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September 13, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Seattle Seahawks-San Diego Chargers: What to Watch

Here are six things to watch in Sunday’s game against the Chargers — three each from beat writers Jayson Jenks and Bob Condotta:

First, from Jenks::

1. Will Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse be more involved? Against the Packers, Baldwin had three catches for 14 yards; Kearse had just one catch for eight yards. Those two are going to play a big part in the Seahawks’ offense this season, but they didn’t get many chances to make plays last week, in part because Percy Harvin was such a big part of the game plan (Harvin had seven catches and four rushing attempts). I’d expect Baldwin and Kearse to get more touches this week.

2. Will the Chargers be able to run the ball? San Diego rushed for just 52 yards last week, and if the Chargers are that ineffective running the ball against the Seahawks, they’re in for a long day. The Seahawks, like most defenses, are at their best when they know a team is going to have to throw to beat them. That allows defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to rush quarterback Philip Rivers without fear of getting burned in the running game. If the Seahawks can stop San Diego’s running game early, they’ll have a big day defensively.

3. Was last week the real deal for the offensive line? Offensive line coach Tom Cable said his group played “OK” against the Packers, but even OK stood as marked improvement from how the line played last year. The Seahawks averaged five yards per carry against the Packers, and Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin had plenty of space to run. I think the offensive line is the key to the Seahawks’ offense; the line just needs to be solid, not great, for Seattle to be better offensively this year.

And from Condotta:

1. How will Marcus Burley fare at nickelback? Burley, who two weeks ago today was acquired from the Colts for a sixth-round pick, is the team’s starting nickelback for now with Jeremy Lane out eight weeks (and seven games) after being placed on IR with the designation to return due to a groin injury. Burley played 25 snaps last week in relief of Lane. But with Seattle in control of the game at that point, and with it being Burley’s first-ever NFL action, it’s hard to really glean much from what he did (here’s a good breakdown from FieldGulls of his game against the Packers). This game figures to tell a lot more with Burley having gotten his feet wet some now, but the Chargers also  knowing that he’s the one who has to step in, making it an obvious spot to target.

2. How will Bryan Walters fare as the new punt returner? In what stood as the biggest news of the week for the Seahawks, the team announced Earl Thomas will no longer be the primary punt returner, replaced instead by Walters, a backup receiver. While Walters has returned plenty of kicks and punts in the preseason in his career, his regular season experience consists of eight returns for the Chargers in 2011, on which he averaged 5.6 per attempt with a long of 13. He’ll return to that role today against his former team and in a comfortable environment. He said this week he knows job one is to simply get the ball for the offense. Don’t be surprised if he’s less aggressive than was Thomas, who tried to return each of the first two last week despite being in close quarters, each of which Carroll said later he should have fair caught.

3. Will the Chargers throw it at Richard Sherman? Rivers said during a conference call with Seattle reporters on Wednesday that he won’t avoid any cornerback and will throw the ball to any receiver that is open. Green Bay last week made it a point from the first play to look away from Sherman, with Aaron Rodgers appearing to turn left upon getting the ball almost every time. Sherman said later he understood how that helps the team when an opponent simply takes itself out of even bothering with one-third of the field. But he also says he’d like to get more involved. If Rivers is true to his word, Sherman will get some passes to defend Sunday.

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