The Seahawks (4-1) head to Cleveland this weekend to face a Browns (2-3) team that has been tough to figure out this season. The Browns have looked very good in their two wins, but are coming off of a blowout loss to San Francisco on Monday night. Regardless of the Browns' inconsistencies, the Seahawks are preparing for a tough challenge when the game kicks off at 10 a.m. PT at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"They've got a lot of firepower," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They got guys who are really good play-making players out there. The quarterback, the running back, the receivers, the tight ends. They can all do stuff on offense. They got the big pass rushers too. There's plenty of attraction to this football team. The kickers are kicking good… There's plenty of stuff to be attracted to to figure out."
With that in mind, here are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game:
1. Chris Carson & the Seahawks run game vs. Cleveland's run defense.
The Seahawks are coming off of a 167-yard rushing performance in last week's win over the Rams, their highest output of the season and the second straight 100-yard game for running back Chris Carson. The Seahawks had a few hiccups in the running game early in the season, including three fumbles lost by Carson, but both he and the entire running game appear to be getting on track, which is obviously a big deal for Seattle's offense.
"We talked a couple weeks back—we were talking about the running game here—it's takes a little while, right?" offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "It just takes you a while to work on some of your combinations and things like that. Each week is a new challenge as well, but I'm pleased with how we're doing. I'm pleased with the way he's running. I'm pleased with, again, the way those guys blocked last week. The receivers never get enough credit for what they do, some of the things we do trying to get the ball on the perimeter. That's pretty cool. You watch a guy like Jaron Brown come down and pin a defensive end, I think it was (Los Angeles' Dante) Fowler (Jr.), in the game last week. We were kind of backed up coming out of our own endzone and he came down and pinned Fowler. It all works together. It's not just the runner. It's not just the line. The tight ends are involved—(Will) Dissly and (Luke) Willson. Chris is running extremely hard. We talked about him bouncing back. I think he's back."
And while the Seahawks won't take any opponent lightly in any phase of the game, there does appear to be a good opportunity for the running game against a Browns defense that has struggled against the run of late. After holding consecutive opponents under 100 rushing yards in Weeks 2 and 3, the Browns allowed 173 in a Week 4 win over Baltimore, then allowed San Francisco to rush for 275 yards on Monday.
Carroll did note that last week's run total was inflated by Matt Breida's 83-yard touchdown run early in the game, so it's not as if the Seahawks are expecting an easy afternoon when it comes to the running game.
"They got stung right off the bat," Carroll said. "It was a play that they stopped later on in the game. It just got out one time they made a mistake on it… Such a hard start. Once that got over, they settled down."
Schottenheimer pointed to Seattle's 36-percent third-down conversion rate, which ranks 22nd in the league, as something he'd like to see the offense improve this week. Doing that won't be easy—the Browns rank fifth in third-down defense, allowing teams to convert 31 percent of attempts—but a good way for Seattle to improve in that area is to find success in the running game, particularly on early downs.
2. Myles Garrett & the Browns pass rush vs. Seattle's offensive line.
Facing Myles Garrett, who has 20.5 sacks dating back to the start of last season, is a big challenge under any circumstances. Doing so down one Pro-Bowl tackle is an even bigger test, and it appears the Seahawks will have to do that on Sunday, as left tackle Duane Brown is listed as doubtful due to a biceps injury.
Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, rushes from both sides, so stopping him will fall to a number of players, including former Texas A&M teammate Germain Ifedi, and whoever is blocking Garrett on any given down will have his work cut out for him.
"Myles Garrett looks amazing on film," Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said. "I think he's got seven or eight sacks. He's making a lot of plays… He's just a great overall player. Great person. We expect him to bring his best for sure.
"He's not just big. He's athletic. He can really run. I remember watching the combine and seeing this guy run is crazy. We've got to be aware of where he is. We've played great players like him before. Put him in the bunch of guys like Khalil Mack and Von Millers of the world. He's younger, obviously. He hasn't played as many games as those guys have. He's that caliber of an athlete for sure."
Added Carroll, "He's about as much (of a challenge) as you can get. He's a terrific athlete. He's got great speed and burst and flexibility to bend and get off the ball and then get around the corner. He's off to a great start. He has seven sacks and he could have had 10 at this point. Maybe more. He's real legit."
The Seahawks have shown the ability to adjust to pressure this season in part by relying on a quick passing game, a skillset that could come in handy against Garrett and company.
3. Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. vs. the Seahawks secondary.
For the Seahawks, playing good defense always starts with stopping the run, and that will definitely be the case again Sunday against second-year back Nick Chubb, who has rushed for 485 yards and four touchdowns in five games. As linebacker K.J. Wright put it, "if we let him get rolling, it could be a long day for us. We've got to keep him in check."
But while stopping Chubb will be a big priority, the Seahawks should feel pretty good about their chances at doing that with a run defense that is allowing just 80 rushing yards per game. And while making a team one-dimensional is always the goal, the Browns have enough weapons in the passing game to be a problem even if Seattle stops the run, led by three-time Pro-Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham is a big-play threat not just in his ability to stretch the field, but also in the way he can turn a short catch into a long gain.
"Limiting his yards after the catch," safety Bradley McDougald said when asked what the Seahawks needed to do against Beckham. "It's OK for him to catch a couple balls, it's Odell, he's going to do that, he's going to make some plays. But I feel like he's most dangerous after the catch. He makes a guy miss and that's where his long yards come from. They get him the ball quick, makes a couple guys miss on a slant or an RPO, next thing you know he's in space and that's what you don't want. You want to keep him bottled up, you want to keep somebody in his face, you want to keep guys around him. I think that's where him and Jarvis Landry is most dangerous. Especially Jarvis Landry. He's an excellent, excellent runner with the ball in his hands. He's really powerful, I feel like I've seen him try to run numerous amounts of guys over. He's really physical, I like the way he plays. So, limiting their yards after the catch is going to be very crucial this week."
An offseason trade acquisition, Beckham Jr. has had a couple of quiet games since catching 19 passes in Cleveland's first three games, but he remains a focus in Cleveland's offense and there's a good shot that second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield will be looking his way on Sunday.
"We have to do our job of getting him the ball as many times as we can," Mayfield told reporters in Cleveland this week. "He is a game-changer. That's why he's here. He's one of the best in the league ... and if there are one-on-ones, we have to be able to take advantage of it."
The Seahawks and the Browns will meet this Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium for the sixth game of the 2019 season. Take a look back at photos from past games between the two teams.