How big of a challenge will Ricardo Lockette, Seattle’s Pro Bowl nominee as special-teams ace, have on Sunday with Philadelphia Eagles return man extraordinaire Darren Sproles?
[caption id="attachment_28380" align="alignright" width="480"] Richardo Lockette's expertise at sprinting downfield and flying at returners to cover punts is a key to Sunday's Seahawks game at Philadelphia (Tony Overman/Staff photographer).[/caption]
“With who?” the supremely confident – and supremely fast -- Lockette said at his locker before Thursday’s practice at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
Of course Lockette knows Darren Sproles. He is the slithering, 5-foot-6 dynamo who is the NFL leader with 14,911 all-purpose yards since 2007. Who has two punt returns for touchdowns this season, including one covering 82 yards. Who has five punt-return scores for his 10-year career. Who in his first season with Philadelphia -- after beginning his career with San Diego (2005-10) then New Orleans (2011-13) -- is 87 yards from Brian Mitchell’s Eagles’ season record of 567 punt-return yards from 2002.
Isn’t that a, uh, rather sizeable challenge?
“Not really,” Lockette said flatly. “He’s just a smaller target.
“My goal is to get there before he takes off. I want to hit him before he gets going. Something went wrong if I get there and he already has taken off running.
“He’s a shifty guy. But I plan on being there before he gets shifty.”
Much of this week’s attention about the showdown between the defending Super Bowl champions and the NFC East leaders at Lincoln Financial Field has been on Philadelphia needing to stop Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson and the NFL’s leading rushing offense. And on Seattle’s resurgent defense needing to contain Eagles explosive outside runner LeSean McCoy as the thrust of Philadelphia’s offense that is ranked fourth in the league.
Yet how successful Lockette is getting down to Sproles “before he gets shifty” will be a key to field position -- and thus key to control of Sunday’s game and each team’s postseason destiny.
Last season, Lockette’s first as the primary gunner on Seahawks punts, Sproles played Seattle twice when he was with the New Orleans Saints. Lockette helped make the explosive Sproles to inert in an early December game and again in the divisional playoffs. Sproles fielded three punts in those two games. He had exactly zero yards in returns; Lockette helped force him to fair catch two of them.
“I think Ricardo is a big factor for us,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Friday afternoon, before the team left for its flight to Philadelphia that was due in around midnight Eastern Time. “He’s a guy we really count on. He had a good game last week and we’re really hoping he can continue to be that factor.”
Stopping Sproles is such a key the Seahawks have spent time this week developing new ways to free Lockette from what are bound to be two and even three Eagles that are going to try to pinball him among them, instead of allowing Lockette to sprint freely at Sproles while Jon Ryan’s punts for Seattle are in flight. Philadelphia has been jamming other teams’ gunners all season; the Eagles are second in the NFL averaging 14.4 yards per punt return.
“We are trying to position so that he can be (that big factor),” Carroll said. “We will spot him around and do some things with him. He’s a dynamic football player. We need him against their really good special teams. We’re going to need some (standout) players and he could be the one.”
Here is all of what Carroll had to saw yesterday:
December 5, 2014
(On how the week went) This was a really intense week for us coming back off a break – guys really felt good and we worked hard. We were able to really push them this week so we had great preparation. It’s a big trip for us and all. We’re taking off a day early to get there and get this right. We feel comfortable with that format. We have been through it a lot and feel like we can find success there but everything seems good. We seem strong, ready for a great challenge from these guys.
(On if he thinks he has an edge because he knows Mark Sanchez so well) There’s no question though that we have great familiarity. I think the world of him and I’m really excited for his opportunities and all that. We like to bang around a little bit if we get a chance. There’s nothing I like more than playing against people that I really care for so I look forward to this.
(On if he will talk to Mark Sanchez before the game) I hope so. Yeah, I hope to see him, him and Matt [Barkley]. There’s a good history with us. We’ve had a great time together and we will always share our experiences and so that will always keep us connected. So it’s really fun to see those guys.
(On Cooper Helfet and Jeremy Lane) Cooper wants to run for us. He thinks he can show us something on game day. We will see what happens with that. Jeremy was limited today. Each day is important for him. We will see what happens tomorrow. He will definitely be taken right up to game time.
(On Michael Bennett) He’s fine. He practiced today.
(On Max Unger) Max is running and not enough to compete for this week but he has a chance next week. It will be day-to-day when he starts coming truly back but he has a chance to get back and compete for it.
(On how he liked Byron Maxwell inside at nickel) He did really well. He’s got a big presence in there. It’s a good matchup for us this week if that’s the way we go with their guy. He’s well versed at it. He loves to come off the edge. He likes playing in there. It’s a good position for him and it get Tharold [Simon] on the field and Tharold is doing some good stuff outside. That’s a good way for us to go. We have a couple options there though.
(On red zone efficiency and if there are any fixes) If it was that easy, we would have fixed it. There are always challenges down there. We have to stay out of our own way and not make the mistakes that put us behind the sticks and all that kind of stuff. We have to do better there. Sometimes it’s just a couple inches there. We’ve had really good spurts in the past. We want to get back on track here for this fourth quarter.
(On how they practiced differently this week) We had a good break so we were able to push. We got an extra day in on Tuesday. That helps you in preparation –getting a jump start on the week. So we were able to move through the week really swiftly and it just worked out well. The guys were well versed in what we were asking them to do and you could tell by the execution.
(On how vital Ricardo Lockette will be on Sunday) I think Ricardo is a big factor for us. He’s a guy we really count on. He had a good game last week and we’re really hoping he can continue to be that factor. We’re trying to position so that he can be. We will spot him around and do some things with him. He’s a dynamic football player. We need him – against their really good special teams, we’re going to need some players and he could be the one.
(On if the Eagles do anything unique on special team that have allowed them the success that they’ve had) As we see them, they’re really good from top to bottom. They have a really good roster so they’ve got great guys in the wings coming off the bench in the backup spots that can fill them in. They play really fast. They’re not a real complicated team. They’re aggressive but they execute really well. They have also, from last year to this year, they’ve added to their roster some core special teams guys. You can tell the difference. That’s always a big statement about a team’s commitment to it and then those guys usually are factors and they are on their team too.
(On Chris Maragos) Absolutely. Chris is one of those guys on their team. He’s a really good player for them. He’s always been a really effective player. We lost in free agency. He’s doing what he’s been doing for a career.
(On how Richard Sherman said he took it upon himself to improve in the run game and if that was something they talked about) Honestly, Richard was a good tackler on his college film. It was one of the things that jumped out at me – that he was a willing tackler. He’s always been a good tackler for us. He’s referring to being more precise and maybe a little bit more aggressive with his fits when he can be, when the defense and the call allows him to be. He’s always such his nose in there and been a factor. I’m glad to hear him say that because that’s showing he takes pride in all aspects of it. He’s a guy we really count on to make those plays and he’s done it in the past – more attention to it will just make him better.
(On Byron Maxwell) He came back fine today.
(On what he has seen from DeMarcus Dobbs) He’s a real active player. He’s a good all-around athlete that fits on special teams too, more so than most defensive linemen can. He’s got a good motor – chases the ball really well. He gives us some flexibility where he can play and help out. We love that he brings good movement to us when he comes in off the bench. He’s been a real pleasant factor for us.
(On if the defensive line rotation is more important in a game like this) It’s a little different. We have to handle it a little bit differently to make sure that we don’t mess up the continuity of our guys playing out there. We will pay attention to it a little differently than normal but we will still rotate our guys – we will still get that done."