The Seattle Seahawks are in a prime position to run their record to 5-1 and bounce back from last week’s upset loss to the Indianapolis Colts with a victory over another AFC South team in the Tennessee Titans. The Seahawks are the clear favorites here, and below are five players to watch as the Seahawks look to avoid an upset. Even if teams like the New Orleans Saints have a better record, it’s clear to me that the Seattle Seahawks are still at least the second best team in the league; just look at how deep that defense is.
1. RB Marshawn Lynch
The identity of this Seattle Seahawks team is the running game, and everyone on the team knows it. Marshawn Lynch is one of the most colorful personalities in the league, and he’s also one of the most important RBs in the league per his value to the team. Although the Seahawks have a top QB in Russell Wilson, the Seahawks have run the ball 173 times this season compared to just 135 pass attempts. They play smashmouth football at its finest, and Marshawn Lynch is certainly a smashmouth back. It’s so difficult to find a back with Lynch’s blend of strength, explosiveness, and agility, and those traits have allowed him to run for 410 yards on 96 carries this season. Lynch also has three touchdowns this season, and he’s been one of the most productive backs in the league so far this season.
With Wilson constantly under pressure due to some atrocious pass protection (it seems like Russell Okung can’t come back soon enough), Lynch has become even more important to this Seahawks offense. He keeps defenses honest so they can’t just blitz Wilson on every play, and Lynch is a huge key for the Seattle Seahawks this week. The Tennessee Titans have one of the best pass defenses in the league this season, but they are allowing 4.3 yards per carry on the ground. The Titans have a stingy defense, but their weakness is stopping the run.
2. WR Doug Baldwin
Last week, I wrote that Doug Baldwin was leading the league in yards per target, therefore the Seattle Seahawks needed to call for more passing plays targeting the uber-efficient wideout. The ‘Hawks did just that last week by throwing it to Baldwin nine times, and he delivered by turning those nine targets into 80 yards. He was clearly the Seahawks best receiver in last week’s loss to the Colts, and I’d say that he’s been the ‘Hawks best receiver this season. Nobody has been more efficient than Baldwin, and he does a great job of running all kinds of routes; he’s not just a deep threat or a dink-and-dunker. Baldwin is averaging 17.4 yards per reception this season, and only Golden Tate has more receptions (18 to 17). It will be interesting to see who draws the assignment on Baldwin, but I wouldn’t envy that player. Baldwin is a very underrated wideout in this league, and this Titans defense has a tougher time guarding deeper routes than short and intermediate stuff. Why? The corners are significantly better than the safeties, and we all know just how boom-or-bust Michael Griffin is (though, he has been more “boom” than “bust” this year).
I’m not sure who is going to get most of the reps lined up across from Titans wideout Nate Washington, but my guess is that it will be Richard Sherman, since he is the best of the two. Kendall Wright does a great job of moving the chains on the inside, but it’s Washington who will cause the Seattle Seahawks the most problems. The Seahawks are the best team in the league at covering short and intermediate routes, because their secondary is so physical and the LBs are good in coverage. But if you want to beat the Seahawks, then you have to beat them deep. As we saw last week against the Indianapolis Colts, Sherman and Browner can be beat deep by quicker WRs, since Browner and Sherman are bigger corners (hopefully that’s the last time Browner insults a WR for his lack of size).
I would definitely be more worried about Browner getting beat deep than Sherman, because Sherman is better than Browner, Sherman is faster than Browner, and Sherman is insanely good at recovering. Nate Washington isn’t as quick or as dynamic as T.Y. Hilton, but he is averaging 16.5 yards per reception. Ryan Fitzpatrick also loves slinging the ball deep, so Washington’s speed is one matchup that Seattle Seahawks fans will need to keep a close eye on.
5. FS Earl Thomas
The great thing about the Seattle Seahawks defense is that if Sherman or Browner gets beat, then they can rest easy knowing that Earl Thomas is back there. He is such a fast safety, and maybe the only FS with better range than Thomas is Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots, who used to play corner. Thomas isn’t “safe” when the receiver actually has the ball due to his susceptibility to missing tackles, but Thomas is as safe as they come in coverage. He has cut down a bit on the missed tackles this season, and he’s been nearly flawless in coverage. Thomas is a very dangerous safety with two picks this season, and I am willing to bet that he has one tomorrow. Why? Because the other team’s friggin’ QB is Ryan Fitzpatrick.