John: I would counter that the screen game may be more valuable than establishing the run. If Brandon Mebane is healthy and able to start, the Seahawks have the defensive line and linebacker talent to stifle the rush. Teams that lead with the run and thus put themselves into poor down and distance are playing right into the hands of the Seahawks pass rush. Seattle features many of its blitzes out of nickel and dime looks. Lawyer Milloy, Jordan Babineaux and Roy Lewis have combined for 5.5 of the Seahawks 19 sacks. Factor in the Seahawks often bookend their nickel defensive line with Chris Clemons (5.5 sacks) and Raheem Brock (3.0 sacks), two smaller, pass-rush centric “Leo” ends, and Seattle is at its most deadly as a pass rush in passing downs. Nine of its 19 sacks have come on third and long (6+ yards), another six have come on second and long (8+ yards).
Teams that want to avoid Seattle’s situational pass rush should avoid the customary progression of run to set up the pass and instead pass early as the Broncos did and as the Chargers did in the second half of week three. Kyle Orton and Philip Rivers combined for 21 completions on 31 pass attempts for 271 yards and a touchdown on first down pass attempts. Factor in Brandon Mebane’s sack, and Seattle allowed a discouraging 8.6 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt on first downs. To put that into perspective, in his record breaking 2007, Tom Brady averaged 8.9 ANY/A.
If Oakland wants to nullify the Seahawks nickel and dime pass rush, passing early would be an effective strategy. Screen passes could prove especially effective. Seattle has shown no ability to stop the screen. Among its down linemen, only Colin Cole has shown much awareness, keeping his head up and recognizing a developing screen, and the 330 pound defensive tackle is a poor bet to catch a running back in space.
If Tom Cable attempts what a lot of old-school, smashmouth coaches attempt, to establish the run on first down and build the passing game through play action, Seattle will be at its absolute best and most capable of stopping the Raiders offense. At full strength, Seattle’s middle three, Mebane, Cole and oversized strongsized end Red Bryant, can be absolutely stifling. And when the Seahawks can smother the run and force passing downs, they use creative personnel groupings, creative blitz packages and speed around the edge to pressure, hit, sack and force opposing quarterbacks into mistakes. But if Cable can mix up his strategy, or if Seattle’s rush defense looks porous like it did against the Cardinals, and the Raiders avoid passing downs, the Seahawks bag-of-tricks pass rush is liable to go poof.