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Seahawks-Packers Q&A: Earl Thomas' injury opens up the middle of the field

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SB Nation's Seattle Seahawks blog Field Gulls answers our questions about Earl Thomas' injury, Seattle's porous offensive line, and what he expects from Seahawks vs. Packers.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers face their only playoff nemesis, the Seattle Seahawks. Field Gulls was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Seahawks and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.

APC: For several years, the Seahawks have fielded one of the worst offensive lines in the league, with the 2016 edition arguably representing the units lowest point. Outside of a few selections in the draft, the team has mostly focused on converting collegiate players from other positions (and sports) into NFL offensive linemen with middling results. At what point, if any, does general manager John Schneider change this approach, and how much blame does O-line coach Tom Cable deserve for the poor results?

I've never been the type to lay blame on position coaches. That's not to say that sometimes blame doesn't fall on position coaches, or that position coaches aren't the most responsible for players reaching their full potential, but blaming Cable just always seemed lazy to me. Like blaming a hitting coach in baseball. I mean, Edgar Martinez can teach a hitter literally everything he knows but it won't matter if he's not quick enough to recognize the difference between a curveball and a fastball. (I'm assuming? I am reaching a little bit with my baseball knowledge.) So I think the "Blame Cable!" "Blame Darrell Bevell!" "Blame Kris Richard!" outpouring from fans after bad games or bad seasons is basically the same as "I don't want to blame the player!" "I don't want to blame Pete Carroll!" "I don't want to blame John Schneider!" Well damn, then maybe we shouldn't blame anybody. Didn't we learn to stop playing the blame game in grade school?

Let's tackle the first part of your question now.

Is this the worst offensive line unit under Carroll? I think I prefer this one to the 2015 edition. Because this edition has Germain Ifedi, who has the raw talent to be a really great offensive lineman and so far I think he's performing to the level expected of him with the potential for a lot more. He's the only guy who even had any expectations going into the season, so I think fans tend to think that means he should be great. No, he should be the best or second-best player on this line and I think that he is. Second of all, Justin Britt has transitioned from a bad tackle and bad guard to a great center. The Seahawks didn't have a good center last season after trading Max Unger so that's another significant upgrade. After that, I think Mark Glowinski is as good or better than J.R. Sweezy at guard, so the interior should be much better than it was a year ago. Finally, we don't know yet how good George Fant can be but a few games into his career as a tackle (not an NFL tackle, but a tackle of any sort since as we've all heard if we've watched a single Seattle game this year, he played college basketball and one year at tight end at Western Kentucky) he's pretty darned okay.

To me that means that the Seahawks believe they have four of their starting five offensive linemen for 2017 and they might think that third round pick Rees Odhiambo can also start at guard or tackle. Will Schneider change his approach? Absolutely not. If for no better reason than I think that they won't make any huge moves next year because they believe they have the guys they want for the next few years, and that will include an extension for Britt.

All-Pro safety Earl Thomas won't play again this season after a broken tibia landed him on injured reserve. Obviously, this negatively impacts the secondary and the defense as a whole, but to what degree? How do you foresee his absence affected the Seahawks this Sunday?

The biggest loss will simply be his presence. NFL teams, quarterbacks, offensive coordinators know that Thomas is the best or second-best "centerfielder" in the game. So they don't throw middle deep. I don't have the link handy but according to Football Outsiders, throws to deep middle vs Seattle are by far the least successful of deep throws to the middle of any other defense. That's all Earl. So I think teams drop that fear of throws to deep middle, as immediately indicated on Sunday when Cam Newton threw a 55-yard touchdown (not a touchdown on replay but still) on the very next play after Thomas broke his leg. I don't know who Green Bay's "deep middle receiver" is, whether it's Jordy or Randall or someone else, but I think Aaron Rodgers wants to probably test that early.

Physically and athletically, Carroll has held onto backup Steven Terrell for three years for a reason. He might be faster than Thomas and Thomas is fast as hell. When he started vs the Bucs two weeks ago in Earl's first game out in his career, Tampa Bay scored on touchdown passes to Mike Evans on the first two drives. Luckily the Seahawks didn't allow another point for the rest of the game and actually got a safety so it was a net positive of -2 for the duration of the contest, though Seattle still lost because they couldn't do anything on offense. After the first play vs Carolina, with the game still close, the Seahawks didn't allow another point and won 40-7. I don't think that Terrell is a huge downgrade because he's fast, but also because Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and DeShawn Shead won't allow him to stay on an island by himself and get burned. These are great experienced players and coaches who have been around the block specifically coaching up defensive backs for years. Carroll had some of the best DBs in the NFL when he was a DB coach for the Minnesota Vikings in the 80s, he continued that with the Patriots, and then the USC Trojans, and now Seattle. I'm concerned to play without Earl because why wouldn't you be, but I think Kam and Sherman might be even more valuable. Terrell can cover the space and he's got plenty of help around him.

C.J. Prosise had a breakout performance -- 153 yards from scrimmage -- a week before fracturing his scapula against the Eagles. What do the Seahawks lose with his absence?

One of the most explosive players in the game. I'm not saying he's the most explosive, I'm not saying he's flawless, but any time he touched the ball this season he was a threat to go. This was a college receiver at Notre Dame turned running back turned all-around weapon in Seattle's offense if only he wasn't hurt in training camp, and then again in Week 1, and then again a few weeks ago. So that's concerning too, but he's so unique and dangerous when healthy. And this was a guy just getting started. That's irreplaceable.

The Seahawks' effort to replace that right now is George Farmer, who has also transitioned from receiver (after a brief stint at corner), and was the number one receiving prospect in the country a few years back before going to USC. He suffered through injuries there and went undrafted and has floated around the NFL a bit and now he's the third down back in Seattle. The team also signed Marcel Reece this week, so they're basically just looking for a back who can go out there on passing downs and either throw a clean block or catch a pass. None of these players are at the caliber of Prosise, so it limits Carroll's dream playbook on offense, no doubt.

If you were game planning against the Seahawks, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?

Seattle is definitely most limited on offense when Russell Wilson is limited. Oftentimes this comes in the form of an interior pass rush: Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, Calais Campbell, Gerald McCoy, and often Kawann Short. I think when Wilson can run, and he looks healthy now, he can avoid outside pass rush better than most quarterbacks because he has time to make a decision and scramble. He's so tough to take down when he gets a second to think. If you can press up the middle, perhaps in this case with Mike Daniels, he makes worse decisions. I've seen him hold onto the ball for too long in the pocket, but if the pressure comes from somewhere else, he can just run side to side. Put pressure up the middle, because we've seen Wilson make more mistakes than usual recently in those situations.

When Rodgers has the ball, I'd test that middle deep, as discussed earlier. Maybe not over and over because that's predictable, but give it a shot, see what's there. See how the Seahawks are going to approach defense without Thomas. Don't worry about running the ball because that's just probably not going to be successful. Unless the Packers do get out to a lead by Rodgers doing Rodgers' things and burning them over and over on third down (that's been a problem), testing nickelback Jeremy Lane, trying to get an explosive play with Jordy, and then see how things go on the ground. But you've got one of the best players of our generation at quarterback and a rare moment to face Seattle without their soul at free safety, don't get cute. Attack that.

Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?

I'm not gonna get too cocky about a road game, in Lambeau, without Thomas -- but I do think Seattle is just a more complete team right now. Both teams have great quarterbacks, solid weapons, superb linebackers, and other good players at safety, defensive line. I think Green Bay obviously has the superior offensive line. But the Seahawks have the better running back by a wide margin with Thomas Rawls (fair to say I've seen a lot of both him and Christine Michael), an elite tight end, three really good-to-great defensive ends, and Sherman. I don't know that the defense has enough to stop more than one or two of the Packers' trio of receivers but I think it will come down to just, which one has a good day, which ones don't. I think the matchups favor Wilson a little more than they do Rodgers, and Seattle gets a rare win in Green Bay, their first since 1999.

Seahawks 26, Packers 20

We'd like to thank Field Gulls for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Seahawks. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Seahawks vs. Packers.

Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. He covers the NFL for Sports on Earth and SB Nation. He also serves as the senior writer and editor for Acme Packing Company, a Green Bay Packers blog.