SEATTLE – And now, facing the greatest challenge of the Pete Carroll era, the Seahawks hit the road.
Standing at 3-7, their worst record after 10 games since 2009, Seattle plays three of its next four games away from Lumen Field, beginning with Monday night’s contest against the Washington Football Team at FedExField in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
But maybe that’s a good thing.
In one of the many oddities of this season, the Seahawks are just 1-4 at home after last week’s 23-13 loss to Arizona while they are 2-2 on the road.
Every team the Seahawks have played on the road has a .500 or better record, including the two teams Seattle has beaten, Indianapolis and San Francisco, each 5-5.
Now comes a date at 4-6 WFT, a game Seattle has to win to keep any barely flickering playoff hopes alive.
Onto our keys to the game.
Matchup to watch
WFT receiver Terry McLaurin vs. Seattle cornerbacks
Washington’s most proven offensive threat is third-year receiver Terry McLaurin, who ranks 15th in the NFL in receiving yards per game at 73.5, one spot ahead of Seattle’s Tyler Lockett (71.7). McLaurin’s production has been a little hit and miss this year as WFT has had to turn to Taylor Heinicke. But he’s coming off one of his best games of the season with 103 yards on five catches against Carolina. He faces a Seattle defense with an uncertain cornerback situation with RCB D.J. Reed battling knee and groin issues and Sidney Jones likely to take over on the left side for the injured Tre Brown.
McLaurin lines up about 71% on the outside according to Pro Football Focus, so Reed and Jones are each likely to get their share of challenges.
Player to watch
WR DK Metcalf
Metcalf switched hair colors last week – from aqua to gold – following the ill-advised end to the Green Bay game. But it didn’t help Metcalf’s production as he had just four catches for 31 yards against Arizona. He has just 57 yards on seven receptions the past two games, his lowest two-game reception yardage total since his rookie season.
He’s fallen to 29th in the NFL in receiving yards per game at 63.7 (he averaged 81.4 last year). But odds for a bounce-back are good this week against a WFT pass defense that ranks 28th in the NFL at 270 yards per game. They may be even better when he finds himself matched up against WFT cornerback William Jackson III, who has allowed six touchdowns this season, tied for second most in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference.
Coaching decision to watch
To establish the run, or not to establish the run?
Carroll has made it clear that he wants the Seahawks to run it more – Seattle has not rushed for more than 90 yards in any of its past four games, the second-longest streak of non-100-yard game in the Carroll era. But this might not be the week to force the issue.
While WFT’s defense has been disappointing compared to expectations, it has been tough against the run, allowing just 98.5 per game, sixth fewest in the NFL, and just 695 yards to running backs, third lowest in NFL, according to PFF. As noted, WFT has been more susceptible to the pass. But it’s worth noting the three QBs to throw for most yards against WFT are Patrick Mahomes (390), Josh Allen (359) and Justin Herbert (334). WFT held Aaron Rodgers to 247 and Tom Brady to 220 in two of its last four games. Seattle may not be able to depend on the run and may instead need Russell Wilson to revert to form.
Last week we wondered if Seattle’s desperate state – basically, a win-or-else game from a realistic playoff perspective – would be enough to pull the Seahawks through. But while the effort seemed there, the execution wasn’t, and the Seahawks’ playoff hopes are on life support. Can a team that entered the year with legitimate Super Bowl hopes after winning 12 games in 2020, tied for third most in team history, find enough to play for in the final seven games? Everybody this week said all the right things about still believing.
But this is uncharted territory for the Seahawks in the Carroll era and what happens on the field Monday night will speak far more loudly about where this team’s collective head is.
Player who could surprise
Production from a player who signed a contract in March worth a guaranteed $8.5 million shouldn’t be a surprise. But what’s happened to Dunlap this year has been a little eye-opening as he has just a half-sack in 10 games after making five in eight games with Seattle a year ago. Despite being healthy, Dunlap played just 17 snaps, a season low. Maybe a return to Washington, where he had one of his biggest sacks of last season, will help revive his season. It was at FedExField last December that Dunlap sacked Dwayne Haskins for a 9-yard loss on a third-and-15 play with 1:09 left to help clinch Seattle’s 20-15 win. More of that is needed.
Third-down conversion percentage
Much has been made of Seattle’s inability to convert third downs this year, and rightfully so. The Seahawks are hitting on 35 of 108, 32.4%, 30th in the NFL. Seattle has been 30% or worse four of the last five games and 25% or worse in three of those. But if Seattle can’t break that hex Monday, then it may never happen this season as WFT ranks last in the NFL in allowing third-down conversions, giving up 71 of 134, 53%. Something obviously has to give and Seattle hopes it’s the WFT.
Seahawks 21, WFT 16
WFT has won two in a row, finally appearing to emerge as the team many expected heading into the season, while the Seahawks have lost four of five and are reeling.
So why pick the Seahawks? Just a feeling that Wilson will have finally shaken off the rust from his layoff and that Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are a good matchup against WFT’s secondary and will turn in just enough big plays to get it done.