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Bengals at Seahawks preview

The Seattle Seahawks kickoff their 2019 season with a tune-up home game against the injury-plagued Cincinnati Bengals. In what should be a walk in the park for the Seahawks, Seattle’s 12th Man can look forward to seeing the full extent of this team’s potential. The Seahawks are overwhelming favorites, per Sports Betting Dime, coming in with a 9.5-point spread — the second-largest expected margin of victory, behind Philadelphia vs. Washington (10-points), in Week 1. That’s a pretty big cushion for an outright win to open the season. According to sportsbettingdime.com, this list of sites offers a number of books rated for their ease of use and bonuses available, so certainly explore your options before taking the over on the ‘Hawks.

Key Injuries/Absences

Cincinnati: LT Jonah Williams (torn labrum, out indefinitely), OL Cordy Glenn (in concussion protocol), LG Clint Boling (abrupt retirement in July), WR A.J. Green (ankle injury), SCB Darqueze Dennard (PUP), and DL Carl Lawson (ACL)

Seattle: TE Ed Dickson (IR), DT Jarran Reed (suspended), DT Nazair Jones (IR), David Moore (shoulder)

Cincinnati limps into the Clink, down starters on both sides of the ball. Particularly problematic for them, the ever-important left tackle position is entirely up in the air. Presumed starter Jonah Williams, Cincy’s 2019 1st-round pick, suffered a torn labrum in training camp and is out for the year. Veteran left guard Cordy Glenn was moved to left tackle after Williams’ injury, however, Glenn recently suffered a concussion and has yet to clear the league’s concussion protocol. There’s still an outside chance he makes it, however, it’s likely that Seattle’s newly acquired former-Pro Bowl/Second Team All-Pro defensive end Jadeveon Clowney gets to face-off against 3rd string tackle Andre Smith. Clowney, in the thick of his NFL prime, should have no problem pulverizing the aged veteran. On the other end of the line, Bengals’ journeyman right tackle Bobby Hart looks to get battered and bruised by recently healthy bookend Ziggy Ansah. If Ansah is able to regain his pre-2018 injured form, he’s a candidate to push for double-digit sacks, as is Clowney. Rookie defensive end L.J. Collier has also been cleared to play and should see the field frequently, in a rotation with Ansah. Although the loss of Jarran Reed to suspension hurts, Poona Ford will have his way with the interior of Cincinnati’s line as 2018 1st-round pick, center Billy Price has under-performed to the point that he’s been tried out at both guard positions.

New Bengals’ head coach Zac Taylor is a disciple of the L.A. Rams’ Sean McVay system and we’ve seen glimpses of that fact throughout the preseason. Data provided by Hayden Winks of NBC’s Rotoworld showed us that Cincinnati has embraced passing on 1st-down, a highly-efficient tactic of the Rams’. In fact, it’s likely we see Taylor attempt to completely install a Rams-esque offense featuring 11 personnel (3 wide receivers, 1, running back, 1 tight end), given the strengths of their roster. Running backs Joe Mixon and the recently extended Gio Bernard will operate as dual threat running backs — something both are more than capable of. Meanwhile Tyler Boyd will attempt to replicate slot-machine Cooper Kupp, A.J. Green (when healthy)/rookie Damion Williams featured as the Robert Woods X-receiver, and UW alum John Ross III as the field stretching Brandin Cooks-style deep threat. Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah will alternate running as the team’s starting tight end. 

The Seahawks linebackers can be expected to handle a high-volume of work against Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard. Both backs will be used often, as receivers out of the backfield, in an attempt to remove pressure from Andy Dalton as Clowney and Co. bear down on him. Seattle’s linebacking corps of Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Mychal Kendricks, and Shaquem Griffin should have no issue handling their business though. Although the new-age Legion of Boom will likely shut down Ross III and Williams, stud slot receiver Tyler Boyd will cause a ruckus. Boyd broke out last season as a truly talented NFL player. Zac Taylor will have to lean on him if he hopes to keep the contest close. Seattle’s struggled to find former slot cornerback Justin Coleman’s replacement and it’s likely to be a season-long problem. Parry Nickerson was acquired via trade with the New York Jets, it’s possible he pans out but we won’t know until we see it.

The Seahawks offense should feature the same general, inefficient ground-and-pound methodology it always has under Pete Carroll. There’s one new wrinkle we should be looking forward to though: passes to the running backs on early downs. Analytical wizard Warren Sharp is quick to bend any available ear over this efficient, underutilized tactic. A commonality among these diatribes is the idea that 3rd-down running backs, typically proficient pass catchers and pass protectors, should actually be 1st and 2nd-down backs while the big-bodied bangers handle short-yardage 3rd-down duties. The nice thing about throwing to running backs on early downs is that the defense isn’t expecting it — they’re prepared for a 3-yard rush up the middle. These Sharp-favorite plays result in high marks in efficiency and Success Rate — Sharp’s trademark statistic that he finds correlates most to winning games, outside of Strength of Schedule. While it’s unlikely that Carroll allows offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to make a wholesale change to being a forward-thinking offense, there appears to be reason for optimism that the tactic will at least be somewhat used. In August, Carroll made it a point to compliment lead running back Chris Carson’s catching ability and Schottenheimer reinforced the idea by saying he’d hoped to get Carson up to around 50 targets this year. Furthering the point, Matt Kelley of the Rotounderworld Radio mentioned on a recent episode that he’d heard rumors of Schottenheimer meeting with members of the analytics community in hopes to better understand passes to running backs. Could it be Sharp? We can only hope. 

Assuming this is mostly true, we can pencil in Chris Carson for heavy-usage all year long. Second year running back Rashaad Penny underwhelmed in the preseason once again and looks to have been relegated to a full-time backup role, rather than forcing a 1A-1B timeshare with Chris Carson. Whatever the case may be, the Bengals’ defense has little run-stopping talent to speak of — a factor that should benefit quarterback Russell Wilson as well. Wilson, looking sharp as ever through the air, is coming off a career-low rushing season. For the first time in his 7-year career, Wilson failed to record a single rushing score. We can expect some positive regression to the mean in that department and a date with Cincy is just what the doctor ordered. Although Geno Atkins is still playing at a high-level, long time defensive end Carlos Dunlap has significantly slowed as the years have caught up to him. Linebackers like Nick Vigil and Preston Brown do little to instill fear — expect Carson and Wilson to blow past the Bengals’ lackluster front seven. 

The one area that Cincinnati might’ve been able to impact the game was in it’s slot defense with difference-maker Darqueze Dennard. However, the talented slot corner is on the Physically Unable to Perform list, giving Tyler Lockett the freedom to do as he pleases. Similar to Tyler Boyd, Lockett burst onto the scene last year, stepping into the slot in place of the injured Doug Baldwin. The then-4th-year player smashed his previous career highs in yardage and touchdowns, post 965 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Lockett is now the alpha in Seattle’s receiving corps and in Week 1, his presence will be felt. The rest of the Seahawks’ receivers are unfortunately banged up. Although rookie D.K. Metcalf has been able to return to practice, undergoing an August knee scope is still cause for caution. Jaron Brown will see some downfield action with Metcalf likely limited and David Moore out with a broken arm, with Gary Jennings Jr. working the short-to-intermediate areas of the field. Fellow rookie John Ursua will see some slot work as well, perhaps a heavy dosage of it in the 4th-quarter. As for tight ends, there’s not much to speak of. Will Dissly and Nick Vannett will take a majority of their reps as blockers — let’s hope Dissly’s 2018 patellar tendon tear hasn’t derailed his promising, if unspectacular career. 

Ultimately, this game should be the Seahawks’ from start to finish. If it isn’t, the team’s playoff prospects are seriously in jeopardy. The additions of Clowney and Ansah to the defensive line will pose problems for any offensive line and the slight tweaks to the offense, along with the ascension of Tyler Lockett bode well for the Seahawks’ upcoming season. Expect them to cover the 9.5-point spread.

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Kevin Nesgoda

I’d tease Seattle out to 13.5. This won’t be close.

Taylor Bartle

This didn’t age well.

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