Seattle Seahawks

Who Are the X-Factors for Seahawks to Recapture NFC West & Make Super Bowl Run?

The Seattle Seahawks have won four straight games heading into a Week 16 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.

Who are some X-factors on offense for Seattle as they look to make another Super Bowl run? How about on defense?

Watch as Stephen Nelson and Stephen Cohen of the Seattle P-I discuss some X-factors for Seattle in the video above.

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KJ Wright and Seahawks Agree to New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

While the Seattle Seahawks are focused on securing a playoff spot this season, they have helped solidify their future by reportedly signing linebacker K.J. Wright to a contract extension.     

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the details of Wright’s new deal with the Seahawks:

Nick Eaton of SeattlePI.com and John Boyle of the Everett Herald provide comments from Wright, who spoke about the deal: 

The 25-year-old Wright has spent his entire four-year career with the Seahawks, being drafted with the 99th pick in the 2011 NFL draft. He leads the team with 96 tackles this season and is tied for third with five tackles for loss. 

That 2011 class has turned out to be a fruitful one for head coach Pete Carroll. In addition to Wright, the Seahawks selected Richard Sherman (fifth round), Byron Maxwell (sixth) and Malcolm Smith (seventh). Those are foundation pieces that played an integral role in the team’s championship run last year. 

Wright joins Sherman, who signed his own four-year extension in the offseason, and safety Earl Thomas as the latest members of the core group of Seattle’s outstanding defense to reach deals at a young age. The rest of the league will have plenty of time to figure out how to break through that defensive wall. 

This is a significant move for Seattle to ensure its defense remains a strength in the coming years. With star quarterback Russell Wilson also set for a new deal, there’s little doubt this team will be in contention for the next several seasons.

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Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals: Breaking Down Seattle’s Game Plan

Just when it seemed as though things couldn’t get any more difficult for the Arizona Cardinals (11-3) offense, they somehow manage to do just that. The Cardinals will be forced to start third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley after Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton succumbed to injuries in recent weeks.

Arizona is also without spark-plug running back Andre Ellington for the rest of the year, leaving the team with relative unknowns Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor. Much like the Seattle Seahawks (10-4), the Cardinals offense seems to put up just enough points each week while its defense dominates.

The Seahawks won the NFC West front-runners’ first meeting 19-3, starting the team’s four-game win streak. Both teams found points hard to come by, but Seattle’s advantageous field position throughout the game was a key factor.

There are significant playoff implications on the line for this game, with the two teams embroiled in a tight race for the divisional crown along with top seeding. An Arizona victory would effectively end Seattle’s hopes of winning the division and would leave them in a much tighter wild-card race.

A win for the Seahawks puts them in the driver’s seat to win the division and gives them a shot at winning the No. 1 seed in the NFC. With Seattle’s defense limiting opponents to less than a touchdown per game over the last four weeks, Arizona will be hard-pressed to win this game.

 

On Defense

While Seattle’s defense has been holding teams to less than a touchdown per game over the last four weeks, Arizona’s offense has only been able to muster up 12.5 points per game over the same span. With Lindley at the helm things only stand to get worse for the Cardinals.

The third-year pro completed four of 10 pass attempts for 30 yards last week in his first action since 2012. Having not seen any action last year, the one thing that appears to be clear is that Lindley is largely inaccurate. In six appearances during the 2012 season, Lindley completed 52 percent of his passes for an average of 4.40 yards per attempt.

When these teams last played each other, the Seahawks defense was content to let Stanton throw short passes and try to generate long, scoring drives. It was a challenge Stanton and the Arizona weren’t prepared for. The Seahawks should employ the same tactics of keeping all receivers in front of them and stopping any chunk plays from happening.

Whether the Cardinals run game has improved with Williams stepping in for Ellington is up for debate. However, he has carried the ball 34 times for 175 yards (5.1 yards per carry) over the last two weeks. Ellington had not rushed for 100 yards or averaged five yards per carry in any game this season.

Expect to see the Cardinals try to establish their running game while attempting some deep passes every so often. Having Larry Fitzgerald in the lineup this time will present its own challenges.

 

On Offense

Russell Wilson had to run for his life last week, and the last time he faced the Cardinals things weren’t much different. Arizona sacked Wilson a season-high seven times in Week 12, with their defense utilizing an assortment of blitzes. 

The passing game was highlighted by the team’s tight ends rather than its receivers in the last meeting. Tony Moeaki and Luke Willson will definitely be in the lineup, while Cooper Helfet’s status is still uncertain. The Seahawks got most of their big plays from tight ends and used receivers to move the chains.

If Arizona opts to go blitz heavy again, I would expect a similar approach. The Cardinals secondary is a major weakness, so getting as many targets involved as possible should be Seattle’s goal. Marshawn Lynch had absolutely no room to run in the last game, and I don’t expect that to change much.

Of course, the Seahawks have to try to run in order to create some balance, but Wilson’s legs proved to be the most successful in Week 12. This game plan is going to lean heavily on Wilson’s ability to find open targets and being decisive when there’s room for him to run.

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Russell Wilson Changes Agents as Contract Negotiations Loom

Eligible to sign a new contract after the 2014 NFL season, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has reportedly decided to sign a new agent.          

ESPN’s Adam Schefter has the news:

In a memo the NFL sent teams today, it informed them that Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, eligible for a new deal after this season, is changing agents, per sources.

Another source said that Wilson is likely to go with his baseball agent, Mark Rodgers. Wilson did speak recently with his former NFL agent Bus Cook, and praised Cook but wanted to keep all his business with one agent, thus the change.

A source close to Wilson said Cook was not fired, but simply the quarterback was making a change.

It’s an interesting move, and it’s another indication that Wilson will indeed be looking for a big contract extension in the offseason. 

One of the best bargains in the NFL, the dynamic dual-threat quarterbackstill on his rookie contracthas a base salary of $662,434 this season and $798,651 in 2015, per Spotrac.com. Seattle would obviously like to keep him on that contract for as long as possible, and as former Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers front office executive Vinny Cerrato explained, via The Washington Post‘s Mark Maske, the ‘Hawks could try to sell their star on building a more balanced roster.

“When you look at Seattle’s model, when you’ve got a cheap quarterback for a while, you keep him cheap so you can get other pieces,” Cerrato said. “I’d try to get more pieces. And that’s what I’d tell him.” 

Still, while Seattle has benefited in the last couple of years from having some of the league’s best players on rookie contracts, it has also shown a willingness to reward its most deserving players. John Schneider and Co. doled out huge extensions for Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman this spring, and they likely won’t hesitate to do the same with their franchise QB. 

The team’s Twitter feed and NFL on ESPN recently noted Seattle’s success since Wilson moved under center:

Wilson, an electrifying playmaker, is going to get paid no matter who stands as his agent. Comparatively, Andy Dalton received $115 million over six years in August. 

If he can lead the Seahawks to a second consecutive Super Bowl, he’ll surely become one of the highest-paid players in the NFL. 

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Bobby Wagner’s Speed and Vision Key as Seahawks Run Defense Continues to Swarm

For those who try to run around him, it must be difficult to talk about Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner without using some colorful language.

That’s what Wagner does: He reduces you to a string of expletives and a curled-up ball of hurt. His speed and vision are the motor behind the Seahawks defense and its dominance against the run. Especially over the last four games (all wins) during a playoff surge when opposing runners have been held to only 3.5 yards per carry.

In a development that’s not at all a coincidence, Wagner recovered from his turf toe injury and returned four games ago. Also not even a little bit surprising: In those four games, he’s averaged 11.3 tackles.

Wagner is fast, and he makes quality reads to diagnose a play. Put it all together and that appropriate—though, profane—language comes out. For opponents, there’s only one way to describe what he does, and one correct answer for the Wagner word association test.

Say, San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore, how fast is Wagner?

The 40-yard dash is the ultimate measure of raw, maximum speed. We’re about two months away from that annual Underwear Olympics main event, and Wagner doesn’t even have an official time we can look back on to confirm that, yes, he is indeed “f—–g fast.”

That’s because the eventual 47th overall pick in the second round missed his Scouting Combine appearance in 2012 while grappling with likely the only opponent capable of knocking him down: pneumonia. But later at his Utah State Pro Day, he posted a blistering time, covering those 40 yards in 4.46 seconds.

For some perspective on that speed, injured 49ers linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are often praised as the fastest middle linebacker tandem in the league. In 2010, Bowman needed 4.70 seconds to run 40 yards, and Willis did it in 4.51 during his combine appearance.

But speed is only one piece of the deep toolbox a linebacker needs while defending the run and filling gaps. He needs to react instantly, read movement that appears in only flashes of color and then launch.

When done correctly with the proper balance of athleticism and football intelligence, the result is a thud. For example:

That’s Wagner firing immediately after the snap to meet 49ers running back Alfonso Smith three yards deep in the backfield. You see his speed there, which is the first thing you notice about Wagner. It’s also the second and third thing, but he’s so much more than that.

As I’ve written repeatedly this season, leaning on injuries as a crutch for a poor outcome can be foolish at best, and desperate reaching at worst. But we can still acknowledge a now glaring reality: The complexion of the Seahawks run defense changes dramatically without Wagner. 

Even after missing five games, he’s still second on the team in tackles, with his 85 behind only fellow linebacker K.J. Wright. A middle linebacker being among a team’s leaders in tackles and defensive stops isn’t remarkable until you realize Wagner has been on the field for only 544 snaps.

The Seahawks defense has strung together an impressive stretch of pummeling and stuffing over the past four weeks. They’ve allowed only 6.75 points per game, an overpowering rooted in defending the run.

When running is removed for opposing offenses, third-down conversions are much more difficult, and so is maintaining possession. Generally, when an offense is one dimensional and that dimension has to contend with cornerback Richard Sherman, football becomes really, exceedingly hard.

The Seahawks have allowed only 325 rushing yards since Week 12. In three of those games (against the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals and the first of two against the San Francisco 49ers), opposing runners were held to less than 65 yards. That includes Eagles running back LeSean McCoy averaging 2.9 yards per carry in Week 12.

The only hiccup during that stretch was brief, with the leak plugged quickly: In Week 14 the 49ers finished with 140 rushing yards, but over half of that total (75 yards) came during their first three drives. From the 13:22 mark of the second quarter onward, the Seahawks run defense reverted to its natural state.

And so did Wagner, who finished with 10 tackles and his second sack this season.

His speed shows up repeatedly when we rewind the game tape. Take this second-quarter run by Gore that ended only a few yards after it started (two, to be exact).

The 49ers were backed up close to their own end zone, a situation that called for a power run straight ahead. Gore tried to plow through a hole opened by the center and left guard, with right guard Alex Boone pulling to seal it off.

But Wagner had already processed what’s about to happen when Boone began to pull and quarterback Colin Kaepernick turned to hand off. Notice his weight already shifting toward the developing hole.

Then almost instantly that hole is filled with a hard-charging body.

That’s one example among many of Wagner’s blur-like speed. But he also plays with plenty of patience. Those two things shouldn’t go together, right?

Both were on display late in the same game when he defended a third-quarter Carlos Hyde run. The Seahawks had just taken a three-point lead, and quarterback Russell Wilson needed the ball back with quality field position to burn off precious seconds and add some insurance points.

Wagner ignited that effort with the patience to wait for Hyde to commit, and then the aggression and speed to finish the job.

After coming in motion to the left side, 49ers fullback Bruce Miller pulled to the right. Defensive end Cliff Avril was his responsibility as the offensive line blocked to the left to open up a lane for the counter run.

Hyde was looking to run right and follow the imaginary bright blue arrow.

At this point, the play became an example of disciplined assignment football by Wagner and by the Seahawks defense as a whole.

Miller does his job on Avril, but Hyde was forced to stop short, hesitating in the backfield after he saw a flash of blue. A large one, and it came in the form of defensive tackle Tony McDaniel (No. 99 above).

At this point, Wagner had put himself in position to seal off the far side, which was essentially Hyde’s bailout option. Instead of getting lost in an overly aggressive pursuit, he remained positionally sound until the running back committed.

See that canyon of space to Wagner’s right? That’s going to be trouble…

This is when we see Wagner’s reactionary speed. Not the straight-line, 40-yard dash speed, though, he has plenty of that. Stopping Hyde for no gain demanded vision, the aforementioned discipline, the rapid reflexes to read the developing cutback and the strength to finish while fighting off Boone.

You can’t teach that blend of mental and physical talent. You can just sit back and be thankful the man who possesses it all is on your side.

Though Wagner is the anchor, the Seahawks run defense goes beyond him. Swarming with aggressive physicality while also staying disciplined—a difficult balance—is evident throughout the front seven. That’s kept Seahawks linemen and linebackers in the backfield often and opposing offenses to only 3.6 yards per carry overall this season.

Repeating as champions is easily within reach if offenses are forced to abandon the run. Because trying to beat this Seahawks defense by passing ends in many tears too.

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