The Seahawks (6-2) host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5) Sunday at CenturyLink Field, the fourth meeting between the two teams since 2010, the previous three of which were won by the home team. The Seahawks are hoping to kick off the second half of the season by improving to 7-2 or better for just the fifth time in franchise history, while the Bucs are looking to end the three-game losing streak that followed an impressive win over the Rams in Los Angeles.
If the Seahawks are going to come out victorious on Sunday, these are three key matchups that could make the difference against the Bucs:
1. Tampa Bay's dynamic receiving duo vs. Seattle's secondary.
The Seahawks have faced a number of talented receivers this season, from New Orleans' Michael Thomas to the Rams' Cooper Kupp to Atlanta's Julio Jones, a group that makes up the top three in receiving yards this season. But the Seahawks have not yet faced a team that has a receiving duo quite like Tampa Bay's Chris Godwin and Mike Evans.
Evans, who has five straight 1,000-yard seasons, is coming off of a 198-yard, two-touchdown performance and has 662 receiving yards and six scores on 38 catches. Evan ranks sixth in the NFL in receiving yards, yet he's not even his team's leading receiver thanks to Godwin, who has 705 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 47 catches.
"They're just loaded with talent," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Chris is their leading receiver, but Mike Evans is the star that we've watched for years. If you just watch the last game, Mike was all over the place making plays and lighting it up. He made a lot of tough catches in difficult situations. You can see the confidence that Jameis (Winston) has in those guys to throw the ball when they're in trouble and in traffic, giving them a chance to make a play. It makes those guys really dangerous. They've got other guys, too. They've got other guys that can fly. This is a pretty classic group for (Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians) to have where he's got his receivers that are really stellar. It's a difficult offense to deal with."
The Seahawks pass defense numbers aren't great in terms of raw numbers (273.3 passing yards per game), though a lot of the yards they've given up have come with the Seahawks leading, and opposing quarterbacks have a below-average 87.5 passer rating against Seattle. Keeping that receiving duo in check will fall to a number of players, but most notably to cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin, who is having a great 2019 season, and Tre Flowers, who is expected back after missing last week's game with a neck injury. Prior to that injury, Flowers had seen his play improve in recent weeks.
The Seahawks likely won't completely shut the duo of Evans and Godwin down, but if Griffin, Flowers and the rest of the secondary can keep the explosive plays in check, that will go a long way towards Seattle's defense having a good day.
2. Chris Carson and the run game vs. a stout run defense.
The Seahawks should have an opportunity to throw the ball against Tampa Bay, as the Bucs are allowing 285.9 passing yards per game, the second highest total in the NFL. But for the offense to be at its best, the Seahawks will want to run the ball effectively as well, and getting that done is no easy task against a talented Buccaneers front seven.
Chris Carson is having a great year, rushing for 659 yards through eight games, including four 90-plus yard games in the past five weeks. But the Buccaneers have been very difficult to run against all season, holding opponents to just 3.0 yards per carry and 68.6 rushing yards per game, both of which lead the NFL.
"It's a heavy box," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "They've got a bunch of guys up in the front. They're extremely big and powerful up in the front. Again, if there's a bigger tandem than (Vita) Vea and (Ndamukong) Suh and those guys, you don't find it very often. The scheme is built to try to make you want to hand it to stop the run. That's the way (defensive coordinator Todd Bowles) kind of creates things. They just play really well. The two linebackers are really good at filling gaps, [Devin] White and [Lavonte] David. The two edge players—JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) coming back certainly helps them last week—(Carl) Nassib and (Shaquil) Barrett on the other side of them, they're not just pass rushers; they're good run defenders. I think some of it's scheme. Some of it's personnel. They're big and strong. They're hard to move."
Again, this might be a game where the Seahawks have more success throwing the ball, but if they can have success running against Tampa's stout run defense, it could lead to a very good day for the offense.
3. The turnover battle.
While the Buccaneers have an explosive offense led by quarterback Jameis Winston and his dangerous receivers, they have also been prone to turning the ball over, which could give the Seahawks a big edge on Sunday. While the Bucs are minus-five in turnover differential, thanks in large part to 17 giveaways, the Seahawks are plus-seven, tied for the third best mark in the NFL.
Turnovers have been a particularly big issue of late for Tampa Bay, which has turned it over 11 times in the past two weeks. Winston, meanwhile, has thrown 12 interceptions, tied for the most in the league with Cleveland's Baker Mayfield, who the Seahawks intercepted four times in Week 6.
"We have a couple turnovers each week that shouldn't happen because guys aren't on the same page, still learning in this offense," Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said on a conference call with Seattle-area media. "That part we've been working on. We're moving the ball and gaining a lot of yards, but not scoring enough points. We're turning it over way too much."
The Seahawks have won the turnover battle in five of eight games this season, been even once and in the negative twice. If Russell Wilson, who has just one interception against 17 touchdown passes, and the rest of the offense take care of the ball like they usually do, the Seahawks should have a very good chance to win the turnover battle and give themselves a big advantage in Sunday's game.