big day this week.
Meanwhile Buffalo's secondary hasn't generated a ton of turnovers this season, but it is not a pushover by any stretch, as free safety Jairus Byrd has five interceptions and rookie corner Stephon Gilmore has 16 passes defensed.
If the passing game fails to generate any offense, it may all come down to one man...
Beast Goes Back to the Future
For Marshawn Lynch it's not much of a homecoming this Sunday given that the game is in Toronto, but you have to imagine that the Beast would like to stick it to his former team.
Or perhaps not?
When asked about playing the Bills by Tim Booth of the The Associated Press, Lynch had little to say:
Yet with all those reasons for Lynch to chat about his season or playing his old team, his response Wednesday when asked if he had a few minutes was a simple, ''Nah, I'm good.''
''Marshawn is a football player. He's just like, 'Who are we playing? All right, let's go play,''' Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said. ''That's the type of guy he is and you need guys like that on your team. You don't want guys thinking too much.''
I suppose that is a healthy attitude, so let's just hope that Lynch does what he always does and runs the ball down Buffalo's throat in a fashion similar to his performance against Arizona.
If he can move the chains it should open things up a bit for everyone else offensively; otherwise, the Seahawks could find themselves relying heavily on their defense to shut down the Bills replacement for Lynch.
Contain C.J. Spiller
Did you know the player who is now the Bills No. 1 running back, C.J. Spiller, is averaging 6.6 yards per carry this season?
With the team's original starter, Fred Jackson, done for the season, Spiller will now be pushed to the forefront and it's something he seems to be fine with, according to a post by The SportsXchange:
My style is I'll never go up there and beg, beg, beg for the ball...I understand we've got a lot of playmakers out there. Everybody wants to have the ball in their hands and everybody wants to make that play. I'm not different, but I'm not going to sit around and mope week in and week out.
Spiller sounds like someone who has something to prove and that to me is a bit worrisome.
If the big guys up front can keep Spiller under control, it will then force quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw.
Ryan Fitzpatrick Is...?
In doing my homework for this week's matchup I was surprised to find that Ryan Fitzpatrick is actually fairly decent—certainly better than Arizona's John Skelton.
Ok, so that doesn't say much, and while Fitzpatrick's numbers from week to week may not blow anyone away, he can be effective.
But the key seems to be having him throw as much as possible.
That may seem a bit strange, but Buffalo has won only twice this season in games where Fitzpatrick has attempted more than 30 passes, and those wins came against Arizona and the Cleveland Browns, when both teams were struggling.
Games in which Fitzpatrick is forced to throw a lot seem to end poorly for the Bills, as they've been on the wrong side of quite a few nail-biters.
I'm not entirely sure what that means for the 'Hawks on Sunday, but for a team that has had to endure their own fair share of nail-biters this season, it concerns me that we could be in for another tight game on the road if the team struggles with the issues I've already covered.
Let's just hope that the pass rush can make life difficult for Fitzpatrick on Sunday, rather than place too much pressure on the secondary as they adjust to life without Brandon Browner.
No Browner, No Problem?
In midst of last Sunday's drubbing, did anyone miss Brandon Browner?
Walter Thurmond certainly played well on Sunday, but then again who didn't?
This weekend could be the 'Hawks first real test of life without Browner and possibly Richard Sherman (pictured), although it seems his appeal will be pushed back, according to Michael Silver at Yahoo! Sports.
Therefore, if we assume that C.J. Spiller is kept in check and Ryan Fitzpatrick is at least trying to throw the football, then it would appear that the Seahawks secondary will at some point be needed to finish the job.
In terms of pass-catchers, the Bills have a solid No. 1 option in Stevie Johnson who will likely draw Sherman, but right now Johnson's not 100 percent healthy, as he's nursing a sore hamstring.
Beyond Johnson, Buffalo has tight end Scott Chandler and receiver Donald Jones, who both have over 400 yards receiving this season, but it's also worth mentioning that the ever-dangerous Spiller is a threat coming out of the backfield, as well.
Long story short, the Seahawks trip to Toronto is no cakewalk.
Let's Not Get Ahead of Ourselves
Tell me you haven't thought about the 49ers next Sunday night at CLink in primetime?
Earlier this week Pete Carroll shared his thoughts on the topic with Danny O'Neil of The Seattle Times:
Come on, coach. How about a little something about the potential excitement of being moved into a featured time slot to face a 49ers team that has become quite a rival?
"Nah, there's nothing to talk about," Carroll said. "What does that mean? We'll just stay in the hotel a little bit longer, and then go play."
It's tempting to look ahead, but it won't mean nearly as much if Seattle falls short in Toronto this Sunday.
The Bills game is one the Seahawks should win, but it's not a gimme. Buffalo has some talented players and, unlike Arizona, is not a team in the midst of a complete and total collapse.
By sticking to the basics and keeping focused, the 'Hawks should set themselves up for a shot at the division lead, assuming the Patriots provide them a little help in beating the Niners at Foxborough.
However if the Seahawks fall short on Sunday, it wouldn't be the first time this season the team let a winnable game on the road slip away.
And while that wouldn't necessarily be catastrophic enough to knock the team out of playoff contention, it could hurt their chances of controlling their own destiny moving forward.
Let's hope Seattle's overtime win in Chicago was the start of something big, rather than an anomaly. Otherwise, it could be a long winter in Seattle knowing a potentially great team couldn't execute on the road against a long list of lesser opponents.