Hot off a divisional win, the well rested Seattle Seahawks (4-1) travel to Cleveland for a date with the Browns (2-3). The schedule makers had it in for Cleveland when they put Weeks 5 and 6 together. A Monday-night-to-Sunday-morning turnaround is tough enough. Pairing them with the Seahawks, coming off a Thursday night game seems downright unfair. It’s good for our ‘Hawks though, so we’ll take it.
The keys to this matchup are the Seahawks’ passing game, squaring off with a newly healthy Browns secondary, and the battle in the trenches between the Seahawks’ defensive line and the Browns offensive line. We know Pete Caroll will try to run a slow, ball-control offense that features Chris Carson and limits Russell Wilson. But what happens if the Browns can go tit for tat with us, riding the legs of stud running back, Nick Chubb?
For three weeks now, Cleveland’s back-end has been without both Greedy Williams, their 2019 2nd-round pick, and Denzel Ward, the second-year corner who earned Pro Bowl and PFWA All-Rookie Team honors last year. Both returned to practice in a limited fashion this week after nursing hamstring injuries from Weeks 3 through 5. Williams is a sight to behold, standing a near Richard Sherman-esque 6’2”, 185lbs, the 21-year-old was taken in the 2nd for a reason — he looks the part of a real-deal shutdown corner. Ward, 2018’s fourth pick overall is set to be a household name for years to come after being recognized as one of the league’s top eight corners in the first year of his career, by players and fans.
Williams’ and Ward’s returns are a challenge, namely, for D.K. Metcalf given that all three mostly line up on the outside. Metcalf’s had a step on most opposing corners thus far, putting his 4.33 40-speed to use. He’ll need more than quicks this week though as Williams posted a 4.37 40 of his own. Metcalf has shown excellent ball-tracking skills and is able to win at the catch-point — good development for a young player. But, Williams routinely challenged receivers at the catch point during his illustrious collegiate career, positioning himself to nab 8 picks and 19 passes defended across two seasons. Denzel Ward was largely billed as a shutdown slot corner coming out of school. However, during his time in the pros, he’s logged a slot coverage snap share of less than 5%, per PlayerProfiler.com. Ward also managed to best both Metcalf and Williams in the 40, notching a 4.32, while swapping astoundingly high marks with Metcalf in the vertical and the broad jump. Without getting too far into the weeds, the aerial battle going down on the perimeter of the field this week will be one of talent and intense athletic ability.
Fortunately for Tyler Lockett, he and his 61.7% slot route snap count get to avoid the two outside studs most of the time. Some combination of cornerback T.J. Carrie, strong safety Morgan Burnett, and free safety Damarious Randall will be used in an attempt to stymie Lockett’s inevitable production. If a safety is brought into the picture for Lockett though, you can bet the ball is either going Metcalf’s way, deep, or into the sure hands of one Will Dissly, Seattle’s breakout tight end. The Bible Study Boys have found a unique connection, especially in the red zone. Dissly’s 4 scores lead all tight ends through the first five weeks of the season.
Regarding the big men up front, however, the Seahawks need a season-defining performance out of its defensive line. Last week, the San Francisco 49ers advanced to 4-0 on the heels of a dominant defensive showing in the trenches. San Fran ranks 7th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, a measurement of defensive line success against opposing run games, and 3rd in Adjusted Sack Rate, a measurement of defensive line pass rush success. Seattle falls significantly short, despite the off season acquisition of Jadeveon Clowney and the debut of Ziggy Ansah, coming in 21st and 25th, respectively. If Seattle’s defensive line is unable to get pressure on quarterback Baker Mayfield or deliver contact to Nick Chubb at the line of scrimmage, the Browns will easily be able to move the chains.
Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens brings a mix of new school concepts and old school play calling, the latter to his detriment. If Mayfield is allowed time in the pocket, the Browns will be able to get their Seahawks-similar offense going — that means one-on-one deep shots to 3-time Pro Bowl and 2-time 2nd-team All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr., not to mention shallow darts to 4-time Pro Bowl stud slot receiver Jarvis Landry. For whatever reason, head coach Pete Carroll has often openly talked about the type of player that can beat his sturdy cornerbacks; average-to-small sized receivers who are quick off the line of scrimmage. Both Beckham Jr. and Landry fit that bill to a T. Shaquill Griffin has continued to develop and he’ll be able to give Beckham Jr. a run for his money when he lines up on his side of the field. But Beckham can always work his way over to Tre Flowers though, and then it’s game over. Seattle’s safety play has never recovered from the departures of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor so help over the top is unlikely to be effective. Similarly, Justin Coleman signing with Detroit has left a hole in our slot coverage that Landry will happily catches passes in.
Allowing the Browns offense to hum, uninterrupted, nerfs the ability of the Seahawks defense to generate turnovers. By busting up the offensive line and reducing Cleveland’s ability to score early, the Seahawks can force Mayfield into making ill-advised, desperate throws in the 2nd-half. In a neutral game script, Kitchens will gladly match Pete Carroll’s ball-control style of offense, which wouldn’t necessarily spell a loss for Seattle — Carroll knows his way around 14-10 victories — but it reduces the likelihood of a safe win.
The Niners were able to run the ball at will against Cleveland last week so there’s reason to believe Seattle can do something similar. However, head coach Kyle Shanahan masks his run game intentions with beautifully designed, complex schemes. Carroll believes in a hard-headed, run-it-when-they-know-we’re-gonna-run-it approach that is easier to stop. Chris Carson has been playing well, but Russell Wilson’s theatrics have repeatedly bailed Pete Carroll’s stunningly bad decision-making — both in game plan planning and 4th-and-short/challenge flag calls — through all four of Seattle’s victories. This is the reason that the Seahawks’ passing game battle vs. Cleveland’s secondary is so important; Seattle hasn’t managed a victory this year without Russell Wilson and Co. making up self-inflicted gaffes. The passing game’s success is Plan B. The defensive line’s success is Plan C. Plan A will always be pounding the rock, in the face of all reason — a plan that continues to look worse as viewers become more informed.
Ultimately, this game should belong to the ‘Hawks. Even in a situation where the defense is unable to slow Cleveland’s offense, it should stay relatively within reach as both teams run offenses on the slower side. Couple that with the Seahawks’ severe rest advantage and you’re looking at solid favorites. Expect a victory in the neighborhood of 24-17.