Five matchups to watch: Seahawks at Giants

Posted Dec 14, 2013

The Seahawks will play this week for only the second time this season following a loss, and for the last time during the regular season on the road as they travel to MetLife Stadium to face the Giants.

A look at the Seahawks’ Week 15 game against the New York Giants on Sunday, including five matchups that could impact the outcome:

When: Sunday, 10 a.m. PT, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

Records: Seahawks 11-2 and first in the NFC West despite last week’s 19-17 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco; Giants 5-8 and third in the NFC East after last week’s 37-14 loss to the Chargers in San Diego.

Playoff implications: The Seahawks already have clinched a playoff spot. They can clinch the NFC West and a first-round bye with a win over the Giants and a 49ers’ loss or tie; or with a tie and a 49ers’ loss. They also can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win, a 49ers’ loss or tie and a Saints’ loss. The Giants were eliminated from the playoff picture last week.

TV: FOX (Q/13), with Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch and Erin Andrews

Radio: 710 ESPN and 97.3 KIRO FM, with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller

Rest of the West: 49ers (9-4) at Buccaneers (3-10); Cardinals (8-5) at Titans (5-8); Saints (10-3) at Rams (5-8).

Matchup microscope

The Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked defense vs. Giants QB Eli Manning: Will the two-time Super Bowl MVP be good Eli or bad Eli? This season, that has been the question. During the Giants’ six-game losing streak to open the season, Manning threw 15 of his 20 interceptions. The offense, meanwhile, generated no points against the Panthers’ now-No. 2-ranked defense in Carolina and seven points against the Chiefs’ turnover-fueled defense in Kansas City in back-to-back weeks. The Seahawks need to make Manning the bad Eli by stopping the run and then pressuring him into mistakes in the passing game. Then there’s the good Eli, who went six games with only three interceptions before throwing a pair of picks in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. As All-Pro CB Richard Sherman put it, “When he’s on, he’s on. He’s as good as anybody when he’s throwing the ball well. That’s the way they’ve won Super Bowls and been able to play well is because he’s on, and when he’s hot he’s rolling. When he’s having an off day, his rhythm has been off or the pressure has been getting to him.” Manning has thrown for at least two TDs in his each of his five previous games against the Seahawks.

One to watch

The second quarter: It’s when the Seahawks have scored their most points (121) and allowed their most points (105 of 205). It’s the quarter when the Giants have allowed the most points (117) and scored their second-highest point total (70, three fewer than in the third quarter). It could be the make-or-break quarter in this game.

Fun to watch

Sherman vs. Giants WR Victor Cruz: The last time these teams met in the Meadowlands, in Week 5 of the 2011 season, Cruz had a hand in just about everything that happened in the Seahawks’ 36-25 victory. He caught eight passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. He also had a Manning pass go off his hands near the goal late in the fourth quarter with the Giants driving to what would have been a game-winning touchdown. Instead, CB Brandon Browner picked off the carom and returned it a club-record 94 yards for the score to ice the Seahawks’ upset of the eventual Super Bowl champions. But Browner is out with a groin injury. Sherman had yet to enter the starting lineup in that game. That happened later in the season, as the third option on the left side, and since then he has more interceptions (16) and passes defensed (54) than any player in the league.

One tough task

Seahawks OTs Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini vs. Giants DE Justin Tuck: The pass protection has improved since Okung and Giacomini returned from missing eight and seven games with injuries. But they could have their hands full Sunday with Tuck, who has produced six of his 8.5 sacks in the past two games. The Seahawks need to keep QB Russell Wilson clean, and provide him time to make his progressions in the passing game. Wilson has been sharp in practice this week, so Okung and Giacomini can’t allow Tuck to dull his efforts on game day.

Don’t overlook

Marshawn LynchRemember him? Seahawks’ leading rusher? Goes by the name of Beast Mode? It’s been a while since the Beast has been unleashed. He had 145 rushing yards against the Falcons in the Week 10 win at Atlanta, but has 171 in the three games since then. Lynch has continued to find the zone (four TDs in the past three games), but the Seahawks need to find a way to get him the ball more and provide him with better blocking against the Giants’ No. 11-rank run defense that will be stacked to stop him. In the 2011 game, Lynch had 131 yards rushing and receiving and averaged 8.2 yards on 16 touches.

Worth noting

The Giants lead the series 9-6, including a 6-2 record at Giants Stadium/MetLife Stadium. … A victory will give the Seahawks a franchise-record sixth road win. … A win also would tie this team with the 1984 team for the second-most victories in franchise history (12). … The Giants had won five of their previous six games before Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. … The Giants are 1-7 against teams with winning records. … Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin had career highs in receptions (eight) and receiving yards (136) in the 2011 game against the Giants. … The Seahawks’ Golden Tate is the only player in the league with 700 receiving yards and at least 400 punt return yards. … MLB Bobby Wagner (89) and FS Earl Thomas (85) lead the Seahawks in tackles. … SS Antrel Rolle (77) and CB Prince Amukamara (72) are the Giants’ leading tacklers.