From my casual observation it seems Russell Wilson has struggled a bit more than he did last year. Am I right in saying that and if so, what do you think is causing that?
Statistically, his numbers (YPA, TD:INT ratio) are better over the first eight games than they were last year, which is obviously encouraging in the sense that he's not regressed badly, but his completion percentage is down, he's taking a lot more sacks, and has fumbled 8 times. So, there is room for improvement, and I'd say generally speaking, pretty much everyone expects that he will improve over the 2nd half of the year. Seattle faced some of the better front sevens and pass defenses in the NFL over the first half, so it was definitely a challenging schedule to work with.
From a non-statistical point of view, Wilson's pocket presence (when there is a pocket) hasn't seemed to be as good this year as it was in the second half of 2012, he's been a little jittery behind the line, and his accuracy on some downfield throws has been off. He's not improved in terms of his ability to step up into the pocket and deliver passes from there - at times he gets stuck looking at the rush, trying to duck his head and spin out of trouble and this has been concerning. But, on the other hand, his subtle slides laterally, from behind the pocket, plus his throwing on the run, have both been better this year, I'd say, and he's still making a big time throw or two every game. Well, except for maybe this last week.
Teams have obviously scouted him extensively by this point and have been able to take away some of his bread and butter plays from last year - namely the deep bomb off of play action - and the read-option hasn't opened things up quite as effectively as it did last year, so there is some drop off in performance in the passing game as a corollary. Wilson has had to adapt to that (so has Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin), work on his intermediate pocket passing game, and there have been some growing pains. Third down has been a huge issue for the Seahawks offense this year. This is the main area that Wilson needs to improve in - throwing short to intermediate on timing routes, from the pocket. Once Wilson gets outside the pocket he's just about as dangerous as any QB in the league, but obviously that's not the only skill you can hang your hat on in the NFL.
2. How has Michael Bennett looked this year? How do the Seahawks use him on that overcrowded defensive line?
Bennett has been awesome, for lack of a better word. He rushes from the inside and outside, and the Seahawks play him more than any other member of their DL (56% of snaps so far, and that's even after he missed the 2nd half in Houston). Bennett's explosive get-off is the most impressive part of his game, as you guys probably well know, but he's also good against the run and he's been durable and active. Non-stop motor. Bennett is the type of guy you could see the Seahawks extending longer-term during the year - he's been that good.
His versatility inside and out also gives Dan Quinn and this defense the versatility and multiplicity to defend the no-huddle and it gives them the option of changing up looks without changing up personnel. He's been used all over the line, and has been effective in nickel situations as well. Needless to say, Seattle fans are glad the Bucs didn't get it done in re-signing him.
3. With Sidney Rice out for the season, who is most likely to take his place in the lineup? How will this affect your offense?
Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin are the ‘next men up.' Kearse in particular might see an increase in targets, and he's been pretty good as a role playing backup thus far, so it'll be interesting to see if he can ‘take the next step' as it were. Kearse's main issue in college and during his first year in the league was drops, but after he got LASIK surgery during the offseason, his ability to track the ball and make catches has seemingly improved a lot. He did have a key drop last week against the Rams, so you worry that his confidence will be shaken, but he's likely going to be seeing more targets come his way so he'll have the chance to redeem himself.
It's cliche to say so, but Kearse is one of those guys that just seems to have a nose for the end zone. He did that for Jake Locker, he did it for Keith Price, he did it during the preseason, and he's already scored two touchdowns this year in limited time (38% of snaps). He had another one that was called back on a penalty but should have counted too, so for whatever reason, he's been a good redzone target. He tracks the ball well, attacks it, and does well at getting separation with the ball in the air.
The coaching staff has come out and said that Kearse and slot receiver Doug Baldwin will now split reps at the Z spot going forward, about 50-50. Baldwin has been really good this season as well, so it wouldn't be surprising if he took the job and ran with it either.
4. What do the Bucs need to do to get a win in Seattle?
Rush the passer. Pressure Wilson. The Rams wrote the book on how to stop Seattle's offense last week (the Texans did it too), and the key is to keep Wilson contained in the pocket and make him throw it quickly or run around to save his hide. The Bucs seem to really have the talent on defense to cause issues so I can see them trying to replicate this strategy - hope to pick Wilson off if he tries to force throws downfield, and hit him or hurry him as often as possible.
The other big thing will be to take Marshawn Lynch out of the game. St. Louis managed to do this (well, he only got 8 carries), but if Seattle can't run the ball, they could be in trouble again this week.
5. Is Richard Sherman just smart about marketing himself, or is his personality really that obnoxious?
He's smart. From all accounts I've heard, he's a really genuine, nice (even quiet) guy off the field, so a lot of the on-field trash talking and antics seem very intentional and calculated. He's created a brand, he's cultivating it, and he realizes that most cornerbacks - even the good ones - don't become household names on play alone.
I am not saying his on-field, trash-talking and brash persona is conjured or fake, because I don't think it is - I think he's really a cocky, headstrong and proud player that still feels that he doesn't get the respect he deserves, but the Skip Bayless, Darrelle Revis feud style things do have an element of theatrics to them. Sherman goes on TV and does interviews all the time to talk about his rough childhood in Compton and Watts, his foundation is a big deal to him and he does a lot of things through that, and he generally seems to give respect to those that return the favor. He's gotten in trouble in the media when he feels that guys disrespect him - Tom Brady, Pierre Garcon, Revis, etc. He's mellowed a bit though - I think Pete Carroll told him to put the kibosh on any more First Take appearances for the sake of the team. Regardless, he wants to be in media after his career is over so getting his name out there is a big deal.