The Bengals are starting out the season against the Seattle Seahawks. They just so happen to be a team that has plenty of experience playing the Rams, the team where Zac Taylor spent the last two seasons coaching at.
So this is a good opportunity to direct our questions to Kenneth Arthur of Field Gulls.
Patrick Judis: New head coach Zac Taylor is most likely going to run a similar system to what the Rams and Sean McVay ran. Considering the Seahawks play in the same division as the Rams, what do expect to see the Seattle do to try and slow down Cincinnati’s new offense?
Kenneth Arthur: Let’s hypothesize that the Jadeveon Clowney acquisition was specifically made to stop the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. I don’t think it’s a wild theory, even if Seattle’s intentions go way beyond that, which they do. But I’m sure they’re partly related and what Clowney’s acquisition really does is act as the final nail in the coffin of mediocre run defense.
The Seahawks were a top-three run defense from 2014-2016 but fell to the middle of the pack in the last two seasons as stars like Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and KJ Wright all got injured or left at different times in the last two years. Most of the NFL is gearing towards how to pass and stop the pass, but Pete Carroll’s not changing his ways: he wants to focus on the run game on both sides of the ball. The objective in 2018 was to run the ball better, and they led the NFL in rushing.
The objective in 2019: stop the run again. They traded pass rusher Frank Clark to the Chiefs and obtained a 2019 first-round pick in the process, choosing L.J. Collier, who is much more of a Bennett than a Clark. They replaced Shamar Stephen—arguably their worst defensive starter—with Poona Ford, an undrafted free agent rookie in 2018 who has quickly become a fan favorite and arguably a great run-stuffer in his own right, and Al Woods, a nose tackle who specializes in stopping the run and nothing else. Without Jarran Reed for the first six games, that means you’ll also see undrafted free agent rookie Bryan Mone a bit, but these are not the stars to focus on.
Clowney has underwhelmed as a pass rusher because people expected him to be as good as Julius Peppers based on the hype, but he’s ranked over at Pro Football Focus as one of the top-2 run-stuffers on the edge. I don’t personally care for PFF, but I still take their opinions into consideration, and I haven’t heard any dispute against Clowney’s run-stopping abilities.
In his first press conference with the team, Clowney said he was grateful to be on a defense with great players behind him, and he’s not kidding: Bobby Wagner is perennially mentioned among the best linebackers in the NFL, K.J. Wright is one of the top 4-3 outside linebackers in the league—which is to say that he excels at a position that we don’t generally consider to be “loaded” with talent—and Mychal Kendricks has been, pardon the phrase, a steal for the Seahawks based on his felony charges making him available and cheap.
A 4-3 defense does not typically feature outside linebackers at the quality of both Wright and Kendricks, but injury and off-field issues have made them affordable to keep for Seattle. I don’t know that Ezekiel Ansah is going to be out there a ton for more than his ability to get to the quarterback, but these six starters—Clowney, Wagner, Kendricks, Wright, Poona, Woods—are going to be hyper-focused on stopping the run because that’s what they do best and five of those players signed new contracts with the Seahawks this offseason, while Ford was upgraded to starter over their biggest weak spot.
That long-winded non-answer leads me to this: The Seahawks are going to focus on the Rams this season by stopping the run. They nearly beat the Rams in both contests last season and if the results had flipped, it would have been the Seahawks winning the NFC West. In one game, they did a fairly good job on Gurley, but he scored three touchdowns, and they had a good overall average thanks to a long run by Robert Woods. And in the other, Gurley ran all over them. I think that had a lot to do with the additions of Collier, Clowney, and re-signing both outside linebackers.
So against the Bengals, I expect the same; especially given that I would assume more people consider Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard to be the strength of the offense with A.J. Green out, right? I know that McVay has a highly regarded passing offense with three productive receivers, but they also signed Todd Gurley to the biggest contract in football and use him a ton, so it’s not as though they don’t respect the run. I expect the Seahawks to take Mixon out of the game and force Andy Dalton to make big throws for four quarters without Green.
Sorry to all of your readers by the way for the long answers.
PJ: It is no secret that the Seahawks are dealing with some issues at the wide receiver position with a number of injuries. Will Tyler Lockett be able to carry the load, or how do you think they will try compensate for the injuries?
KA: Well you can just take my last answer and reverse it. The Seattle Seahawks are a running team. I interviewed Bobby Wagner last week and when I asked him about expectations he did not hesitate to answer: we are always going to be a team that focuses on defense and running the football. This is a guy who has Russell Wilson at quarterback and he’s not hesitating to say that Wilson’s arm is the third-most important thing to them winning. Seattle’s gonna run the football. They have the most experienced offensive line that they’ve ever had under Carroll and so that finally seems like not-a-weakness. With Chris Carson healthy and the offensive line being signed specifically to run block, I expect them to run it a ton and that would compensate for any losses in the receiving game.
When they do throw it, the focus probably will be on Lockett a bit more than usual, and I think the number two could be tight end Will Dissly. He was really productive in Week 1 a year ago but tore his patellar tendon in Week 3. He’s healthy and I think he’d be their number two consideration given the personnel. If D.K. Metcalf is healthy and prepared enough to go, I could see Russell Wilson target him at least a few times and maybe even in big situations. Everybody on the coaching staff is really high on him -- even more so than usual. It’s perhaps the most effusive praise they’ve ever bestowed upon a rookie receiver. It’s exciting but I am proceeding with caution because DK slipped in the draft for a couple valid concerns that he needs to overcome. There’s also been a lot of talk about throwing to running backs more often, so I think Carson would be option A and C.J. Prosise would be option B.
So: run first, Lockett second, Dissly third, did we say “run it” yet? fourth, and passes to running backs fifth. Let’s see if I’m even close to lucky on that guess!
PJ: The Texans have a long history of screwing over the Bengals. This year they apparently deciding to gift Jadeveon Clowney to Seattle for their Week 1 matchup. How much do expect Clowney to play, and how does he improve the Seahawks’ defense?
KA: In similar situations I think we’ve seen guys play about 50-75% of what they’d normally play. That’s a completely off-the-top-head guess for me, but that’s my feeling after seeing so many star players miss time because of injuries, holdouts, trades. About two-three quarters worth. My gut says that’s the plan with Clowney. He will absolutely be active and start. He might not get as many downs as usual. But remember this could easily be a one-year rental, so I say get your rental’s worth.
I expect him to be out there on all three downs though since he can do work against both. He gives Seattle a run defender early in the game to play alongside two other highly-regarded run defenders and the hope would be that Mixon can’t move the pile. If that happens and you’re putting Dalton into third-and-long situations over and over again, it’s going to be really hard to get into scoring range. I’m not saying that Dalton and Tyler Boyd or Tyler Eifert can’t do it (woah, first time realizing it was two Tylers), I’m just saying that it’s difficult for any quarterback to complete that many third-and-long passes. Drew Brees likes 2nd-and-3 just as much as Dalton does, you know what I mean?
If they had been starting Cassius Marsh or Quinton Jefferson there instead of Clowney, that’s going to tell a much different story for Seattle. It now puts Jefferson on the depth chart and Marsh in Arizona. The other bonus is that I do believe Clowney can play on the inside and that might be another place we see him line up on Sunday.
PJ: Is there a player that you’re excited to see finally play this week after watching or talking about them all offseason?
KA: If he plays, safety Marquise Blair. The second-round draft pick has been one of the most exciting players of camp but back spasms have cost him some preseason games and camp days so it’s unlikely he’ll factor into this one. Obviously Clowney and Ziggy, will they be as good as they sound as a duo or will it be one of those new-team letdowns? Sometimes the best additions are the ones that didn’t garner national headlines. In fact, I’d say that’s really common and so it’s exciting to consider that pair at their best but realistically they both have injury and consistency issues. I can promise you that Metcalf might be the most popular answer among Seahawks fans. I get that too, though I think John Ursua may have a bigger role this week.
Overall, I’m most looking forward to seeing this offensive line. Either Mike Iupati will start if he’s healthy, giving us a view of Iupati next to Duane Brown, or it will be Ethan Pocic. A disappointment in his first two seasons, Pocic seems to have turned a corner in year three as the backup to Iupati. Overall though, this is the most hope we’ve had in the offensive line in years and and that could propel the offense to greater heights in year two of Brian Schottenheimer, even if you really don’t like Brian Schottenheimer. Time to throw and room to run are so vital to offensive success that even Schotty’s no match for the ceiling of these five or six players, but realistically they’re a bit old (Brown, especially), a bit injured (Iupati, D.J. Fluker, historically), and a bit penalty happy (Germain Ifedi, Justin Britt). They’re also likely to throw George Fant in there as a sixth offensive lineman on quite a few snaps. There’s hope in this line and if they performed at their peak, it’d be interesting to see how Wilson responds.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game?
KA: If I haven’t turned away all of your readers at this point, I certainly will now. I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m just very low on the Bengals this season. I’ve had a lot of years where I’ve liked them a lot more than everyone else, but this year seems like the type of year where maybe you’re not unhappy with a high draft pick in 2020. I don’t need to give you my reasons for why I’m so low on Cincinnati because your fans are way more plugged into the team than I am, but I see a Week 1 Bengals team as having to overcome some injuries and getting used to a new system.
That being said, Taylor’s a wild card. There’s virtually no way to game plan against him at this point. I highly doubt he’s just going to copy McVay play for play. Seattle’s also going to need Pocic or Iupati and Britt to be on top of their own game because we’ve seen how Geno Atkins can dominate the Seahawks and change the field.
Overall, I think Seattle’s at home, has an advantage at quarterback, and enters the season fairly healthy, so I’m going to pick the Seahawks to win. Score, inconsequential. Thank you for your time and once again I’m sorry.
Thanks again to Kenneth Arthur of the Field Gulls for taking the time out to answer our questions. You can find more of his work at Field Gulls.