The Seahawks (5-1) face one of their toughest opponents yet in the 2019 season when they host the Baltimore Ravens (4-2), a team that has weapons in all three phases of the game.
"We have a real challenge going against these guys," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "This is a really good football team. You guys can appreciate why I appreciate them. They have a great commitment to the running game. They have a great commitment to playing tough defense. Very aggressive on defense. Their special teams is as good as we'll see all year. They give you a really well-balanced, well-rounded football team that plays tough and physical and all that. They make it really difficult on you. They're a hard team to beat. It's a great challenge for us."
If the Seahawks are going to emerge victorious, here are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game:
1. Russell Wilson vs. Earl Thomas.
Russell Wilson has turned himself into a front-runner for the MVP award with his outstanding start to the 2019 season. Through six games, Wilson has thrown 14 touchdowns, run for three more, and has yet to throw an interception. He's completing 72.5 percent of his passes, his 124.7 passer rating leads the league in passer rating by a large margin, and he is just the fourth quarterback in NFL history, along with Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Carson Palmer, to open a season with a passer rating over 100 in six straight games.
"Super hard to defend," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Wilson on a conference call. "I see a quarterback at the top of his game, everything built around him. Whether it's timing throwing, play-action, shots, extended plays, any of it. He's doing all of it at a very high level, very accurate with his throws, very smart with his decision making. He's playing at the highest level."
Continuing his hot streak won't be easy for Wilson not just because the Ravens are a talented team on defense overall, but because one player in particular knows Wilson as well as any opponent he has ever faced. For seven seasons, Wilson practiced against Earl Thomas, matching wits with one of the league's best defensive players, something the quarterback said made him a better player over the years. But after nine seasons in Seattle, Thomas is now the free safety for the Ravens, and in addition to being a playmaker, he also might have some insight into how Wilson thinks on the field.
"Hopefully all those practices I had against him through all the years pay off on gameday," Thomas told reporters in Baltimore this week. "But it's going to be a battle."
Wilson, like a lot of his teammates, has fond memories of Thomas' tenure in Seattle, on and off the field—their families remain close even with Thomas now in Baltimore—but while the two are friends off the field, Wilson knowns they'll be fierce competitors on Sunday afternoon.
"Earl's a Hall of Famer," Wilson said. "One of the best players to ever do it. He's a guy that you've got to get prepared for and understanding how he plays. He's very smart. He studies like crazy. He's just a great football player. He makes the plays. Got to be ready for him."
2. Ravens dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson vs. Seattle's entire defense.
Make no mistake about it, Lamar Jackson is a talented passer, the numbers more than back that up, especially his perfect passer rating in Week 1. That being said, what makes Jackson a truly unique talent, even among elite quarterbacks, is the threat he presents as a runner in addition to his skills as a passer. In addition to passing for 1,507 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, Jackson has also rushed for a team-leading 460 yards and two touchdowns, including 152 yards on 19 carries last week. He is a huge reason why the Ravens lead the NFL in total yards and rushing yards, and are second in scoring.
"He's as good as we've ever seen," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Jackson's running ability. "He's as fast and as elusive as we've seen… He's tough, physical, explosive, and creative. He's throwing the ball well, too. It's a real nightmare. Very difficult."
And while the Seahawks have faced other mobile quarterbacks this year and in the past, players agree with Carroll that no one is quite like Jackson as a runner. Because of that, the word of the week around the VMAC was discipline.
"Lamar is probably the fastest guy we'll play this season," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "Dude is just blazing. He's a quarterback who can run, but his touch is just as good. We've got to slow him down, he had a field day last week. So he's our main focus… The D-line is going to be really important. It's going to be a discipline game. Everybody's got to do their job. If you do mess up, it could get out of gate, so we've got to make sure we stay on the details this week."
Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was the offensive coordinator in San Francisco from 2011 to 2014 when Colin Kaepernick was one of the league's best dual-threat quarterbacks, so there are some similarities in Baltimore's running game to what those 49ers teams did, but ultimately it's going to come down to players being assignment correct.
"We have to be really disciplined and really know where the ball is going to go," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "They have so many different styles of runs; they pull to left and run to the right, they do pullers and throw the ball, they do so many different styles of play, so you've just got to really be on the film study. When we run certain fronts, we have to really be on our keys because it's a really important week for us to be on our keys… It's similar to how they ran the ball with Kaepernick; with the pullers, different gap schemes, traps, all those different things. But Lamar is a different animal, so we've got to make sure we do our best to contain him."
3. Chris Carson & the Seahawks run game vs. Baltimore's front seven.
The Seahawks have rushed for 167 and 170 yards in their past two games, getting back to the level of production they had last season when they led the league in rushing. And leading the way, just as was the case last season, has been running back Chris Carson, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in three straight games. It has been quite a turnaround for Carson, who lost a fumble in each of Seattle's first three games this season, and who has rewarded the confidence his team showed in him with three straight bigtime performances.
"Never lost confidence in him, never did," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "He knew he'd have to fight through it, he did. But, you know, we never lost confidence in him. We knew he'd bounce back, that happens. He's still young player, in year three. That's crazy. So the fact that he fought through it, and has done so well shows you the type of makeup that he has. We're thrilled with the way he's playing, finishing runs. I just can't say enough about him."
Running the ball on Baltimore won't be easy, as the Ravens have the league's No. 4 run defense (80.7 rushing yards per game), but some teams have managed to find success on the ground. In their four wins, the Ravens are allowing just 37.8 rushing yards per game, but in two losses, the Browns and Chiefs combined to gain 333 rushing yards. So while running against the Ravens won't be easy, it can be done.
"Coach (Don) Martindale does a great job with the defense," Schottenheimer said. "A lot of the same thing. The pieces are different, Earl's different than Weddle. The upfront guys are still really good players. The two inside interior guys. If there's two more stout guys in the league than (Brandon) Williams and (Michael) Pierce, I think it's going to be hard to find guys that are more stout than those guys against the run."
The Seahawks and the Ravens will meet this Sunday at CenturyLink Field for the seventh game of the 2019 season. Take a look back at photos from past games between the two teams.