3TFO: Seahawks @ Bills, Week 15
The way the Bills have been lurching from one game to the next was enough for head coach Chan Gailey to write off their season before they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but Seattle enter this game with legitimate designs on not only the division, but the No.2 seed in the NFC and a crucial home-field advantage.
The only problem is that in order to keep pace with that dream they need to travel on the road, a full coast-to-coast trip — into international, though potentially less-parochial, territory in Canada — and win against a Buffalo team that is still laden with talent, even if they have little to play for.
The Seahawks are a different side at home, despite some big road wins in the season, which is why the pursuit of that home-field advantage in the playoffs is so crucial. Can they come up big with another vital win away from the 12th man? If they can, these are the keys to the game that will enable them to do it.
Richard Sherman vs. Stevie Johnson
With no Darelle Revis this season, Richard Sherman has stepped into the void and made the case to be seen as the league’s best corner. He has been locking down opposing receivers all season, is currently our highest graded corner in terms of coverage, and opposing passers have a QB rating of just 40.1 when throwing into his coverage. He is still being thrown at, but is allowing just 47.8% of those passes to be caught. Last week Larry Fitzgerald was thrown at 11 times and caught just one pass, a quick ball that was going nowhere just to get him on the board and extend his streak. Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson may not be one of the league’s very best receivers, but he was one of the few players to have some (albeit modest) success against Revis in the past few seasons. Johnson is an unusual route runner, tough to read for a corner and is often able to pick up yards and get catches against top man-cover corners. Sherman has been a big part of Seattle’s success this season, and it will be interesting to see if he can shut down Johnson the way Revis was never fully able.
Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin vs. Bills OTs
Seattle are able to deploy one of the more destructive rush sub-packages in the NFL, and the majority of that pressure comes around the edges from their quick defensive ends. Chris Clemons has been the primary source of their pass rush all season, accounting for nine sacks, 10 hits and 32 additional pressures, along with batting down four passes. He will provide an interesting test for rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn who has graded well in his first season despite a couple of blips in recent weeks. The bad news for the Bills is that the two games where Glenn struggled the most have come against teams with small, quick pass rushers. Against the Colts and Rams, Glenn surrendered five hurries, three hits and two sacks, or more than a third of the total pressure he has allowed all season. Clemons is of the same breed and Glenn will need to be at his best to contain him.
On the other side, the Bills have been struck badly by injury, sending their top two right tackles to IR, and leaving Sam Young to take the snaps for the remainder of the season. In his first start last week, Young actually did a reasonable job, limiting Chris Long and the Rams to just a hit and one additional hurry through his blocking. Bruce Irvin is another small, fast pass rusher who will test him, and on run downs he has to contend with the size and strength of Red Bryant. No matter which way you look at it, Young will be tested.
Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus vs. Seahawks Interior
The Buffalo pair of DTs was supposed to wreak havoc this season, with a potentially dominant front four after the free agent additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Unfortunately, it never really materialized that way and both players enter this game with just five sacks. The line has been playing markedly better in recent weeks, with Marcel Dareus enjoying four of his best five graded games in the past five weeks. Kyle Williams has been a force all season, even if he hasn’t managed to get the sack numbers to back it up. In addition to his five sacks, he has 10 hits and 25 hurries, good enough for fourth among DTs in the NFL.
The pair will be going up against a Seattle interior featuring C Max Unger, who has been playing very well this season, flanked by guards who have not. Whether it has been James Carpenter or John Moffitt at one guard spot, or Paul McQuistan and J.R. Sweezy at the other, the Seahawks have been unable to get consistent play from their guards either side of Unger. The battle in this game will likely come down to which defensive tackle Unger can help to neutralize, and which guy gets to beat up on the weaker guards left alone to block the other. Maybe the Seahawks will go out of their way to double one of the tackles, or more likely we will simply see both players get joy, depending on the alignment and play run.
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