On the eve of Seattle’s game at Indianapolis, here are five quick keys, in no particular order:
1, The running game: The Colts and Seahawks each rank among the top five teams in the NFL in rushing — the Colts are fourth at 149.5 yards per game, and the Seahawks fifth at 144.3. Whichever team can extend that trend, while liming the rushing of the other, will have a huge edge in this game. Seattle coaches compare Indianapolis’ style of running to that of the 49ers, featuring more power plays inside the tackles. Seattle DLs Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel, among others, will be key in the effort to stop the Colts.
2, Turnovers: This is also a matchup of two of the teams in the NFL most adept at forcing turnovers while limiting their own — Seattle has a plus-seven turnover ratio (third in the league) while the Colts are at plus-six (fourth). Both quarterbacks (Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck) are generally good at limiting interceptions, while each secondary has proven to be ball-hawkish early on — Seattle has seven picks, the Colts have six. Seattle is 21-3 under Pete Carroll when forcing more turnovers than its opponent, 4-0 this year. Winning this game may be as simple as again winning the turnover battle.
3, Protection: Where each team has struggled this season is in pass protection, putting the scrambling abilities of their quarterbacks to greater use than they might like. Each, though, also has a good pass rush — Indy’s Robert Mathis has 7.5 sacks already while Seattle’s improving pass rush has 10 sacks in the last three games. The Seahawks will again have something of a makeshift line with tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini out. Seattle also needs more consistent play out of its guards.
4, The second quarter: We know all about Seattle’s propensity for slow starts, especially on the road. That’s evident in the numbers, as the Seahawks have outscored foes just 35-27 in the first half this year compared to 74-20 in the second half and overtime. The second quarter has been a particular issue as Seattle has been outscored in that quarter 27-25. Indy, meanwhile, has been getting jumpstarted in the second quarter, outscoring opponents 44-10, its widest margin in any quarter this season.
5, Third downs: This is always a big key, and it’s another where the Colts enter the game with a statistical edge — Indy has converted 48 percent of third downs this season (24-50) compared to Seattle’s 34 percent (18-53). Each team is solid on defense on third downs, Seattle allowing 33.3 percent and Indy 36.