Like last week’s game against Detroit, this is a matchup of two teams on the rise — Seattle has won four of its last five and the Chargers five of their last six. Neither, though, has beaten a team that currently has a winning record, Seattle’s four wins coming against teams that are 9-20 and the Chargers’ five wins coming against teams that are 9-28-1. So for each, a win would not only help their playoff positioning (both teams are in tough sledding to win their divisions, Seattle 3.5 back of the Rams and the Chargers 1.5 back of the Chiefs) but also give some added credibility to their recent success. This is also the first regular season visit by the Chargers to Seattle since 2010, a 27-20 Seahawks win in what was the third game of the Pete Carroll era.
I could also say Rivers against the Seattle secondary – or maybe just the entire defense. But it feels like the real key here is Seattle getting consistent pressure to at least force Rivers out of his comfort zone more often than not, though that’s really hard to do — good protection and Rivers’ ability to get rid of the ball quickly has resulted in him being sacked just nine times in seven games this season. Rivers may be 36 now but he is in the midst of one of his best seasons, with a 17-3 TD-to-interception ratio and completing 69.1 percent of his passes. There may be no quarterback in the NFL who draws more praise from Carroll than Rivers. “This is a really difficult challenge with a great quarterback,’’ Carroll said this week. “I can’t say enough about how good this guy is.’’ Seattle really needs the likes of edge rushers Frank Clark, Dion Jordan — and maybe rookie Jacob Martin, who has been seeing increasing playing time — to come up big.
One huge reason Seattle’s defense has so far not dropped off the way many expected it might after the loss of so many big-name vets has been the play of McDougald filling in for Kam Chancellor at strong safety, while also used in a variety of other ways. Pro Football Focus noted that with K.J. Wright back at weakside linebacker against Detroit, McDougald played far less in the box or on the line than he had been – just 18 snaps compared to an average of 33 in the first six games. That means McDougald is back to pretty much just being a safety, assuming he can make it through the game. McDougald missed a few snaps last week due to a stinger and was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with a knee injury, though he is expected to play. Whether it’s McDougald or backup Delano Hill (or Shalom Luani), that’ll be a big role against the Chargers, not only having to cover the intermediate routes that the Chargers like to run so well but also helping to keep running back Melvin Gordon — averaging 5.1 yards per carry and also with 30 receptions — in check.
Seattle’s new-found commitment to the running game has been made easier by the fact that the Seahawks have almost never been behind in their last five games. Even including their 33-31 loss to the Rams, in which Seattle was ahead or tied for most of it, the Seahawks have trailed for just 14 minutes and 53 seconds in their last five games — which encompasses 300 minutes of playing time. Much was made of Seattle’s 42-17 run-pass ratio last week. And no doubt the Seahawks want to run it as often as they can. But it also helped being ahead — the Seahawks ran it on 23 of 28 plays in the second half during which time they always had at least a 14-point lead, the classic Carroll formula. But that commitment could be challenged this week if the Chargers are able to move the ball and score some points and turn the game into a track meet, ala the Rams game. It will be interesting to see how the Seahawks react offensively the first time they fall behind by any margin, be it Sunday or in the future.