For the fifth straight season, the Seahawks are one of the final eight NFL teams standing in the postseason, and they'll travel to Atlanta later this week to face the Falcons in a Divisional Round game at 1:35 p.m. PT on Saturday, January 14. But before we turn our attention fully to this week's game, it's time once again to answer questions from you, the fans. As always, thanks to everyone who submitted a question this week, and apologies if I wasn't able to get to yours this time around.
@MrGoodBaller asks, "Without Earl Thomas helping on defense, how will the defense try to slow Julio Jones? Will Richard Sherman play man coverage (on Jones)?" @CyndeB78 also asks about the defense without Thomas.
A: First, to the Richard Sherman/Julio Jones questions, it's safe to assume Sherman will see plenty of Atlanta's top receiver based on how the Seahawks did things when these teams faced off earlier this season. Sherman didn't shadow Jones on every play, but he did follow him around some, and it seems likely that the Seahawks would look to do that to some extent, though exactly how much that will happen remains to be seen.
As for the defense facing the Falcons without Thomas, who has been out since breaking his leg in Seattle's Week 13 win over Carolina, the Seahawks won't overhaul their defense because one player—albeit one of their best players—is absent. Thomas is missed, to be sure. You simply can't replace everything the three-time first-team All-Pro brings to the table, but the Seahawks have full confidence in Steven Terrell, who has had a few bumps in the road, but has for the most part played very well in Thomas' place. While it can and has been noted that the Seahawks are allowing a higher opponent passer rating since Thomas went down, it's worth pointing out that that stat is heavily skewed by touchdowns and interceptions, and over a small sample size, a couple of touchdowns that might have had nothing to do with Terrell could make a big difference, as could a potential opportunity interception missed by another player on the field.
And beyond that one stat, there is a lot of evidence that the defense has held up pretty well since Thomas went down. In Weeks 8-12 before Thomas' season-ending injury, the Seahawks were allowing 20.6 points per game, and that went up less than a point (21.0) over the final five games with Thomas out, a stretch that included Green Bay putting up big numbers in part because the offense turned the ball over six times. The Seahawks are also allowing explosive passing plays—one of the most important responsibilities for a free safety in Seattle's defense—at a very similar rate with Terrell at free safety as they did before Thomas' injury.
And most notably, an indication of the entire defense improving of late in one area is the Seahawks' third-down defense. The Seahawks were allowing teams to convert at a 53.6-percent rate in Weeks 8-12, and that number dropped to 27.3 percent over the final five games of the regular season. The Seahawks kept up their strong defensive play in their first postseason game, holding the Lions to a season-low 231 yards, a pair of long field goals and a 2-for-11 third-down conversion rate.
So long story short, the Seahawks miss Thomas to be sure, but the defense—which when these teams last met was missing Kam Chancellor, Frank Clark, Mike Morgan, and for much of the second half, Michael Bennett—is still awfully good without him.
@DYELBrah101 asks, "What did the O-Line change to make their production superior against a talented Lions front-7?"
A:Seattle's big day on the ground, which was highlighted by Thomas Rawls' 161 rushing yards, was less the result of the Seahawks making changes to how they do things than it was a case of everyone executing at a high level. For all of its ups and downs, the line has shown plenty of potential, especially in the second half of the season, and on Saturday they just put it all together. The line's play, combined with a really strong performance by Rawls, as well as good blocking by tight ends and receivers, made for a very good night of rushing for a team that was looking to get that element of its game on track.
"They did a good job," Carroll said on 710 ESPN Seattle Monday. "It was fun to watch those guys play. They got after it. They were really sharp, and it fit together well with Thomas hitting it. We've been waiting to see Thomas to just get warmed up, and he finally got warmed up and he looked great. So it was all on point, the receivers and tight ends, everybody on the perimeter did a nice job to get him some extra yards. The effort was really good."
"I think the line of scrimmage was the best (it has been this season). The combination blocks, those guys did a really good job, got guys on the move. It makes those cuts happen on their side of the ball rather in the backfield at times, so you have a lot better chance of getting the flow of the runner going, and that's exactly what we saw."
@spdaman asks, "When assistants actively interview during a playoff run, can't that be a distraction?"
A:The Buffalo Bills announced that they interviewed Seahawks defensive coordinator for their head coaching job Sunday night, and other Seahawks assistants have been linked to other openings, both this year and in the past.
And while it's understandable that fans might worry about this happening during a playoff run, it's also worth remembering that these coaches are human beings who, despite working incredibly hard, are entitled to a little bit of their own time. Everyone involved in the process knows that those assistants' first priority has to be getting the Seahawks ready for a playoff game—that's why the NFL limits the windows when these interviews can happen, and why teams travel to the home city of the interviewee—but if Seattle's assistants want to use a little bit of their free time to try to advance their careers, it's hardly unreasonable for them to interview for a job that might not be available by the time the Seahawks' season is over.
And don't look for Carroll to get in the way of these interviews. He has long been a proponent of helping his assistants move on for other jobs if that is their goal.
@raider_rav asks, "Will C.J. Prosise return this weekend?" And @mindyourbiznes and @dupree702 ask about Prosise's role in the offense if he does return.
A:Prosise, who has been out since Week 11 with a fractured scapula, has been running for the past couple of weeks, and Carroll said the rookie running back will return to practice this week, though his status for Saturday likely won't be known until later in the week.
If Prosise does make it back, that will certainly be good news for the offense, as the third-round pick showed to be a big-play threat running and catching the ball when he was healthy earlier this season. Prosise showed he was able to be a lead back when Rawls was out earlier this season, but with Rawls healthy and productive, the Seahawks won't ask that of a player who is just coming back from a long injury layoff. Instead, Prosise could be a dynamic change-of-pace and third-down back who only makes what is already a dangerous offense that much better.
@MilesDaily asks, "What will the Seahawks do if Marcel Reece cannot go Saturday?"
A:Marcel Reece, who has been Seattle's starting fullback since signing in December, sustained a foot injury in Saturday's game, and Carroll said that while Reece's foot isn't broken, his status for the Atlanta game is not yet known.
Reece is currently the only fullback on the roster, so obviously it would be a factor if he can't play. The Seahawks have used tight end Luke Willson in a fullback-type role at times this season, so that could be a possibility if Reece doesn't play. The Seahawks also have a fullback, Malcolm Johnson, on the practice squad, so that's another possibility. For now, however, those are all hypotheticals until we find out more on Reece's status later this week.
Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive behind-the-scenes images from the Seahawks' 26-6 win over the Detroit Lions in an NFC Wild Card playoff game on Saturday, January 7 at Seattle's CenturyLink Field.