The Seattle Seahawks take on the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday. As heavy favorites, the game plan for Seattle is unlikely to be overly complicated. The strategy is going to be to keep it simple, avoid mistakes and let their superior skill and athleticism carry them to victory.
On paper, these are two very mismatched teams. The Seahawks are undefeated, including a blowout win over one of last season's Super Bowl teams. The Jaguars have nothing but losses on the season so far, including an embarrassing blowout defeat to the team that had the worst record in the NFL last season.
Seattle's defense has only allowed 10 points so far this season, which is the best the league. Jacksonville has scored just 11 points in 2013, which is the worst in the NFL.
The Seahawks haven't lost a home game since 2011. The Jaguars haven't won on the road since Week 3 of last season.
On paper, the Seahawks are 19.5 point favorites. On paper, the Jaguars don't have a chance.
Football games are not played on paper.
The Competitive Edge
Russell Wilson has struggled out of the gate this season, but QB is still a clear advantage for the Seahawks. Wilson's 1.1 performance rating so far is clearly superior to both Blaine Gabbert (-4.4) and Chad Henne (-1.2).
Both Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew are Pro Bowl backs. They have contrasting styles, but both are among the best in the NFL. Due to poor blocking in front of them, both backs have also struggled a bit so far in the season. Lynch's 3.1 yards per carry is only slightly better than Jones-Drew's 2.9 yards per carry.
The problem for the Jaguars is that it remains unknown if Jones-Drew will be able to play in this game. If he is limited at all, then this becomes another advantage for the Seahawks.
Wide receiver is a position of advantage for the Seahawks, but it's not as large of an advantage as the box-score stats might suggest.
Jacksonville has a nice group of young WRs, led by Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. The problem for Jacksonville is that Blackmon is suspended, and Shorts has had difficulty making an impact because of the Jaguar's poor play at QB.
While the Seahawks might be more talented at the position, it is the Jaguars TEs who have put up the better numbers thus far in 2013. This is true both in receiving stats as well as in the performance ratings. Until Seattle's Zach Miller returns to the form that he's played at in past seasons, the edge at this position is going to go to the Jaguars.
Jacksonville's offensive line is far from stellar, but it still represents an advantage over the Seahawks. Jacksonville's starters have a cumulative performance rating of -9.3, but Seattle's rating is even lower at -12.9.
The Seahawks are also facing some serious injury issues on the offensive line. Starting left tackle Russell Okung is out for Sunday's game. Right tackle Breno Giacomini was limited in practice on Wednesday, and right guard J.R. Sweezy did not practice.
Two weeks ago these units would have been fairly equal. The Seahawks were struggling with injuries at the time, and there were a lot of questions about how effective they might be.
That is no longer the case. Seattle DTs Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel are back at full strength, DE Cliff Avril returned to the field for Week 2, and DE Chris Clemons has a chance to return from his knee injury this week against the Jaguars.
The Seahawks are getting close to being at full strength along the defensive line, providing them with a nice advantage in this area.
The Jaguars have a nice trio of linebackers in Geno Hayes, Russell Allen and Paul Poluszny. Those three are the only LBs who have seen any snaps on defense so far this season, with Hayes and Poluszny playing every snap to this point.
Seattle counters with a young trio of linebackers of their own in Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith. The performance ratings say that groups have been rather equal, but it is clear on the game tape that Seattle's linebackers are faster and more physical.
A easy way to demonstrate the advantage that the Seahawks have in the secondary is CB Will Blackmon. The Seahawks waived Blackmon in the first round of cuts during the preseason. After being claimed off waivers by the Jacksonville, Blackmon started at CB in Week 2 for the Jaguars.
The special teams for the Seahawks remain among the best in the league. They are currently third at +13.3 overall. The Jaguars special teams are currently at -8.1, with only one team posting a lower rating after weeks.
Seahawks Offense vs. Jaguars Defense
The Seahawks offense has yet to get on track this season. The play of the offensive line has been brutal, and it has interfered with the Seahawks ability to efficiently operate the way they did in 2012.
Veteran DE Jason Babin plays the LEO for the Jaguars, and will likely be facing either backup Paul McQuistan or rookie Alvin Bailey for much of this game. The Seahawks will need to provide help throughout the game to whomever plays at LT.
The Seahawks are likely to keep a RB or TE in to help pass protect more often than they did in Weeks 1 and 2 in order to protect Russell Wilson.
Perhaps the best thing the Seahawks can do to help the pass blocking is to establish Marshawn Lynch and the running game early.
Seahawks Defense vs. Jaguars Offense
The Seahawks didn't need to blitz particularly often in order to get pressure on the QB in the first two weeks of the season. The Seahawks LBs and DBs have been used in the pass rush just 32 times thus far, with the defensive linemen dropping into coverage eight times. This means that the Seahawks have only had 24 extra pass-rushers through two games.
The Seahawks simply haven't needed to blitz in order to to get pressure on the QB. This has allowed them to drop more players in coverage and shut down the opposing QBs. By using this strategy, the Seahawks have held both Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick to career lows in passing yards in games that they have started.
There is no reason to think that the Seahawks will deviate from this strategy against the Jaguars. The Seahawks defensive front four should be able to get consistent pressure, especially if Chris Clemons can return from his knee injury this week.
Game Stats and Facts (from Pro Football Reference)
The Seahawks lead the all-time series between these two teams 4-2.
The last time these two teams played was a 41-0 blowout by the Seahawks back in October of 2009.
The last time the Jaguars beat the Seahawks was in September of 2005, the year the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl.
In Week 2, Chad Henne had 99 more passing yards than Russell Wilson, and one less turnover.
The Seahawks have scored on 36.4 percent of their offensive drives. Jacksonville has scored on just 7.7 percent of offensive drives.
The Seahawks defense has only given up points on 10.5 percent of their opponents' drives. The Jacksonville defense has done so on 32 percent of their opponents' possessions.