Four matchups to watch: Seahawks vs. Titans

Posted Oct 12, 2013

The Seahawks return to CenturyLink Field for their only home game this month as they host the Tennessee Titans following their first loss of the season last week to the Colts in Indianapolis.

A look at the Seahawks’ Week 6 game against the Tennessee Titans at CenturyLink Field, including four matchups that could impact the outcome:

When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. PT, CenturyLink Field

Records: Seahawks 4-1 and first in the NFC West after last week’s 34-28 loss to the Colts in Indianapolis; Titans 3-2 and second in the AFC South after last week’s 26-17 loss to the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs at home

TV: CBS (KIRO/7 in Seattle), with Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf

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

Rest of the West: Cardinals (3-2) at 49ers (3-2); Rams (2-3) at Texans.

Matchup microscope

Third downs: This is an obvious area of improvement for the Seahawks after they converted two of 12 third-down situations in last week’s loss to the Colts in Indianapolis. For the season, they rank 27th in the NFL at 30.8 percent on third downs (20 of 65). Compounding their conundrum is the fact that the Titans have one of the best third-down defenses in the league, allowing opponents to convert 28.1 percent (18 of 64). That ranks third in the league. On the flipside, the Seahawks’ defense allowed the Colts to convert seven of 12 third-down situations, including seven of their last nine in rallying for the victory. And the Titans’ offense is converting at 39 percent (30 of 77). That’s a lot of numbers that add up to third downs being even more pivotal in this game than usual.

One to watch

Seahawks nickel back Walter Thurmond vs. Titans WR Kendall Wright: All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and Pro Bowl-caliber corner Brandon Browner get most of the attention for the Seahawks, for obvious reasons. But in this game, Thurmond could get most of the action. That’s because Wright is the Titans’ slot receiver and leads the team with 26 catches, and the NFL with 13 third-down receptions. The other side of this matchup also will be worth watching, as Titans nickel back Coty Sensabaugh works against Seahawks slot receiver Doug Baldwin, who has nine third-down receptions including his 17 catches.

Fun to watch

The Seahawks’ defense vs. Titans RB Chris Johnson: The third-leading rusher in Oilers’/Titans’ history behind Eddie George and Earl Campbell, Johnson is off to slow start by any back’s standards – and especially his. But Johnson has the ability to catch up in a hurry. His six career rushing touchdowns of 80-plus yards are the most in NFL history. And as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll put it, “He’s an incredible player, he really is. He’s very unusual because of his speed and his change of speeds as he runs the football. He’s got a great knack. He’s not just an outside runner. He’s very elusive and the burst that he has, it shocks you.” Slowing Johnson down will entail keeping the run lanes tight and running to the ball. And it’s likely the Seahawks will be doing it without middle linebacker and second-leading tackler Bobby Wagner, who sprained an ankle in last week’s game. K.J. Wright moves from the weak side to the middle to replace Wagner and will have to make sure everyone is right to prevent Johnson from exploiting uncovered gaps.

One tough task

Titans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. the situation: Jake Locker should be starting this game for the Titans in front of a flock of family members and friends. But the former University of Washington and Ferndale High School QB is out with a hip injury. So Fitzpatrick will make his second start for the Titans, and be looking to improve on his performance last week – when he started 0 for 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs and then threw two fourth-quarter interceptions. Fitzpatrick is no stranger to the Seahawks, and vice versa, because he was the Buffalo Bills’ starter last December in their 50-17 loss to the Seattle in Toronto. Things will be a lot noisier in this game as he faces a Seahawks defense that has held opposing quarterbacks to a 68.2 passer rating.

Worth noting

The Seahawks lead the series 9-5, but the Titans broke Seattle’s five-game winning streak by winning the last meeting – 17-13 in the 2009 finale in Seattle, when Johnson ran for 134 yards to surpass 2,000 for the season. … The Seahawks have won 10 consecutive games at CenturyLink Field. … In starting each of those games, QB Russell Wilson has completed 128 of 204 passes for 1,848 yards with 22 touchdown passes and four interceptions. … The Titans have won seven of their past 10 road games against NFC opponents. … The Titans are 24-9 when Johnson rushes for at least 100 yards. … Titans CB Alterraun Verner is tied for the league lead with four interceptions and leads the NFL with 11 passes defensed. … FS Earl Thomas leads the Seahawks in tackles with 35. … SS Bernard Pollard leads the Titans in tackles with 45.