A first win was not expected in Denver when the Giants upset the Broncos last Sunday night. A win is probably not expected against against the Seattle Seahawks, but the offense has not been as good as it has been in years past. The Seahawks are going through a few injuries on the offensive side of the ball and they’re still trying to figure out what works for them. They’ve found a few things so far. Here’s what to look for on Sunday when the Seahawks have the ball.
By the numbers
Rushing Yards: 123.5 yards per game (25th), 4.3 yards per attempt (t-20th)
Passing Yards: 248.5 yards per game (24th), 6.8 yards per attempt (11th)
Total Yards: 371.8 yards per game (27th), 31.63 yards per drive (16th)
Points: 22.0 points per game (15th), 1.81 points per drive (13th)
Rushing Yards: 109.2 yards per game (15th), 4.0 yards per attempt (t-19th)
Passing Yards: 228.4 yards per game (16th), 6.8 yards per attempt (21st)
Total Yards: 337.4 yards per game (16th), 29.79 yards per drive (17th)
Points: 22.0 points per game (16th), 1.73 points per drive (20th)
Figuring out Jimmy Graham
Since the Seahawks traded for Jimmy Graham prior to the 2015 season, he’s been a strange fit in the offense. During his time in New Orleans, Graham was basically a big wide receiver and one of Drew Brees’s most trusted targets. But the Seahawks never wanted to fully commit to Graham as just a receiver and he’s been more of a traditional tight end in the offense. After having 10 touchdowns in his final season with the Saints, Graham only has nine in the 32 games he’s played in Seattle.
But maybe, just maybe, the Seahawks have figured out how to use Graham as a dynamic receiving option. Over the first two games of the season, Graham had four receptions on 10 targets for nine yards. Nine. But in the next three games, he had 25 targets, 17 receptions, and 170 yards, which would be a 91-catch, 907-yard pace for a full season. His lone touchdown of the season also came in Seattle last game against the Rams, where the Seahawks let Graham win a jump ball against a much smaller defender. It seems obvious, but through two-plus seasons in Seattle, Graham hasn’t had many of those.
Of course any tight end could be problematic for the Giants, so ones who are good one their own are an even bigger worry. The Giants are 20th in DVOA against tight ends, per Football Outsiders, and they’re one of two teams, along with the Baltimore Ravens, to give up six touchdowns to tight ends through six games.
Running backs who can catch
Seattle hasn’t been able to run the ball particularly well this season with backs who aren’t Chris Carson, who is unfortunately done for the season. But the Seahawks have been able to get the most out of their backfield by having backs who can catch. C.J. Prosise is expected to return to Seattle’s lineup in Week 7 alongside J.D. McKissic. The pair have only combined for 10 receptions this season, but Prosise has been hurt and McKissic did not see time until Carson was injured. Both have the ability to make big plays on catches out of the backfield and they can even move around the formation. McKissic is a converted wide receiver, so his receiving skills are far above those of a typical receiving back.
The Giants are 23rd in DVOA against running backs in coverage, without really having faced a true receiving back threat. Against the Los Angeles Chargers, Melvin Gordon was able to gain yards through the air with six receptions for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Gordon has good pass-catching ability, but isn’t close to the level of either Prosise or McKissic. Expect these running backs to be a big part of the passing game.
A bad and beaten-up offensive line
If there’s a team that’s consistently had a worse offensive line than the Giants over the past few seasons, it’s the Seahawks. Now they’ll be without left guard Luke Joeckel, who just had knee surgery and will miss 4-5 weeks. Rookie second-round pick Ethan Pocic will likely step in, which will make three of Seattle’s five starters drafted within the past two seasons. These weren’t guys who were labeled as NFL-ready coming out of the draft, either.
The Seahawks have allowed the third-highest pressure rate on offense per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders. However, a healthier Russell Wilson has been able to avoid sacks better than he was last season and his 6.8 percent sack rate is just the 16th-highest among qualified quarterbacks. Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Wilson is still one of the quarterbacks taking the longest to throw. His average time to throw of 2.93 seconds is tied for the third-highest among quarterbacks. Seattle’s way of protecting with a poor offensive line is to let Wilson run around and make plays happen. That’s the opposite of the Giants, who have Eli Manning throwing at an average of 2.53 seconds, which is the eighth-quickest release among quarterbacks.
Olivier Vernon won’t play Sunday. That leaves Jason Pierre-Paul and the rest of the defensive end rotation -- which against the Denver Broncos went Kerry Wynn then Avery Moss -- to chase down Wilson. Pierre-Paul had three sacks against Denver while the Broncos were forced to throw when trailing. It’s not likely to be as easy to put the Seahawks down or to catch Wilson once he breaks the pocket.
Will the secondary return to normal?
With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suspended for the Denver game, the secondary was a little shaken up and not just with the lineup. Roles and production were almost completely reversed on the outside. Eli Apple, who has struggled for just about all of the season, held his own against Emmanuel Sanders for much of the night, while the Broncos picked on Janoris Jenkins in coverage against Demaryius Thomas and it worked. Jenkins did have an interception returned for a touchdown on a play in zone coverage where he was able to read the eyes of Trevor Siemian.
Rodgers-Cromartie will be back in the lineup, so the secondary rotation should return to normal -- or whatever normal might be. Rodgers-Cromartie has been one of the best cornerbacks by charting metrics over the past few seasons, but despite that, the Giants are more comfortable with Apple on the outside opposite Jenkins and Rodgers-Cromartie has been put back at safety a few times this season -- especially in the Chargers game, which is where his suspension was sparked. Seattle’s best receiver, Doug Baldwin, lines up all over the formation and does some of his best work from the slot. It would make the most sense to keep Rodgers-Cromartie on him there whenever Baldwin is not outside.
It’s unknown if the movement around the defense is what caused the problems between the defender and head coach Ben McAdoo, but we’ll see how that rotation goes on Sunday.