This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Seattle Seahawks. To help preview a few topics from the Seahawks’ perspective, we reached out to John Gilbert from Field Gulls and exchanged five questions with him.
Chris: “Seattle seems to be playing well defensively. What has improved on that side of the ball compared to a season ago?”
John: “The change in defensive performance is the result of a series of smaller changes that have all combined to come together in a way to allow the group to find success. Specifically, the scheme was tweaked, and then they changed personnel in both the defensive front and in the secondary.
As far as scheme goes, they made some changes to the way the defensive front plays and altered the personnel packages they were using. Those changes have helped, but their contribution to the improvement likely pales in comparison to the personnel changes. The biggest personnel change was replacing first time starter Cody Barton with future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner. Yes, Wagner is aging and has lost a step and is not the same player he was a decade ago when the Seahawks destroyed the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. However, he’s been a massive improvement against the run, and that improvement shows in the stats against the run.
When it comes to the secondary it’s been a nice change to see the team playing a whole lot more nickel and dime coverage than in seasons past. In addition, they have changed the type of player they are using in the slot. The past few seasons they’ve had guys like Ugo Amadi or Coby Bryant who aren’t the type of athletes that typically find success playing coverage in the slot. This season they’ve played Devon Witherspoon, Jamal Adams and Julian Love in the slot at various times depending on the situation, and the results have been far superior than in prior seasons.”
Chris: “The Seahawks have a win against the Lions under their belt, and they can’t help who has been on their schedule, but they have played against three of the worst teams in the NFL (Arizona, Carolina, New York Giants). Does that cause any concern among fans that Seattle hasn’t been as battle-tested yet?”
John: “The fact that the Seahawks have won 67% of their games playing a slate of opponents that have won a combined 35% of their games is something that some fans have certainly noticed. As you note, you play the schedule the league gives out, but there are certainly some who are concerned about the quality of the team based on the lack of high level competition so far this season.
With that in mind, this is the part of the schedule where we’ll start to see the Hawks face off against some tougher competition, with the Browns and Ravens in the next couple of weeks. The true heart of the schedule that will determine the outcome of the season will start on Thanksgiving when they face the 49ers twice, along with the Cowboys and Eagles in a four game stretch.”
Chris: “What is the strength and weakness of Seattle’s offensive line?”
John: “Things have been so rough on the health front this season that I’m tempted to joke that the biggest strength of the offensive line has been missing time due to injury. In reality, with every position along the line having seen the Week 1 starter miss time because of health reasons, the the biggest strength has been the flexibility to play at a competent level in the face of constantly changing personnel.
The offensive line entered the season as one of the youngest, least experienced offensive lines in the league, and that was before injuries ravaged the group. And yet, even with rookies and other first year starters playing a whole lot more snaps than anticipated heading into the season, the group has played well enough to allow the team to sit at 4-2 coming into the matchup with the Browns. With that in mind, they have certainly struggled to protect in definite passing situations, and that is what has led to a lot of the offensive struggles at times so far this season. Specifically, in the three games where the offensive line has been able to protect Geno Smith and he’s been pressured on less than 40% of his dropbacks the offense has average 29 points per game. In the three games where Geno has been pressured on greater than 40% of his dropbacks the offense is averaging just 14.3 points.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player who Browns fans may not have heard of, but who could have an impact on this Sunday’s game.”
John: “Most fans likely know the names of the skill position players on offense and the key names on defense, but it’s the inexperienced players on the offensive line tasked with protecting Geno Smith who Browns fans may not be familiar with. Specifically, the right side of the offensive line could see three first year starters in Olu Oluwatimi, Anthony Bradford and Stone Forsythe at center, guard and tackle depending on the health issues of Evan Brown, Phil Haynes and Jake Curhan.”
Chris: “The Browns are early underdogs against the Seahawks on Sunday (Browns +4 as of this question, per DraftKings Sportsbook). Who would you pick against the spread?”
John: “My immediate reaction is to say that with the Browns set to start PJ Walker at quarterback, fans should be smashing the Seahawks to cover the spread in this game. However, this is the Seahawks and they have a long history of struggling against backup quarterbacks they should obliterate, so there is some hesitation, especially given the strength of the Browns defense. So, while I want to say yes, I’ll take the Browns to cover here. ”
Thanks again to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions.