MUNICH, Germany — Spearheading their current four-game winning streak, the Seahawks have made a remarkable defensive turnaround over the past month. After being on fire in the first five weeks of the season, they’ve allowed less than 13 points per game in their last four games.
At the center of this 180-degree transformation, as coach Pete Carroll and the players have cited, unleashing the defensive line with a more aggressive, penetrating, penetrating style paid immediate dividends. Since implementing those schematic and technical adjustments, Seattle has racked up 19 sacks and dramatically improved a once-porous running defense, giving up less than 100 rushing yards per game after giving up north of 170 rushing yards per game over of the first five weeks.
Seeking a fifth straight win with a historic Week 10 clash against the Buccaneers in the NFL’s first ever regular season game in Germany on Sunday, the Seahawks will once again rely on their defensive tackles to keep their game going. stellar in a game where the result can go up on which team performs better in the trenches.
Boasting a wealth of experience with starters Poona Ford, Shelby Harris and Al Woods as well as reserves Quinton Jefferson and Bryan Mone, Seattle has a stable of well-rounded athletic veterans in the middle capable of doing damage defending the run as well as rush from within. In the past four weeks alone, everyone but Mone has produced at least one sack, while Harris is gone with eight presses.
Heading into this weekend, the group as a whole should be licking their lips considering how Tampa Bay’s front line is shrinking due to retirements, free agency and injuries.
Just two years ago, one of the NFL’s key offensive lines emerged as a mainstay for the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, protecting Tom Brady and creating running space for Leonard Fournette. But the group now looks like a shell of itself after standout guard Ali Marpet shockingly hung up his cleats at 28, Alex Cappa fled for the Bengals in free agency and star center Ryan Jenson s suffered a knee injury at the start of training camp. .
As a result of those unfortunate departures and injuries, Tampa Bay has been unable to effectively manage football this year, averaging 60.7 rushing yards per game. Although Brady has only been sacked 14 times, it hasn’t necessarily been down to quality protection, as the team ranks 26th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate metric. On the contrary, Pro Football Focus sees the unit much more favorably with the seventh best pass blocking rating in the league.
Nonetheless, with rookie Luke Goedeke ruled out for Sunday with a foot problem and Jenson likely out for the year, the Buccaneers will play a pair of second-string reserves in Nick Leverett and Robert Hainsey in their place. This no doubt sets the stage for Ford, Harris, Woods and the rest of the Seahawks defensive front to build on their recent performances against a maligned and under-equipped unit.
But interestingly, anchoring a strong frontline that helped guide the team to a Lombardi Trophy two years ago, Tampa Bay could have the same advantage on defense thanks to the presence of Pro Bowl nose tackle Vita Vea and the recent return of an outstanding defensive tackle. Akiem Hicks.
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While the Buccaneers missed star passing thrower Shaquill Barrett, who suffered an Achilles injury last month, Vea enjoyed a career year as a passing thrower. Leading the team with 23 pressures and 6.5 sacks, including knocking down Matthew Stafford twice in last week’s 16-13 win over the Rams, the gargantuan 350-pound defenseman with his own orbit has been a one-man wrecking crew creating stalemates at the line of scrimmage and collapsing pockets.
Across the line, even starting a pair of rookie tackles in Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, the Seahawks have quietly built one of football’s most underrated offensive lines. At the center of this emergence, center Austin Blythe brought much-needed stability to the position and his knowledge of offending coordinator Shane Waldron coupled with his communication skills were a major boon to the whole group.
Seattle also received quality contributions from a trio of veteran guards, including the recent launch a successful squad between Gabe Jackson and Phil Haynes at right guard opposite Damien Lewis. In a bid to keep both players fresh in the second half, they may continue to turn the series alongside Blythe in the long run.
Making marked improvements from a year ago with three new starters in the roster and excelling under Andy Dickerson, the Seahawks rank fourth in ESPN’s pass block success rate metric and a respectable 12th in PFF pass blocking ratings. The team wasn’t as successful in the run block department, however, ranking 24th in Run Block Win Rate and 19th in PFF.
Although Blythe and the rest of his linemates have done a commendable job so far contributing to a surprising 6-3 start, the group will have their hands full trying to deal with Vea and Hicks, who each weigh in north of 330 pounds and can win. with power as well as rare athleticism. Keeping those two at bay will be crucial for dark horse MVP Geno Smith to have time to throw to his bevy of receivers in the pocket and for Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Ken Walker III to find any traction on the field.
When the Seahawks and Buccaneers face off in Deutschland this weekend, there will be no shortage of stars in the skill positions with Metcalf, Mike Evans, Walker, Chris Godwin, Lockett and Julio Jones. But in this clash of first-place teams with significant playoff implications, the winner will likely be decided by which interior offensive line best rises to the challenge against formidable enemies lined up at the line of scrimmage.
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