The Seahawks (6-1) head to Buffalo (6-2) this weekend for a showdown between two division-leading teams, and as is usually the case for games against AFC opponents, there's isn't much familiarity between the teams.
"They're a new team for us and we have to kind of figure them out, see the schemes and make sense of it all," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "But this is a winning club, they know how to win football games. They've got playmakers, and they're really a solid team. So it's a really good matchup for us. To go on the road as far away as we can go, just about, it's a good challenge for us."
If the Seahawks are going to earn another road victory, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game at Bills Stadium:
1. Who wins on third down?
The Seahawks are coming off of their best offensive performance on third down this season, converting on 9 of 15 attempts, but this week's opponent has been the best third-down offense all season, with the Bills converting on a league-best 51.6 third downs. A big part of that third-down success has been the play of Josh Allen, who in addition to having one of the strongest arms in the league is also a threat to make plays with his legs.
"They're really creative and they do a nice job with the stuff they do, but I really think it comes back to the quarterback," Carroll said. "He just does a great job of making things happen, for second shots in the passing game, and then taking off and running. He's a load to tackle and to get down. It's hard to sack him. So he's really the show, and when you watch him play you're going to see the QB, he's just going to catch your eye, he going to make things happen. He's got a knack about going for it in difficult situations and he likes to go physical and run the football tough. So I think the combination of the throwing game, of course—and good receivers they have—scheme wise and all that, when you have a guy that can make first downs with his legs, it makes it really hard, and then he's just really good at it."
While the Seahawks' numbers on third down for the season aren't great—they rank 26th at 39.2 percent—it's worth pointing out that the league's highest-scoring offense hasn't had to cover well on third down because the Seahawks are good at getting first downs on first and second down, having only faced 74 third downs, the second fewest in the league. But as last week showed, the Seahawks can succeed on third down, and they will be facing a Bills defense that ranks 30th on third down, allowing opponent to convert at a 50.6 percent rate. Seattle's defense has been better, but not by a huge amount, ranking 23rd at 48.4 percent.
2. Bills WR Stefon Diggs vs. Seattle's secondary.
While the Bills are something of an unknown since the Seahawks haven't played them since 2016, their No. 1 receiver is very familiar to Seattle. Prior to joining the Bills in an offseason trade, Diggs played for Minnesota and faced the Seahawks three times, including in each of the past two seasons. The Seahawks have done pretty well in those three meetings with Diggs, limiting him to 10 catches and no touchdowns, but one of the key players in that effort the past two seasons, cornerback Shaquill Griffin, will not play due to a hamstring injury. The Seahawks will welcome back to their secondary All-Pro safety Jamal Adams, which obviously will help the defense, but slowing down Diggs, who ranks second in league in receiving yards with 695 and third in catches with 54, will be a big challenge for Seattle's secondary.
"Stefon is really a good player at doing everything—route running, catching and running, getting deep, making the big catch," Carroll said. "He's a fantastic football player and true number one."
3. Seattle's improving pass rush vs. Buffalo's pass protection.
The Seahawks managed only nine sacks through their first six games, and the inability to affect opposing quarterbacks was an issue for the defense, but with a blitz-heavy approach, the Seahawks had their most productive pass-rushing game last weekend, sacking 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo three times and hitting him eight times a week after they did not have a quarterback hit or sack against Arizona.
And for as productive as Seattle's pass rush was last week, particularly when Bobby Wagner was blitzing, the Seahawks have good reason to believe they will get better there because of some of the pieces they're adding this weekend. Safety Jamal Adams, who two sacks in the first two games, is back from a four-game absence, and defensive end Rasheem Green could be activated from injured reserve before the game. And perhaps most significantly, the Seahawks will play their first game with defensive end Carlos Dunlap II, a two-time Pro-Bowler who was acquired in a trade with Cincinnati.
"It's a beautiful thing," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said of adding Dunlap and getting Adams back. "I take my hat off to the young men who stepped up and really played well until our starters came back. But it's really good to see some familiar faces, really good to see a big, long pass-rusher on the field with us. We're really excited about having all the new faces on our group."
Continuing the pass-rush momentum against Buffalo won't be easy, however. Not only do the Bills have a good offensive line, but they also have a quarterback who is difficult to bring down because of his mobility and strength, and as a result, Allen has been sacked only sacked 13 times, including just five in his last five games.