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Pre-Game Recon: Five Questions With Field Gulls

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Spoiler Alert: The Seahawks defense is still really, really good.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Kenneth Arthur from our sister site, Field Gulls, was kind enough to sit down with us this week and answer all of our burning questions about his beloved Seahawks. Here is what he had to say about the Pacific Northwest powerhouse and how it stacks up with the rest of the NFL.

1. What is your general feeling on this year's Seahawks? Are they as good as past Super Bowl rosters? Are they worse, or maybe even better?

My general feeling is that in a year where there are no dominant teams, the Seahawks are as good as anyone competing for the Super Bowl. I think any NFL fan paying more-than-casual attention (or casual attention) could tell you that Seattle has an extremely talented roster; the Pro Bowl quarterback; the elite slot receiver; the gifted-yet-admittedly-struggling tight end superstar; two potential Hall of Fame defensive backs and a third who will be in the Hall below the Hall; three great-to-greater defensive linemen; and a middle linebacker who I think was a viable choice for Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and could finally win it in 2017. (If your readers don't see Bobby Wagner as a true DPOY candidate, I implore them to remain open minded because he's having a better year than the season Luke Kuechly had when he won the award.) So the talent is definitely there, but are they "as good" as the 2013 Seahawks and are they in as cozy of a position to win the Super Bowl?

I think that they are potentially more talented but they are going to have a harder time surprising teams because that 2013 roster was still so new and unexpected and opposing teams couldn't quite prepare to stop them like they can today. I mean, Russell Wilson was in year two, Richard Sherman in year three, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were in their first year with Seattle, Wagner was in year two ... The biggest difference is obviously the impact that Marshawn Lynch had on the field, something that they are definitely lacking at running back right now, but there are other players who perhaps make up the difference at other positions. Jimmy Graham is the best tight end in franchise history. Doug Baldwin has gone from a reliable number two to an elite slot player who is perhaps one of the top-five most reliable targets in the NFL. Sheldon Richardson is better than any defensive tackle the Seahawks have had since maybe Cortez Kennedy. Frank Clark is a crazy disruptive pass rusher. So I think they are more talented but maybe don't have the same effect because some of the plan with the offensive line and saving money there to spend on other positions has backfired. For now.

I know a lot of people are down on Seattle but at the end of the day they are 4-2 with the number one scoring defense in the league. I'll take that over the collapse the Giants have had. The terrible defenses of the Cowboys and Raiders. The offensive collapse of the Carolina Panthers behind an awful passer at quarterback. The quicker-than-expected disintegration of the Falcons after their Super Bowl loss. The Cardinals throwing in the towel. The Broncos still searching for an answer in the post-Manning world.

Seattle's roster is maybe a little more talented, but they haven't quite found the best way to put the puzzle together. Luckily, much of the rest of the league is stumbling through injuries, inconsistencies, and don't have near as much firepower on defense, so I'll take it. If the biggest thing standing between Seattle and winning the NFC is Carson Wentz, I'll take it. (No offense to Wentz, who as you rightly pointed out is having an MVP-type campaign, but it's still quite early in his career. As early as Russell Wilson in 2013? Yes. But he doesn't have the same level of defense that Wilson had.)

2. The Legion of Boom is getting older, but there is still a ton of talent on this defense. What would you say are their strengths and weaknesses at this point?

There are still a lot of points of strengths on this defense, almost all of which I spoiled with my wordy answer to question one. But there's plenty more to emphasize.

Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Bobby Wagner ALL deserve Defensive Player of the Year consideration. Sorry if this upsets fans outside of Seattle, but I think that is objectively true. Thomas is a legit MVP candidate if you take into consideration how bad the defense was without him last year and how good they are again since his return. I mean, they led the NFL in scoring defense from 2012-2015, didn't do it in 2016 when he broke his leg, then are doing it again this year. He already turned a touchdown-into-a-turnover against the Rams at the 1-yard line this season, something he did against the Rams exactly three years earlier. He's a terror in the deep middle that removes a huge portion of the field to opposing offenses, but also not someone that any ball carrier wants to meet while going for a pass or running down the sideline. He hits like a thing-that-broke-Rob-Gronkowski's-lung-once. Thomas is still in the midst of his Hall of Fame career, and is surprisingly only 28.

In spite of all the controversy surrounding Sherman to drum up headlines, everything is completely kosher with their number one cornerback. He's having as good of a year as ever minus the interceptions; if you can't throw towards Sherman, then he can't pick off the ball. And nobody really wants to challenge him anymore, so he's often shutting down the number one option completely. I trust him against DeAndre Hopkins and literally anyone else.

Wagner's just doing it all in the middle. He's extraordinarily fast, smart, and disruptive. I'm not sure how many people recognize that last year he had 168 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and an interception. He already has a pick this year and two fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown. He's so great and he's only 27.

Outside of those three, you still have Kam Chancellor, KJ Wright, Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, and Sheldon Richardson. Rookie Shaquill Griffin is as talented as any cornerback they've had opposite of Sherman, including Byron Maxwell and Brandon Browner. It's just a matter of him figuring it out as a rookie and so far he's done exceptional given his experience level. He could become great. I'd also say Jarran Reed is a very good defensive tackle, especially against the run, and they just added Dwight Freeney.

The weaknesses are a few laps in run defense, especially in moments against Todd Gurley and Carlos Hyde, but that seems to have improved as the season has gone on. I'd definitely attack anywhere besides the Sherman side, because Griffin and Justin Coleman do have their lapses. Seattle has also improved tremendously against the tight end position. I think a team like the Texans has to expand a gameplan beyond Hopkins, utilize the talents of Will Fuller as much as possible, and try to pound it with D'Onta Foreman and Lamar Miller as much as possible. Overall, it's a great defense and I'm not gonna apologize for saying it's a great defense with few weaknesses. The Seahawks have plenty enough of those on offense anyway.

3. How about strengths and weaknesses on Seattle’s offense?

The strength of the offense has been and continues to be Russell Wilson. He's a top-five quarterback, in my opinion, based on his body of work since 2012, his postseason experience in which he's continued to prove he thrives in high pressure situations, does not rattle (other than loose nuts and bolts, am I right due to him being a robot?) and has a fantastically strong arm. He's still one of the top deep passers in the game regardless of what people who don't watch him that often think because he's also short. He's short but his throws are not. In fact, his short game feels like his weak point. Wilson is not the most accurate passer, he throws too high sometimes, and has continually overlooked or under-utilized open targets. I do not love his decision making sometimes, especially when it comes to the players he favors in the red zone and at key moments. There are points left on the field too often, settling for field goals. But he's still about as good as any under-30 QB in the NFL, which is very cool. He's been able to run a bit more this year too while avoiding any serious injuries.

Another strength is Baldwin. He's just so damn reliable, catching over 70% of his targets, many of which come on third down and result in a first. He's one of the best red zone and touchdown targets in the league, which was wholly unexpected a few years ago. I can't imagine Seattle having success without him, because he's often carried the offense (with Wilson) when all else fails. Graham is a HoF-level talent who unfortunately has "dropped" many of his HoF credentials along the way. Not sure what's up with him mentally but this has not been a good season overall, even though on any given play he can boggle the mind with flashing how dominant he can be.

The biggest weakness obviously comes at offensive line. Justin Britt is by far the best player there but he is dealing with a sprained ankle. We'll see how that goes. Next best might be right tackle Germain Ifedi, though he's the most penalized player in the NFL this season. Rees Odhiambo just had his best game of the year, but his overall year might be the worst in the league at left tackle. They benched starting right guard Mark Glowinski for Oday Aboushi, and now Glowinski is rotating at left guard with Luke Joeckel recovering from knee surgery. The other player there is rookie Ethan Pocic, who was a center at LSU. So the guard spots are both extremely weak usually, as is the left tackle spot, and at the moment, potentially center. So yeah, that's a concern.

The other big weakness is at running back. Rookie Chris Carson looked like quite the steal but he broke his ankle and is out for the year. Both Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls had good pre-2017 resumes but have shown about zero this season. I guess Rawls is the better of the two but I'm not too giddy about seeing either of them at this point until we can see them break off some good runs consistently, especially early in the game to set the tone.

4. Who is the best young player on the roster that nobody has paid attention to yet?

Probably Griffin, assuming people aren't paying attention to him. He was only a third round pick but I guess since he was almost immediately slated to start (Griffin was the slot corner but in this defense, nickel is a base defense that plays about 70% of the time) I think of him as a first round pick. Griffin is the highest drafted corner in the Pete Carroll era (starting in 2010) which says a lot given how good the corners and defensive backs have been for the Seahawks during that period of time. He's a gifted player starting to do gifted things.

Clark had 10.5 sacks last season but I'm not sure if people realize he could be a perennial 15-sack type defensive end.

I don't know if I have any other clear examples outside of those, either because the other really young players aren't that "wow" or the ones who are "wow" are probably well known or not super young. Guys like Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Pocic, Reed come to mind. They all come with some serious caveats though.

5. Between Seattle and the Rams, who do you think wins the NFC West this year? Will both teams meet again in the playoffs?

The Seahawks have a better resume. I mean, the Seahawks have an extraordinarily better resume. It's the difference between a team that has been to the second round of the playoffs in each of the last five years (with many of these coaches and players) vs a team that hasn't been relevant in 15 years. I don't care which team you root for, that's just a common sense place to start.

The Seahawks have a better quarterback and that is also not even close. Despite Jared Goff's hot little start, he's been pretty bad over the last four games and reality is starting to set in that he's still very inaccurate and making a ton of fairly huge mistakes. In the LA-Seattle game alone I think he could have easily had 4 or 5 picks and got a bit lucky there. Wilson is, conversely, very good.

The Rams have a better running back, also not even close, but definitely much less of a relevant position than quarterback.

I'd give the Rams an edge on offense but I don't think LA's offense is good enough to outwit and outplay a good defense.

The Rams and Seahawks have very comparable defenses, but Seattle's is still more proven. Maybe that also makes it a little more fragile and predictable, but I like that experience over the course of a season. And the Rams have a much, much better special teams unit than any other team in the league, so that's important too.

Overall, I think the Seahawks are the team I'd bet on and they already accomplished their hardest task of the season in that rivalry: Beating the Rams in LA. I'll take the Seahawks to win the NFC West and the Rams to get into the playoffs at 10-6. If they meet again, it's probably going to have to happen in the second round. Sure, why not, that'd be fun! (JK, not fun at all, the Rams are super annoying. Especially now that they're good.)

Thank you to Kenneth for indulging our questions. You can read more about all-things Seahawks (or how annoying the Rams are) over at Field Gulls. You can also check out my answers to Kenneth’s questions about the Texans here. Play nice, everyone.