Can the Seahawks beat the Rams without Bobby Wagner?
After dealing with myriad injuries to major defensive stars throughout the season, have the Seahawks finally reached an insurmountable obstacle with the potential loss of Pro Bowl middle linebacker Bobby Wagner? Not according to 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton, though beating the Rams in a must-win contest Sunday would certainly be a challenge without him.
“They’ve won without him before,” Clayton told Brock and Salk on Wednesday. “It’s just going to be much more difficult. They have to readjust and make sure they don’t allow the big plays, because once he went out (against the Jaguars) it went from a three-point game to a 30-point game. That’s where the difference was – a lot of crossing patterns. So, it’s going to be up to Michael Wilhoite to be able to focus in there and get things done while he’s gone, and make sure that K.J. Wright enhances his communication with everyone else.
“But, can they win? Yeah. They still have four Pro Bowl players on the field when Bobby Wagner’s not there. That’s a significant drop from the eight that they have, but they’re still a good enough defense that they can do it. It’s just going to be more of a challenge.”
Wagner left the Seahawks’ Week 14 loss to the Jaguars near halftime with a hamstring injury – the same one he’s been battling all season, though it’s the first time he was unable to finish a game because of the injury. Head coach Pete Carroll told Brock and Salk Monday morning that the team won’t know until the weekend whether or not Wagner will be able to play in Sunday’s NFC West showdown against the 9-4 Rams. Clayton isn’t counting on it, though.
“I’m not optimistic. Because he’s been kind of battling that hamstring for some time. He’s trying to fight as best he can to get on the field, and you know that’s his intent, but I just get the feeling it’s one where you don’t want it to get much worse. They’ve got to rest it; that’s the only way they can do it. We’ll get guidance today when Pete Carroll talks (to the media), but overall I think the odds are probably against him being able to play.”
Wright, Seattle’s other Pro Bowl linebacker, is also a question mark after he was forced from the game against the Jaguars with a concussion. Clayton is much more optimistic about his chances to play against the Rams, however.
“I talked to him after the game (and) he said he’s going to be fine. I was overhearing a few conversations he was having with players, because it was open and they were just talking about the game, (and) he was sharp. I don’t think there’s going to be any problem with K.J.”
Clayton cites the drop off in talent from Wagner to his replacement as a major component in Sunday’s challenge. The Seahawks saw the repercussions of a season-ending injury to All-Pro safety Earl Thomas last year, and an offseason signing of safety Bradley McDougald as an upgrade at backup has paid off, but Seattle doesn’t have the same caliber of backup for Wagner.
“You can only do it for a certain number of positions. They weren’t able to get that ‘fill in,’ if you want to call him that, for Bobby Wagner, and that does leave a void,” Clayton said. “So the drop off that they would have from Earl or Kam (Chancellor) to McDougald is much better than they had last year… (but) now there’s going to be a big drop-off without Bobby Wagner. You can only address so many things and that’s one they did not have the ability to address, and now they just have to try to focus – but I know Earl Thomas says they can still battle back if guys step up and focus on their jobs.”
Still, Seattle has a good shot if the offense can get off to a fast start and the defense has a healthy Wright on the field. Mike Salk and Tom Wassell also talked to Brock Huard about a weakness of the Rams that could make things easier on a Wagner-less defense. You can listen to that conversation above.