Charlie Todaro

Seahawks vs. Steelers: Keys to Victory


 

mikewilliamsThe Seahawks head to Pittsburgh in Week 2 for the second game of their two-game road trip to start the season.

In Week 1, Seattle suffered an unfortunate meltdown in the final minutes against San Francisco to lose 33-17. The Steelers got walloped 35-7 opening the season in Baltimore. Both teams are looking to rebound.

The Seahawks have started 0-2 15 times in their history and haven't once made the playoffs when that's happened, while they made the playoffs six of 11 times when starting 1-1. No team wants to start the season 0-2, and the young Seahawks are no exception.

Here are seven keys to a Seahawks victory.

The Offensive Line Must Protect and the Offense Needs to Start Quickly

The Seahawks face one of the leagues most dynamic defenses in Pittsburgh. Seattle put up 37 yards of total offense last week in the first half. They gained a rhythm in the second half, which proved to be too little too late. This week, good protection and getting Tarvaris Jackson in sync early are paramount.

Success starts up front. Robert Gallery has been practicing all week and is expected to return, moving James Carpenter back to right tackle. Though pass protection was spotty during the preseason, Gallery's veteran presence should help stabilize an offensive line that let Jackson get sacked five times and hit eight others in Week 1.

Seattle must hope Gallery is ready to play a full game, as in-game shuffling would give the Steelers' defense an added advantage.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell knows Seattle must shake their trend of starting slowly, which has been an issue since the preseason. We have yet to see the Seahawks get on the field, move the ball and put points on the board.

The Seahawks need to get Jackson in a rhythm, calling plays to get the ball out versus an aggressive defense. Three-step drops or putting him the shotgun, coupled with quick developing routes, should give Jackson some early, easy options.

This will allow him to make quick decisions, gain confidence with the ball and hopefully prevent Troy Polamalu from getting an early lock on Jackson's eyes. Once a rhythm is established, putting Jackson on the move to accentuate his athleticism and slow down the blitz would be a smart move.

Then, Seattle can attack with slower-developing plays, something the Ravens had success with on first downs once they established the run and began to move the football. Seattle would be wise to experiment with roll-outs on first or second-and-long to see if they can bait the Steelers defense into being overaggressive.

Jackson was elected team captain by his teammates and he showed his toughness versus the 49ers. This week, he needs to show that leadership and ability on the field. He revealed on Thursday that "it's about winning, at all costs."

Jackson and the first-team offense need to be in that mindset for 60 minutes on Sunday.

Find Balance on Offense

In addition to struggling with pass protection and finding a rhythm, the offense lacked balance against the 49ers.

As highlighted earlier in the week, Seattle lost the time of possession battle. The running backs had 16 carries as opposed to Jackson's 37 pass attempts--not including the five dropbacks that led to a sack-- and the Seahawks were unable to find a groove with their play calling until the second half.

Part of their lack of balance was due to playing from behind, but Seattle did a poor job of using all of their weapons.

Given that Seattle knows they need a fast start this week, I expect the game plan to reflect that. Here are a few things that need to happen on Sunday:

leonwashington1. The Seahawks need to balance touches between the running backs. A 50-50 split between Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett or Leon Washington is my benchmark. Seattle needs to mix their backs on all downs and in particular, get Washington and Forsett involved in the early-down running game.

The Steelers struggled tackling the small, shifty Ray Rice last week; his low center of gravity and pad level posed a challenge. Seattle must use this to their advantage with Forsett and Washington, especially in the screen game.

2. One of my keys to last week's game was getting Mike Williams and Zach Miller off to a fast start, but Williams had zero targets in the first half and Miller caught only two balls in the game. Last week, Joe Flacco had success throwing into tight windows and using his tight ends; Seattle needs Jackson to do the same.

Seattle needs to get these two involved with a variety of methods. Run them over the middle on short crossing routes, or use combination routes where a deep receiver clears the intermediate sideline for either guy to come across the formation and find the hole. Williams in particular needs to work the sideline and use his body to win one-on-one match-ups. A

lso, second tight end Anthony McCoy needs to be a factor as a "backup" if Seattle struggles to get their main, big targets involved.

3. Win the time of possession battle and strive for a 50-50 balance between run and pass. Easier said than done--especially if Seattle falls behind-- but they need to remain cognizant of the need for balance.

Key on the Steelers' Blitz Tendencies

Dick LeBeau and the Steelers are known for their versatile, aggressive, zone blitz defensive scheme. On any down, with varying combinations of players and out of multiple looks, the Steelers won't hesitate to bring pressure.

Watching the Steelers in Week 1, one of the most noticeable tendencies was their propensity to blitz on second and six; it was clear the Steelers wanted to make second and manageable into third and long for the Ravens offense. Furthermore, this was a tendency that was established early in the game.

The point here isn't to say that the Steelers will only blitz on second and six, as they also brought pressure on first and 10, second and five, second and seven, third and short and even third and 27.

Rather, the idea is that the Steelers will do all they can to disguise how many people are coming and where they're coming from, and determining which situations are exploitable is information that is valuable to Seattle.

By keying in on these tendencies early, Seattle will be able to adjust their protection.

How much help will rookie right tackle James Carpenter need? Does left tackle Russell Okung need a tight end or back to help with James Harrison? In what situations should play calling be used to slow down the blitz?

The Ravens had all-pro fullback Vonta Leach to provide backfield protection, but Seattle isn't quite so lucky. They are expected to be without fullback Michael Robinson, relying on newcomer Eddie Williams to fill the role. Seattle must win the battle with their backs and tight ends in protection versus the Steelers' linebackers.

Seattle already has enough trouble protecting the passer. Failing to make in game adjustments against "blitzburgh" is a recipe for their problems to continue.

The Fundamentals: Protect the Ball, Special Teams, Sound Tackling for 60 Minutes

The Seahawks were unable to get it "right" for a full 60 minutes against San Francisco, and these aspects all contributed to the loss. A win in Pittsburgh isn't possible without shoring up the fundamentals.

The Seahawks were unable to force any turnovers versus the 49ers, and unfortunately had three of their own, all committed by Tarvaris Jackson. Seattle can't expect the Steelers to turn the ball over seven times like in Week 1, so they must protect the ball against a defense that prides itself on creating opportunities.

Seattle gave the 49ers a few too many opportunities, and even though the defense was stout enough to keep them in the game, sloppy play in other phases caught up to them. It's no secret that 49ers receiver Ted Ginn Jr. had two return touchdowns, one punt and one kickoff, in the final four minutes to spoil the Seahawks' comeback attempt.

Though they're juggling injuries on special teams, which contributed to the coverage breakdowns and could also be a factor this week, the final return was largely a result of poor tackling. Both Dexter Davis and Malcolm Smith had an opportunity to tackle Ginn, but whiffed.

Against the slippery skill position players of the Steelers--the speedy Antonio Brown is a threat on special teams-- Seattle's defenders must focus on finishing the play.

Poor tackling will be detrimental this week. Ben Roethlisberger has an uncanny ability to extend the play and is one of the most difficult quarterbacks to sack, as he is almost the size of the defensive linemen. Defenders need to make sure that Roethlisberger is on the ground and the play is over before letting off the gas. This logic applies for those in coverage as well, as Seattle's defenders must keep with the receivers or run the risk of being broken by broken plays.

Heading into this week, a major focus for Pete Carroll was finishing the game right and avoiding a similar breakdown in Pittsburgh. Seattle needs to play sound, smart, tough football to give themselves a chance to compete in the end, and then they need to finish strong.

Attack the Offensive Line

Steelers right tackle Willie Colon is on Injured Reserve for the season, and rookie Marcus Gilbert is now starting. Seattle needs to take advantage of the discontinuity on the line.

The Seahawks must take a page out of Dick LeBeau's book and dial up pressure to beat the Steelers. We saw in Week 1 they were conservative with their blitz packages because the 49ers ran a run-oriented offense, but the Steelers have a pass-oriented attack.

Seattle will need to bring five, six, seven and potentially eight men--in rare cases--to disrupt the Steelers' rhythm. Allowing Roethlisberger to calmly move outside the pocket and extend the play will hinder Seattle's defensive efforts.

We saw Seattle's creativity with the seven defensive back "bandit" package in 2010. Seattle needs to unveil similar creativity versus Pittsburgh, mixing their defensive fronts with different combinations in the back seven.

The key will be overwhelming the offensive line by varying types of pressure and where it comes from. The Ravens created the first Roethlisberger turnover by using a four-man line and running a delayed stunt to the inside with the right defensive end. This exemplifies the need to create pressure with a basic four man rush as well, not just with extra pressure.

Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, linebacker Leroy Hill and the Seahawks' safeties need to be involved and successful for the Seahawks to get Big Ben on the ground or making mistakes. Otherwise, Seattle will be on their heels all afternoon.

Defend the Quick-Strike Play Calling

Though the Steelers only put up seven points and converted only three of nine third downs in Week 1, they had some success moving the football. Most notably, they were successful mixing formations and using motion on first down.

One play of note was a first-and-10 on the Ravens 17-yard line. The Steelers came out in a four receiver set with Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield; Mendenhall then moved behind the two receivers flexed off the right side of the line to create a bunch right, and also an empty backfield.

The outside receiver on the left side came in motion pre-snap. After the snap, Roethlisberger faked the end around and turned back inside to handoff to Mendenhall, who came from the back of the bunch. Mendenhall cut across the line and found the hole off left guard for seven yards.

While not a big play, it shows how the Steelers were able to spread the field on first down and successfully run from passing formations.

The Steelers' tendency to use bunch sets and motion to disguise their play-calling stood out. They used variations of this formation to run the ball, establish the screen game and get chunks of yards on first down. They used similar tendencies, coupled with one and three-step drops, on second-and-long.

The Seahawks need to recognize the Steelers ability to mix their formations and disguise their play calling. If Seattle allows the Steelers' offense to be the aggressor, the defense will be at a disadvantage.

Seattle needs to win the first down battle. This will force the Steelers to be successful on second down, or else face third-and-long.

Be Ready for the Heinz Field Atmosphere and Leave Leavy out of It

The Seahawks fully understand the advantage of a strong home crowd, the 12th man at CenturyLink among the most prolific in football.

But there are few fan bases, if any, with the ferocity and history of the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base and their terrible towels.

Heinz Field is one of the toughest stadiums play in because of the field conditions and crowd. Furthermore, the Seahawks are playing their first 10 a.m. Pacific game of the season.

Seattle was 2-6 on the road in 2010, and historically has struggled in early games. This week, the coaching staff implemented body-clock work by scheduling the players to operate on East Coast time; all team activities were moved forward in preparation for the early kickoff.

And if the Heinz Field factor wasn't enough, there's this: as widely reported, Super Bowl XL referee Bill Leavy will be officiating the game, the same referee who admitted he made two mistakes that went against the Seahawks in their only Super Bowl (coincidentally, also against the Steelers).

In his Wednesday presser, Carroll called this "a matchup we need." He doesn't buy into the fact that the Steelers are angry from their Week 1 drubbing; he doesn't believe they are football team that needs extra motivation.

If Seattle comes out shell-shocked and the crowd becomes a factor, sloppy play can creep in. Seattle needs to cut down on an unacceptable 11 penalties in Week 1, and refereeing will become more of an issue.

Carroll needs to have his team focused on what they can control; their own play. After a strong week of preparation Seattle won't have anyone to blame, not even the referees, if the Heinz Field factor proves to be the difference.

Charlie Todaro appears via Bleacher Report as a Featured Columnist

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