Doug Baldwin is good. Really, really good. He’s not what you would consider an elite #1 a la Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, or A.J. Green, but nobody asked him to be. That’s not his game. He’s not going to run a bunch of vertical routes, leap over defenders, and make crazy catches in traffic. He’s also not a burner, a la T.Y. Hilton, Brandin Cooks, or John Brown; he’s not going to blaze past defenders for a bunch of 40-yard bombs. He works out of the slot, but he’s MORE than your traditional slot guy, a la Wes Welker, Percy Harvin, or Randall Cobb. He can do it all, he can line up anywhere, and his best attributes are his hands, his smarts, and his route running. With those three things, Doug Baldwin is just as capable and effective as any of the guys I’ve listed in this paragraph. He doesn’t need freakish size or speed. The best comp, in all honesty, is probably Antonio Brown, who I feel is the best wide receiver in the game of football today (although, to be fair, Brown does have superior speed to get to those deep balls). In a more pass-friendly offense, Doug Baldwin would be a top 5 or at the very least a top 10 receiver in this league.
In Seattle, Doug Baldwin is a #1 who’s not really a #1. And, this week, he may be looking at his greatest test since the Super Bowl against New England.
The Panthers are down to one healthy starting cornerback. He just so happens to be Josh Norman, who is on the final year of his deal while at the same time playing the best football of his career. He’s a legit Top 5 shutdown corner in the league, and he’s looking at a significant payday once his season ends. Much like Richard Sherman, Norman generally plays on the outside. While he CAN follow receivers into the slot, he usually doesn’t. This is the rationale for why Seahawks fans should be comfortable with the receiving matchups this week; because other than Norman, Carolina is forced into playing a couple guys they “picked up off the streets”.
On the flipside, the Seahawks have been reduced to the following because of injuries: Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Tyler Lockett, Kevin Smith, and Kasen Williams. I might be in the minority here, but I just don’t see why Carolina would choose to play status quo defense when they’ve got a shutdown corner and the Seahawks have one of the hottest receivers in the league. We’ve seen Richard Sherman follow a receiver all around the field from time to time this year; I’m sure Josh Norman has done the same thing. If I’m coaching for Carolina, this is the week I’m taking full advantage of all that Josh Norman has to offer. And, while Doug Baldwin will get SOME catches, I highly doubt he’ll have this huge, impactful game (if, indeed, my theory is correct).
So, where does that leave us? Well, for starters, I’m not expecting much at all out of our running game this week. Carolina’s front seven is as good as it gets and should have no problem keeping us in check. This game is going to hinge on the arm of Russell Wilson, which means it’s going to hinge on the other receivers getting open for him.
I like Jermaine Kearse as much as the next guy. He runs pretty clean routes in his own right, and for the most part I trust him to catch whatever he gets his hands on. But, his frequency of making big plays has diminished considerably this year; he’s essentially become a possession receiver in 2015. Maybe he’s just saving it all up for another chance to be the hero in the NFC Championship Game, but this week would be a really good opportunity for him to break out.
The one person I forgot about when I started this post is Tyler Lockett. He has, by all measures, had a wildly successful rookie season. He’s an All Pro returner, and has cemented himself as this team’s third receiver. He’s had a few big games (three combined touchdowns in the two games against the 49ers, 7 catches for 90 yards in the first Minnesota game, 6 catches for 104 yards and 2 TDs in the Baltimore game), but for the most part has had the kind of season you’d expect from a quality rookie receiver trying to break through on a championship-calibre team (averaging approximately 3 catches for 41.5 yards per game and a TD every third game or so). We’ve seen Lockett’s over-the-top speed beat some defenders for big plays this year, but where his game is lacking a little bit is his ability to high point a ball and win those deep catches in traffic. Obviously, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but how many times have we seen Russell Wilson launch a 50/50 jump ball to Lockett, with that ball ultimately falling incomplete? That’s where you miss a guy like Golden Tate; that’s where you’d ultimately like to draft a guy like DeAndre Hopkins to do that for you.
If the Seahawks are going to be successful against the Panthers this week, Tyler Lockett is going to have to really bust out. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t get open on the reg against the likes of Cortland Finnegan (who I actually suspect will try to manhandle Kearse throughout the game) or Robert McClain. I honestly sort of expected him to have more of an impact in the Vikings game last week, but the cold rendered that moot. THIS WEEK, however, should be the week where he breaks his foot off in their asses.
I suspect, unless injuries arise, we won’t see much out of Kevin Smith or Kasen Williams this week outside of special teams. I nevertheless maintain my belief that we will see at least ONE huge play out of Kevin Smith that nobody will see coming. Maybe it’s a deep ball in traffic, maybe it’s a short catch and a lot of YAC. Something! Just watch. As for Williams, I feel the Seahawks are missing a great opportunity there. Williams DOES have a great ability to high point balls and come down with difficult catches in traffic. If we’re smart, the Seahawks will include a few sub-packages with Williams, like we did with Chris Matthews in the Super Bowl last year.
This week is also the perfect week to get Luke Willson back. I can’t even begin to tell you how tired I am of Cooper Helfet being our #1 tight end. Not that I don’t like Helfet. I think as a #2 or a #3, Helfet is quite effective. But, his game is diminished the more he’s forced into the limelight. I would assume Carolina’s defense is pretty stout against tight ends, what with their monster linebackers, but at least Willson presents a respectable challenge and will have to keep them honest.
I may be off base in this part of the game being my biggest concern – after all, Carolina’s secondary right now is much more palatable than it is at full strength – but it’s going to be imperative that our guys find ways to get open and get open quickly. Their pass rush is insane, so being on time and staying on schedule is the best way we have of winning this game.