Archie Barberio: I have always been an admirer of Pete Carroll because I believe he has a real eye for talent. What is your opinion of the changes he has brought to the team since he took over in 2010? What does the Seattle fan base thinks of his personnel moves?
Danny Kelly: The Seahawks fanbase, for the most part, is behind Pete Carroll and have a ton of faith in his eye for talent on the defensive side of the football. Carroll and GM John Schneider inherited a roster that was largely devoid of talent and had just spent the 4th overall pick on Aaron Curry the draft before. The two of them have overhauled the defensive side of the ball (the whole roster, really) and turned a near league-worst defense into one of the top, up-and-coming units in the NFL. They've found diamonds in the rough -- Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, the list goes on -- in the middle rounds, and have built a hard-nosed and stingy run defense to pair with a rangy and physical pass D. If there are any holdouts that still don't appreciate Carroll's eye for talent on the defensive side of the football, they probably have a long-standing hatred for the former USC Czar for one reason or another and will never be turned.
That said, on the offensive side of the ball, there are still a lot of doubts, particularly at the quarterback position. The Charlie Whitehurst experiment was a resounding failure and the Tarvaris Jackson move had been met with raised eyebrows. It worked fine for a season, but by and large, the offense has really, really struggled to catch up to the defense in terms of production. This makes some in the fanbase and local media question Carroll's ability to understand the offensive side of the football (which ignores his track record at USC, but that's college football, duh).
That said, in my humble opinion, Carroll and Schneider have added a ton of talent -- Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and several players on the offensive line these last two seasons, so in my opinion, there's a lot of unrealized potential already there. It all comes down to the quarterback -- that position was upgraded this offseason with the addition of Matt Flynn and a draft pick in the 3rd round, and the success of the offense now lies directly on the shoulders of one Russell Wilson. I am a Wilson believer, in the sense that I do believe he has the talent to mitigate his height deficiency, but the ultimate question is, 'how quickly?' He looked like a rookie in game one, but his development as a 3rd round rookie is still remarkable. If Wilson pans out as a good to possibly great quarterback, Carroll's legend status in Seattle will be cemented, that's for sure.
Barberio: I thought Wilson was a steal for the Seahawks in the draft. He is very talented, but he will be facing a Dallas defense that has revamped their secondary. Are you nervous that he may struggle against the playmakers on the Cowboys defense?
Kelly: Yes. Wilson struggled with Arizona's exotic blitzing schemes and Patrick Peterson did a fine job defending behind these blitzes. Dallas, from what I understand, runs a lot of overload blitzes with man-coverage in the secondary, but have greatly upgraded at the cornerback position with the additions of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. I'm leery about this -- and with Sean Lee in the middle, dropping into coverage, things are not going to get any easier for Russell. That said -- I can see Russell Wilson playing better at home than he did last week on the road, and he's been lauded for making adjustments when he makes mistakes. He'll have a very, very - probably vastly underrated - test this weekend against Dallas, but I am still of the opinion that he has the talent to play in this league. He'll need to use all his weapons and not be afraid to take what the defense gives him. He'll need to be careful not to force the issue.
Barberio: In my opinion, the Seahawks' secondary looks to be one of the best in the league. You have a great safety tandem in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, but you also have two very good cornerbacks in Brandon Bowden and Richard Sherman. How confident are you with that secondary taking on a talented Cowboys' offense that includes Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and breakout receiver Kevin Ogletree?
Kelly: That will be a very interesting thing to watch. The Seahawks' cornerbacks are good - I believe Richard Sherman will soon be considered in the 'elite' category for the NFL's cornerbacks, but much of both Sherman and Browner's success will be aided or obstructed by the Seahawks' ability to put pressure on Tony Romo. The Seahawks play a lot of man-coverage on the outside and do a great job of it, but if the quarterback is afforded time to throw, it makes it inevitable that someone will get open. Still, Sherman and Browner have the physicality to match up well with Bryant and hopefully the coverage skills to stick with Austin. I don't know enough about Ogletree to give much of an opinion on him, but overall, I do think the Seahawks' secondary is improving and Dallas will be a very nice test for them. Many Seahawks fans remember Tony Romo as the guy that bobbled a snap/hold, but there are those among us who do realize that he's a top-10 quarterback that can really take over a game when he's on. I have a ton of respect for Romo as a QB - so I'm really hoping the pass rush can get to him quickly.
Barberio: Bruce Irvin was a controversial pick, but he is the type of pass rusher that Carroll needed for his defense. I know it is early, but what is your take on Irvin and how is he looking?
Kelly: I think Irvin is a bit of a project, to be honest. I don't know how big of an impact he'll have in his first season - like many top-tier pass rushers, he'll need some development. More important for this particular game, in my opinion, are DE Chris Clemons and DT Jason Jones. Both looked very good in week one and the Seahawks will look to utilize them creatively to get pressure on the quarterback. If Irvin can get some pressure opposite Clemons, then that's just icing on the cake.
Barberio: DeMarco Murray had a great game against Seattle last year with 139 yards rushing. Do you expect the Seattle defense to do a better job against Murray in this meeting?
Kelly: The Seahawks held Arizona to 43 yards rushing on Sunday, and take away a 15-yard end-around by wide receiver Andre Roberts, and that number shrinks to 28 yards. In other words, Arizona's running backs gained 1.6 yards per carry on 17 carries, so while I know Murray exposed some weaknesses in the Seahawks run defense last year, I expect them to fare a little better this season.
That said - Murray is a force, and it's still much too early to say just how good the Seahawks run defense can be this year. You have to assume he'll have more success than Arizona did, that's for sure, and if Romo is passing the ball well, that will really help Murray's cause, as the Seahawks run more in nickel and dime.
Barberio: The Dallas secondary is vastly upgraded with the additions of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. Heading into this game, what is your opinion of the new personnel the Cowboys have at cornerback and how do the Seahawks' wide receivers match up against Carr and Claiborne?
Kelly: Like I said above, I think those two additions were integral for the Cowboys' defense, because they give Rob Ryan so many options on the blitz. When you have talent in the secondary - guys that can run with any receiver, you can bring the house and mitigate risk of getting burned over the top. I'm glad we're getting the 'Boys early this year, before Claiborne is fully acclimated to the NFL game, because I think he can be a Pro-Bowl caliber corner, - if not this year, very early in his career.
As for the Seahawks' receivers - I think Sidney Rice is a top-level talent when he's healthy and he played very well in week one. He'll be the go-to guy, and he has the size to hopefully exploit matchups on the outside. I would like the Seahawks to utilize their tight ends more this week against Dallas, because past Rice, the WR corps is kind of an unknown. Golden Tate has talent, but hasn't been able to put anything together consistently up to this point in his career. Doug Baldwin is very talented in the slot, but he missed the entire preseason with a leg injury, and wasn't quite on the same page with Wilson in week one. Braylon Edwards had himself a nice game against Arizona --- right up until the point he dropped what would have been a game-winning pass in the endzone. If the Hawks hope to succeed on the outside versus the Cowboys' secondary, I expect it will be because of their size advantage with Edwards, Rice, Zach Miller and Evan Moore.
Barberio: What must the Seahawks do in order to win and what is your prediction of the game?
Kelly: They must win the turnover battle and do very well on special teams. They must utilize the crowd noise to get excellent jumps off the snap to create havoc behind the offensive line. If they can't get consistent pressure on Tony Romo, I really do think it could be a long afternoon.
On offense, they must protect the quarterback. Period. Demarcus Ware is… well, Demarcus Ware, and the offensive line must do a much better job of protection against blitzing. Russell Wilson will have to improve at home and move the chains consistently. I think this is going to be a very close one, and I'm sure I'll get picked apart for this prediction on your site(s), but I'm going with Seahawks 23-20. They're just a different team at home, and though I am actually very high on Dallas as a team, I think that Seattle will be amped up in their first home game. Any Given Sunday, obviously, but the home-field advantage will be a big boost this week, I think.