The injury report this week paints one hell of a picture, one that’s somewhat bad for the Seahawks but potentially disastrous one for the Lions. (In the interest of saving the best for last, I've put the worst of the news first.)
Doug Baldwin suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half of last week’s game, so he’ll be out for the next few weeks. Yes, there are plenty of other receivers on the roster and Baldwin has had some drop problems this season, but no one else on the roster has his feel for the middle of the field. Unlike flanker or split end, where speed, moves, and size tend to separate the great receivers from the average ones, good slot receivers don’t have to be outstanding physical specimens (a little extra toughness doesn’t hurt though, since they tend to take a lot of hits from linebackers). The best guys in the slot have almost a sixth sense for soft spots in coverages and know where to settle in and make themselves a target without giving defenders an opportunity to jump in for an interception.
Finding talented slot receivers is harder than you’d think, and the Seahawks have had a few fail to produce over the last few seasons.. Remember Deon Butler, the speedy little Penn State wideout who was supposed to be the next Bobby Engram for Seattle? He lacked that innate feel for the position, which is why he’s currently a street free agent. Golden Tate also took a shot at the position, and his struggles throughout his first two seasons were due in large part to his inability to find holes in the middle of the field.
Baldwin may not be a starter, and he definitely isn’t the biggest, fastest, or trickiest guy on the field, but he has the same natural feel for the slot that made Engram Hasselbeck’s go-to security blanket in the middle of the field for so many years. The only other receiver currently on the roster who’s shown a hint of being able to handle the job is Charly Martin, and he’s been inactive for several games this year. Let’s hope he’s up for the job.
Thankfully, the Lions’ receiving corps is in even worse shape. Star receiver and all-around athletic freak of nature Calvin Johnson was limited yesterday by knee injury after being unable to practice at all on Wednesday, and anything that slows him down a little is a good thing for Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Detroit also lost its #2 wideout Nate Burleson, and the next guy up appears to be Titus Young, who’s faster than Burleson but a far less dangerous receiver. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who is second on the team in receptions behind Johnson, is listed as questionable after being a limited participant this week with a knee injury, which makes Burleson’s absence hurt even more.
The rest of the injury report for this week is much less troubling. Byron Maxwell’s hamstring injury continues to keep him from participating in practices, but that’s been a problem most of the season. Marshawn Lynch’s is listed for back problems, but he’s pretty much always shows up on the report for back problems and he’s been a full participant all week. John Moffitt has been a limited participant while he nurses a knee injury, so I’d expect Paul McQuistan to continue starting at right guard for the time being.
Jason Jones also hasn’t participated this week due to an ankle injury. Losing his pressure up the middle on passing downs hurts a little, but so far this season he’s tallied just 2.5 sacks and 3 quarterback hits, and most of those stats he earned just last week against the 49ers. Seattle’s pass rush still succeeds or fails from the defensive end position, as Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons account for well over half of the team’s sacks and QB hits. If the team can at least constrict the pocket enough with some combination of Clinton McDonald, Jaye Howard, Alan Branch, and Brandon Mebane to make things uncomfortable for Matthew Stafford, the DEs should take care of the rest.
But compared to the Lions’ injury problems on defense, the possible loss of a situational pass rusher isn’t much to worry about. For starters, their top pass rusher, starting defensive end Cliff Avril, has been unable to practice all week and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Joining him on the injury list are starting linebackers Stephen Tulloch (limited, knee) and DeAndre Levy (no participation, hamstring), starting defensive tackle Corey Williams (limited, knee), and starting cornerbacks Jacob Lacey (no participation, concussion) and Bill Bentley (limited, shoulder). That’s six defensive starters, and all of them are currently listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Russell Wilson may be in for a bounce-back win on the road.
UPDATE (3:40): The final injury reports for both teams are now available. For Seattle, CB Maxwell has been ruled out, DT Jones is doubtful, RG Moffitt is questionable, and RB Lynch is probable. For Detroit, CB Lacey is out, LB Levy is doubtful, DE Avril, CB Bentley, and WR Young (i.e. Burleson's probable replacement) are questionable, and WR Johnson, TE Pettigrew, LB Tulloch, and DT Williams are probable.
I still remember when Bill Walsh built his team around Dwight Clark as well as Joe Montana, and said so. Clark
was big, a good route runner, and had great hands. Montana hit him on third down consistently.
The Hawks lack that guy. Nobody except Rice has over 2 catches a game, and Carroll should save Rice for big plays due to his durability issues.
Tate is not that guy, and I don't know what happened to Zach Miller, whose catch total is half his per game career average. Baldwin is just OK, as well as hurt, and McCoy has disappointed. This is a critical need, and could be met by any of the receiver positions, or even a running back.
I agree about Tebow, and good research (or memory) about Casserly's other picks.
@MikeRoddy I disagree with you on Baldwin being just okay (he is having a down year, though), but that's moot since he's definitely not that big-bodied receiving threat you're talking about. Tate has also made some strides, but again he lacks size. Really, aside from that one year with Houshmandzadeh, the Seahawks haven't had much luck filling that role since Joe Jurevicius played that one year for them back in '05.
That said, I wouldn't rule out Miller just yet -- he's second on the team in receptions, and I like what I've seen from him when he releases into a route. The Seahawks are throwing the ball so little that his average catches per game are going to be artificially low. Right now they're last in the league in pass attempts with 175 (the league average is 232).
McCoy is catching the ball better this year than he's ever done in the past, but he's probably always going to be just a #2 TE receiving option. The guy who really disappoints me is Evan Moore. He's got the physical tools to be a decent receiving threat, but he doesn't have a single catch yet this season.
What is your opinion on the Hawks' signing another receiver before the deadline? Any candidates you like?
@MikeRoddy I like the ide BRING BACK DEON BUTLER NOW
@MikeRoddy I don't like the idea at all. I know there are a few draft pick-needy teams who are probably willing to take a mulligan on the season by trading away a decent receiver or two (like the Chiefs with Dwayne Bowe and/or Steve Breaston), but that receiver would be coming in with no knowledge of the offense and exactly zero rapport with Wilson.
It'd be a different story if they could land someone who played for Bevell in Minnesota, but the guys you'd actually want to pick up are either not going to be available for trade (Percy Harvin) or have long since retired (Bobby Wade). So, unless you think a castoff like Greg Camarillo or a has-been like Bernard Berrian would be a significant upgrade over Seattle's current receivers, I'd say the odds of the team trading for a WR are not good.
When the Hawks made that mid-season trade for Lynch back in 2010, they didn't have to force feed him much in the way of route trees or pass-oriented terminology like they would a receiver. That's one of the benefits of zone blocking schemes, all the back has to do is pick a hole he likes, then make one cut and get upfield in a hurry. (Granted, the ZBS didn't really take off in Seattle until Tom Cable came aboard in 2011, but hey.)
@MikeRoddy Speaking of trades, this one should give you a good laugh:
Apparently Charley Casserly thinks that trading Tim Tebow to the Seahawks is a "natural move." Keep in mind that Casserly is the GM responsible for drafting both Heath Shuler and David Carr, so it's not like bad QB decisions are anything new for him.
In case you're curious about the difference between a normal ankle sprain and a high ankle sprain, you'll find an explanation toward the end of this article from 2010: http://www.seahawkaddicts.com/2010-articles/september/news-tidbits-and-offensive-tackles.html