If you're not a fan of the Seattle Seahawks, there is a lot not to like about the team. Pete Carroll is accused of cheating at the NCAA ranks and, apparently, quarterback Russell Wilson is entering the realm of Tim Tebow-ish levels. Even so, the team secured a 2013 Super Bowl ring and was one poor play-call away from a second consecutive win in 2014.
Wilson, the man, might be off-putting to some because of his outspoken belief system, but he's a guy who does regular community work and is a stand-up guy off-the-field, which might only be bettered by his autumn and winter resumes. Football should always be overshadowed by deeds of goodwill, but Wilson is a gridiron rockstar because of his miraculous plays from the past three seasons.
There has been an odd mirroring of franchises from two corporations so geographically far apart. Both the 2008 and 2010 seasons were major disappointments for the Bengals and Seahawks, prompting a change in organizational philosophy. Seattle's Carroll and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis have wrestled away power from management to use the draft and internal development to craft their respective rosters.
That isn't to say both teams haven't had their share of recent outside splashes. The Seahawks bartered offensive line strength in exchange for another passing weapon for Wilson in the form of Jimmy Graham (at the expense of Max Unger). In a different time zone across the country this offseason, the Bengals made a pledge to fortify their defensive line and did everything they could to bring back Michael Johnson. Both have had impacts, but maybe not as big as some thought it would show in the stat columns.
Seattle began the season with an inauspicious start, to say the least. After a sloth-like 0-2 record out of the gates, the return of safety Kam Chancellor has re-ignited a flailing defense to a 2-0 response. The gigantic safety is an enforcer who plays a "hybrid-backer" role, where he roams the field with free reign as Troy Polamalu once did.
Here's a big question: is it the return of key roster pieces that has ignited the 2015 comeback of the Seahawks, or is it merely the benefit of generous schedule-makers? A Jimmy Clausen-led Bears squad and a reeling Detroit Lions team (now 0-4) were the catalysts to the Seahawks righting the ship. Will Paul Brown Stadium and the largely-healthy Bengals show the wear-and-tear that Seattle's roster is experiencing, or will the postseason slaughterers show the limelight-shy Bengals who is who?
While both teams' rosters are filled with talent, the way they present themselves is completely different. The Bengals are workman-like, teetering on boring, as they spew out the cliched rhetoric in interviews. "One game at a time", "keep the hard hats on and get to work", and other statements are the norm for Cincinnati players. While it may induce eye-rolls from fans, it's a huge relief from the all-talk, no results bad boy teams earlier in Marvin Lewis' tenure.
Seattle, on the other hand, is full of cartoon characters and renaissance men. Michael Bennett makes a living by chasing down quarterbacks, but he seems to relish times when microphones are in his face more than what he gets paid to do. Marshawn Lynch's truculence with the media has made him a cult superstar because of his odd behavior, while Richard Sherman calls out anyone who comes his way. It's said football teams take on the personality of their head coach, and if the Bengals have done that with Lewis, then the Seahawks have definitely done the same with the excitable Carroll.
As it goes with any game against Seattle, the matchup against Sherman is a key to a victory. He has the ability to shut down his side of the field, while also verbally letting you know about it, making passers quiver. Since Chancellor's return, the defense has been complete and has allowed an average of just five points per game the past two weeks.
The big knock on Sherman when talking about him being the top corner in the league, is his immobility. Not in the sense of speed or range, but in the fact that he won't move from the left side of the field, regardless of the offensive formation. It's this chink in the Seahawks' armor that Hue Jackson will undoubtedly love to exploit with his play-calling wizardry.
Side note: do you ever get the image of Jackson looking like Dr. Frankenstein in his office at 3:30 A.M. doodling plays on the walls and re-creating his laminated sheets? "Jake Fisher up the sideline for a catch?! Mwahahaha!"
But, I digress.
The star-studded cast at the skill positions for both teams give the game some intrigue, but it will undoubtedly be won in the trenches. After finishing last in the NFL in quarterback sacks last year, the Bengals are currently tied for No. 6 in the league in the stat category in 2015. With 11 of them, they already have more than half of what they had all of last year, just a quarter of the way through this season.
Most of what makes Chancellor, Sherman and Earl Thomas so lethal in the secondary is the opportunities created from the front seven who rush the passer. Bennett, Bruce Irvin and others create match-up nightmares for offensive linemen because of their skill sets and the team's ability to mask what they're doing up front. It's not evident in 2015 with their six sacks on the season, but they definitely present danger.
It's the respective offensive lines that are going in opposite directions. Some Seahawks fans are calling their team's offensive line a "practice squad-like" unit, as evidenced by their allowance of 18 sacks through the first quarter of the season. While Graham's arrival brought smiles to the Pacific Northwest's faces, Unger's departure has left a big hole on a depleted unit.
Meanwhile, the Bengals' line has allowed just two sacks through the first four games and is one of the NFL's most efficient units. Cincinnati's offense is hitting on all cylinders right now, able to run the ball because of Andy Dalton's red-hot start to the season.
Lynch is out, Seattle is on the road and the Bengals are playing some of the best football in their 47-year history. As Danny Kelly of SB Nation's Field Gulls site told us on the Inside the Jungle podcast, the Seahawks are a different team when "The 12th Man" isn't behind them. The offensive line play tells the story here, even though Wilson will likely make some frustrating plays after scrambling around for what will seem like days.
Bengals 21, Seahawks 20
AC -- Won't be munching on Skittles this Sunday.