Seahawks must avoid mistakes
After watching a lot of film on both the Raiders and Seahawks, Gary Horton picks out some key points to watch in Monday night's game.
Watching a lot of film on the Raiders and the Seahawks and talking to coaches and scouts, I found some key things to watch in their "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET).
• Although his stats don't reflect it, the coaches think young QB Andrew Walter is making progress. He is reading blitzes pretty well and is getting rid of the football, but he doesn't always show great touch. He seems to have some leadership skills, but until he gets better pass protection, it will be hard to really evaluate him.
• The Raiders have drafted a lot of defensive players, and it is finally starting to pay off. In their normal 4-3 alignment, eight of the 11 starters were drafted in the third round or higher by the Raiders. They may be short on experience, but there is a lot of speed and athleticism in this group.
The Raiders give you different looks on defense, but their assignments are fairly simple because of their youth. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan puts them in the right position and lets them just fly to the football.
• Look for the Raiders to spy Seattle QB Seneca Wallace. He has excellent speed and quickness, and his coaches will use a lot of rollouts and bootlegs to get him on the perimeter. We might see a lot of man-free looks, with safety Michael Huff as the spy and as a guy who can help in combo coverages. Huff has the speed and athleticism to mirror Wallace and tackle him in the open field.
• When you watch this offense, especially Walter, it looks ridiculously simple. The coaches don't seem to ask him to read progressions and pick out matchups. You rarely see him check down, dump the ball off or get it to his second option. What is amazing is that with only one read, Walter still holds on to the ball too long and takes many unnecessary sacks.
• Oakland looked really prepared on defense against the Steelers. It had the right personnel on the field in almost all situations, and its movements and adjustments seemed to really bother Ben Roethlisberger, as he threw many passes he had no business attempting.
• Look for Walter to stretch out the vertical passing game this week. He has two deep receivers in Randy Moss and Jerry Porter who can go over the top, and Walter actually throws a decent deep ball. He seems to have a little rapport with Moss. The Seattle secondary can be exploited in the vertical passing game.
• The Oakland running game doesn't produce very many big plays, but you have to give the Raiders credit for at least trying to run the ball. They have 189 rushes on the season and a respectable 4.1 yards per carry average, giving them a chance to keep the chains moving. If they must throw on third downs, they are in trouble. The Raiders should give RB LaMont Jordan 25-30 carries against Seattle.
• The Raiders' offensive line might be one of the worst in the NFL. The unit lacks athleticism and has turned in some of the worst performances we have seen in recent memory. Not only are the blocking schemes at times unsound (especially in pass protection) but the linemen are terrible in one-on-one blocking situations, taking bad angles and having no ability to get to the second level in the run game. This group seems to miss assignments on almost every play, especially in the passing game against blitzing defenses.
• The Raiders likely will use a game plan that features a power run game, and they will throw the play action off that. The problem is that being forced to play more max-protection schemes will inhibit their ability to stretch the field with multiple-receiver sets against a vulnerable Seahawks secondary. Seattle does play a 4-3 defense, which is good news for the Oakland offensive line.
• We likely will see a lot of Cover 3 schemes from Seattle, with one safety in the middle of the field and the other safety, Ken Hamlin, playing up closer to stop the run and help out in the underneath passing game. That means either Moss or Porter might have single coverage, with only one of the receivers getting safety help. The challenge is for Walter to recognize the coverage and exploit the right matchup.
• The Raiders are playing very aggressively on defense right now because they trust their corners to play good man-to-man coverage. However, they are not used to seeing a mobile QB like Wallace, who can give them trouble if he gets on the edge. They might need to play with a little more controlled aggression in this game.
• The Seahawks really struggled against Kansas City's power run game last week. The Chiefs used a lot of multiple-TE sets and ran right at the Seahawks' defensive front with explosive Larry Johnson. Not only did they miss a lot of tackles but they also got physically knocked off the ball.
The Raiders are huge in the offensive line, but they are not very agile. They would be wise to run a lot with Jordan between the tackles and take the pressure off Walter. The Raiders are capable of controlling the line of scrimmage in this matchup, but are they willing?
• This is usually a very focused and disciplined team, but right now it's sloppy and somewhat undisciplined. You don't see great gap integrity as too many players tend to freelance and are very instinctive.
• This game will be a challenge for Seattle receivers and TE Jerramy Stevens. The Raiders have athletic, young corners who can turn and run with these guys, but what makes this matchup most interesting is that Oakland will play aggressive man-to-man schemes, pressing the receivers at the line of scrimmage. If the Seahawks' receivers can't escape the jam, Wallace will hold on to the ball too long and take some coverage sacks.
• Seattle might use some overload blitzes this week, and if that happens, it will be directed at the right side of the Raiders' offensive line, ROT Langston Walker and ROG Kevin Boothe. Both struggle athletically, and neither adjusts to the blitz very well.
• Seattle's secondary has been a very respectable unit in the past but is getting exposed this year. Because of the Seahawks' lackluster pass-rush, opposing QBs have plenty of time to wait for their receivers to separate and get open, and it spotlights the weakness of the DBs in man-to-man coverages.
Cornerback Marcus Trufant is having an off year and is giving up a lot of big plays, and Kelly Herndon doesn't match up physically against Moss and Porter. Even though the Raiders' pass offense is awful, there are plays to be made against this Seattle secondary.
• Seattle must establish the run game against the Raiders, even without RB Shaun Alexander. The Seahawks ran the ball only 18 times last week and were dominated in time of possession by Kansas City. Against an aggressive Raiders secondary that will jump routes, they need to grind it out some and eat up some clock, possibly setting up play-action opportunities against Oakland's corners. Maurice Morris is not Alexander, but he's the best Seattle has right now.
• A determining factor in this game could be who performs best in the red zone. Oakland is dead last in red zone offense, converting only four touchdowns in 15 possessions, and Walter really struggles when the field shrinks. However, Seattle is not very good in red zone defense, giving up 13 touchdowns in 19 trips, and doesn't match up well in jump ball situations against Moss and Porter. On the other side of the ball, Seattle's offense is pretty good, but so is Oakland's defense.
• Seattle's defense started the season pretty well but has fallen apart in the past 11 quarters, giving up 18 TDs. With an offense wracked by injuries, this unit needs to step up. Opposing offenses seem to be making a lot of plays in the underneath passing game in front of the LBs.
• With marginal blocking by the OL, Morris is struggling to create plays on his own. If the hole is there, he shows acceleration and decisiveness. However, when the hole is not there, he looks almost hesitant. The Seahawks do face a small Raiders DL this week, so they will have the opportunity to get their run game going.
• Stevens could have a big game against the Raiders' defensive back seven. Both OLBs Thomas Howard and Sam Williams, were DEs on the college level, and are much better in run defense than in coverage. Even MLB Kirk Morrison is not a guy you want in man-to-man coverage against an athletic TE like Stevens. This matchup could provide explosive plays for Seattle, although Oakland would be smart to jam Stevens at the line of scrimmage and play man coverages behind it.
• Seattle needs to play this game close to the vest and force the Raiders to earn their points. Seattle must play smart, mistake-free football on defense.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called The War Room.
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