The Seahawks host the Rams Sunday with a chance to take over first place in the division, but before we turn our attention to a big NFC West game, it's time once again to answer questions from you, the fans. As always, thanks to everyone who took the time to submit a question this week, and apologies if I couldn't get to yours this time around.
@HolliWinters asks, "Who are going to be our linebackers this coming Sunday?" @ccmreid also asks about the health of Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner.
A:That's a good question, and one we probably won't know the answer to until Friday at the earliest, and perhaps not until inactives are announced 90 minutes before kickoff Sunday. Obviously the Seahawks hope their linebackers will be the usual starting trio of Bobby Wagner in the middle, K.J. Wright at weakside linebacker and Michael Wilhoite at strongside linebacker. But with Wagner having left Sunday's game early in the third quarter with a hamstring injury, and Wright coming out not long after with a concussion, it's possible the Seahawks could have to play without their two Pro-Bowl starters when they host the Rams. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday that they likely won't know the status of either player until late in the week.
If Wagner can't go, Wilhoite would fill in there, which would then also leave a void at strongside linebacker. Terence Garvin, who has started at strongside linebacker this season when Wilhoite was injured, would take over that spot if Wilhoite's playing for Wagner. D.J. Alexander took over at weakside linebacker for Wright on Sunday, so he would seem the likely candidate to fill in at that spot.
"We're going to have to really shore it up if (Wagner) can't go, and Michael Wilhoite is a good guy to do this," Carroll said when asked about Wagner's importance to the defense. "He knows the positon well; he just hasn't played there a lot because he's been the Sam 'backer spot. Hopefully, he'll improve as we move forward depending on what the mix is. I don't know what is going to happen at this point, but those guys have to step up and be ready to go."
@kenandmarkshow asks, "Do we have a legit shot at the playoffs with six defensive starters out and an offense that's so reliant on Russell Wilson?"
A:Seattle's loss in Jacksonville obviously didn't help its playoff chances, but the Seahawks absolutely still have a shot at the playoffs. To the part about the injuries on defense, we don't know yet if either Wagner or Wright is out this week, and even if they are, there's no reason to believe those are long-term injuries. And yes, missing either or both of those players this week would hurt, as the Seahawks have a chance to take over first place in the NFC West with a win over the Rams, but even short-handed, I'm never going to count the Seahawks out at home.
As for the offense, yes Wilson has had to do a lot this season, but he has for the most part played very well while being a bigger part of the offense, both in terms of number of pass attempts as well as the amount of the rushing yards he accounts for. Also, the Seahawks have shown some encouraging signs in the running game with Mike Davis stepping into the starting role and with the line making progress, particularly since the addition of Duane Brown and the return of Luke Joeckel from knee surgery. So if the running game can build off of the past two games, it's entirely feasible that Wilson won't have to do quite as much going forward, even if he has handled it well thus far.
A playoff berth is hardly a given, but the Seahawks are hosting a game this weekend with a chance to move into first place with two games remaining, so there's absolutely a "legit shot."
@jakubnowacki asks, "Who is the biggest Star Wars fan on the Seahawks?"
A:There are at least a couple of Star Wars fans on the team, but as far as I know, Doug Baldwin is the biggest. I've actually heard him have some pretty serious debates with Sports Radio 950 KJR's Dave "Softy" Mahler, who's as big of a Star Wars geek as you'll find, so clearly Baldwin takes this stuff seriously. In fact, the Seahawks.com archives have Baldwin reviewing both “The Force Awakens” and "Rogue One."
Michael Bennett also did a photo shoot for Sports Illustrated wearing a Jedi robe and wielding a lightsaber, and he once took the field waring a Darth Vader mask, so we can probably include him on the list of Star Wars fans as well.
@KBottom2 asks, "What is going to be our biggest challenge to beat the Rams this weekend?"
A:With a 9-4 record, the Rams are good enough to challenge teams in a lot of ways, and they're dangerous in all three phases of the game. But as long as Aaron Donald plays for the Rams, I'm going to go with their defensive line, which has made things very difficult on Seattle's offense for years. The Rams' special teams units are also really, really good, so not getting beat by big plays in that phase of the game is crucial. On offense, as good as quarterback Jared Goff has been this year, I have a hunch that defensive players this week will say that priority No. 1, as always, is stopping the run, and that's no easy task against Todd Gurley, who has 1,035 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
@TMcEvoyFan19 asks, "Who is your favorite football player that's not a Seahawk?"
A:Current players? Can't say I necessarily have a favorite, but there's definitely players who are unique or just really good that I enjoy/respect watching. To name just a few… Seeing Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald defy father time is pretty cool. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is both very talented and unique in his running style. As much as he has been a thorn in Seattle's side, it's hard not to marvel at the way Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald can cause havoc for an offense. And like pretty much everyone else, I really enjoyed watching Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson play before his injury.
All time? I loved watching both Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas as a kid. Randy Moss in his prime was as dominant as just about any receiver we've ever seen. Deion Sanders was a heck of a lot of fun to watch, both because he was so good and because of the swagger with which he played. And speaking of dual-sport athletes, Bo Jackson was pretty amazing to watch before his injury. Watching the Seahawks in their AFC West days, it was impossible not to be impressed with Junior Seau. I was a little too young to appreciate Walter Payton in his prime, but I'm not sure there's a player whose highlights are more enjoyable to watch.
@ConradKrueger16 asks, "Does DeShawn Shead have a chance to return this Sunday against the Rams?" @davidsa94 also asks if Shead is close to coming back.
A:DeShawn Shead, who tore his ACL in last season's playoff loss to the Falcons, returned to practice last week, a big step towards returning to game action. But does that mean he'll play this week? Carroll said Shead "did really well" in practice last week, but also added that the cornerback's work was "very controlled" because it was just his first week back. So unless they're able to really ramp things up this week, a return for Sunday's game might not be in the cards, but we'll have to wait to hear from Carroll again this week to know for sure. Whenever Shead does get back, however, he not only will bolster the Seahawks' cornerback depth, but also help upgrade special teams. Shead was one of the Seahawks' best special teams players before having that role reduced when he became a starter last season—he was voted special teams co-captain heading into the 2016 season—and with injuries affecting depth on defense, which in turns takes its toll on special teams, Shead would provide a big boost on special teams whenever he can get back.
On a related note, Microsoft just put out a pretty interesting video, which features Shead, about how the Seahawks use technology to help players come back from injuries. You can watch it here.
Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive behind-the-scenes images from the Seahawks' 30-24 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road in Week 14 at EverBank Field.