Time for our weekly look at five things to watch as the Seahawks take on the Titans Sunday. And as always, in no particular order.
1, Turnovers: Seattle didn’t win the turnover battle last week for the first time this season — the Colts and Seahawks each had two. And not so coincidentally, the Seahawks didn’t win – they remain 21-3 under Pete Carroll when winning the turnover battle. That will be another real key this week as the Titans have feasted on turnovers so far, forcing 11 while losing just three, second-best in the NFL. Seattle, though, is right there on their heels, forcing 15 while losing eight for a plus-seven margin that is third. Seattle has a plus-five turnover margin in two home games this year. Expect that trend to continue.
2, Third downs: The Seahawks talked frankly this week about the need to fix their issues on third down — they have converted just six-of-25 in the past two games. The Titans, meanwhile, have been especially salty on defense on third downs, allowing teams to convert only 18-of-64 for the season, good for 28.1 percent and third in the NFL. One key for Seattle is staying out of third-and-longs to prevent obvious passing downs, the situations when the offensive line – which will again be without starting tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini — has struggled the most.
3, The running game: Despite the revolving door offensive line, the Seahawks rank second in the NFL in rushing at 159 yards per game, due in large part to the tackle-breaking ability of Marshawn Lynch and the scrambling of quarterback Russell Wilson. Tennessee wants to run the ball with standout running back Chris Johnson. But the Titans have struggled more than was anticipated, gaining 116.8 yards per game, with Johnson averaging only 3.1 yards per carry. The Seahawks will hope to hold down the Titans run in early downs to set up passing situations and force backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick into mistakes.
4, Sidney Rice: Rice has 10 catches on the season, five coming against Jacksonville. He had just one catch on four targets last week, and Carroll said he’d like to get Rice more involved this week. Rice rested from practice Friday due to his knee but Carroll said he’s fine. And one thought is it’s been tough to get Rice the ball due to the issues with the pass protection, which have held down the numbers for all the receivers. So an increase in Rice’s production Sunday would be a positive on a number of fronts.
5, The re-made linebacking corps: Nobody seems concerned about the shuffling in the linebacking corps made necessary due to the injury to MLB Bobby Wagner. That means K.J. Wright shifts from WLB to the middle, with Malcolm Smith going from SLB to WLB and Bruce Irvin getting his first start at SLB. Wright and Smith have each played those spots before and shifting linebackers around is common. Still, something to watch.