The Seahawks head east for their penultimate road game of 2020, a matchup that looks a lot more challenging now than it might have midway through the season. Washington Football Team started the year with a 1-5 record, and was 2-7 through nine games, but has turned things around in impressive fashion in its first season under head coach Ron Rivera. Since losing two straight coming off its bye, Washington has won four in a row, and now leads the NFC East with a 6-7 record.
"We've played against (Rivera-coached teams) for years, and they've always been a really well-balanced team in all aspects," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They're really solid on special teams. They're committed to running the football. The quarterback doesn't get sacked. They're fighting to hang on to the ball like you're supposed to in this game, and they always play terrific defense. It just makes for a really well-balanced club that you're going against… They're a dangerous club."
The Seahawks, meanwhile, are 9-4 and can clinch a playoff berth with a win this weekend. If the Seahawks are going to earn another road victory, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game.
1. Washington's loaded pass-rush vs. Seattle's pass protection.
Washington used the No. 2 overall pick on defensive end Chase Young, and he has lived up to the billing, but he's hardly alone in making that defensive line so dangerous. Montez Sweat, a 2019 first-round pick, leads the team in sacks with seven, while veteran Ryan Kerrigan is still a threat at the age of 32, having contributed 5.5 sacks this year. And Washington also has some dangerous interior linemen in 2018 first-round pick Da'Ron Payne and 2017 first-round pick Jonathan Allen. With that unit leading the way, Washington has 40 sacks this season, tied for fourth most in the league, including 24 sacks since Week 7.
"It's really the whole unit that really makes this thing move," Carroll said. "They're just loaded. They're able to play a lot of base defense and be really effective with their four-man rush but also how they play the run, too. It's built around those guys. It's a real challenge to have that kind of quality on the edge just makes such a difference, and Jack (Del Rio) knows what he's doing with making those guys available for a whole lot of outside edge type rushing. It's what all the coaches are looking for."
While the Seahawks will always feel good about Duane Brown at left tackle, they head into the game with uncertainty on the other side of the line, as right tackle Brandon Shell is a game-day decision due to an ankle injury that knocked him out of last week's game, and that kept him from practicing this week.
In addition to needing their line to hold up, the Seahawks also will need to keep the Washington pass-rush in check via their play-calling and with Russell Wilson's decision making. It also would benefit Seattle to keep Washington's pass-rushers honest with the running game, which leads to item No. 2.
2. Chris Carson and the Seahawks running game vs. Washington's front seven.
The Seahawks rushed for 174 yards last week, their second highest total of the season, and they could very well be looking to have a similar balanced approach this week facing such a dangerous pass rush.
And while the Seahawks haven't run the ball as frequently in 2020 as in past season, they're still more than capable of it, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, the seventh best mark in the league. And with Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde getting healthier, the Seahawks should have what it takes to run the ball more frequently on Sunday if they choose to go that route. Carson in particular looked very good last week, rushing for 76 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, and while his touches are down this year, he is averaging a career-best 5.1 yards per carry in 2020, and has matched his career high with nine total touchdowns despite missing time due to a foot injury.
Washington is strong just about everywhere on defense, and that holds true when it comes to a run defense that ranks ninth in the NFL (108.8 yards per game). The numbers have been drastically different in wins vs. losses, however. Washington is giving up just 66.5 rushing yards per game in its six wins, having allowed over 100 rushing yards in a win only once, while opponents are averaging 142 yards per game on the ground in Washington's seven losses.
3. The battle of the second-year receivers.
No, DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin won't actually be lining up against each other—barring something very unusual taking place—but these two receivers from the 2019 draft class will both be very important for their team's offensive success.
Metcalf, the 64th overall pick, and McLaurin, the 76th overall pick, were the ninth and 12th receivers taken in last year's draft, but they've been the most productive pass-catchers in their class over the past two seasons.
Metcalf, who is second in the NFL with 1,180 receiving yards, will be facing a Washington pass defense that allows only 206.3 passing yards per game, the third best mark in the league.
McLaurin, who has 73 catches for 1,001 yards this season, is his team's leading receiver by a large margin, and he could be even more important to Washington's offensive success this week with leading rusher Antonio Gibson listed as doubtful due to a toe injury.
"He's really good," Carroll said. "We really liked him because of his toughness and play making. He has great speed. Just a stud of a guy and a great kid. We liked the heck out of him coming out. I'm not surprised. He was one of the guys I felt really confident that if we put him on the club he would be a terrific player. He's their guy. He's legit. He's doing a great job."
The Seattle Seahawks take on the Washington Football Team for Week 15 of the 2020 season, the 18th meeting between the two teams. Take a look back at some of their previous matchups.