Sunday promises to be a special one at Lumen Field, with fans back for the first time for a regular season game since the end of the 2019 season. And the Seahawks' home opener should be a good matchup, with the defending AFC South champion Tennessee Titans coming to town. Yes, the Titans did lose big last week, but they'll be looking to rebound with a strong performance, and they have way too much talent, especially on offense, for the Seahawks to expect anything but a very tough test.
If the Seahawks are going to win their home opener to improve to 2-0, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game:
1. Two great WR duos vs. opposing cornerbacks.
DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett make up one of the best receiver duos in the NFL, and their combined talents can make life miserable for opposing defenses. Then again, the same can be said about Tennessee's duo of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, the latter of whom was acquired in an offseason trade.
Obviously Metcalf or Lockett won't be lining up across from Brown or Jones—though maybe it'd be fun if they did—but whichever tandem performs best could very well go a long ways towards determining which offense is able to do the most to help its team win.
Metcalf and Lockett combined for 160 yards and three touchdowns last week, including two spectacular first-half touchdowns for Lockett, a sign that those two are ready to pick up where they left off with Lockett setting a franchise record for receptions last year and Metcalf setting a team record for receiving yards.
"There is just a size and strength and speed element that (Metcalf) has," Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters in Nashville. "You got a big man that runs fast and is strong. I think if you get off balance, he has the ability to knock you by and use his strength and also some of his runs after the catch. There are a lot of problems, a lot of issues. Lockett is so in tune with the quarterback and their ability to hit plays down the field routinely, over and over again. Every game it seems like there is an amazing catch in the end zone or down the field or close to the sidelines that is really impressive.
"Lockett continues to be one of the best deep ball receivers that I can remember for his stature. He is a small guy that plays the deep ball extremely well."
Brown and Jones, meanwhile, are a new tandem looking to get on track after a game in which the Titans struggled on offense across the board. Brown, a teammate of Metcalf's at Mississippi and also a 2019 second-round pick, has eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons while scoring 19 touchdowns, and like his former college teammate, Brown's combination of speed and size makes him a formidable big-play threat. Jones, meanwhile, is one of the best receivers of his era, a seven-time Pro-Bowler who over the span of six years from 2014-2019 averaged 1,565 receive yards per season, which for some perspective, is more than 2,000 yards more than Metcalf's franchise-record total last season.
"They're incredible players, they are both great players," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They are both physical factors. A.J. is really tough, makes all of the plays, makes spectacular plays on the catch and run. Julio is like as good as you can get. That's a fantastic one-two punch, I don't who is one and who is two, but it doesn't matter. They are really, really good."
Seahawks cornerbacks D.J. Reed and Tre Flowers both played well against the Colts last week after emerging as the victors in a competition for the two starting spots that lasted throughout training camp, but this week's opponent will provide a much bigger test for those two.
"It's a real challenge," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "I think that the talent that Tennessee has at the receiver position is certainly a challenge and those guys really understand what's out there for them."
2. Seattle's pass rush vs. Tennessee's pass protection.
The Seahawks pass-rush depth that looked good in the preseason carried that over into the opener, with three different players—Darrell Taylor, Rasheem Green and Benson Mayowa—all recording sacks. Carlos Dunlap II also had a sack on an Indianapolis 2-point conversion attempt, though that doesn't count on the stat sheet. The Seahawks also recorded 10 quarterback hits and several other pressures to make life difficult on Colts quarterback Carson Wentz.
"We really feel like that's the strength of our unit," Norton said of the defensive line. "We have so many good players at that position. It's important for us to have a good rotation and keep everybody fresh and playing at a high level."
Now Seattle's pass rush will look to continue that success, this time with the 12s making noise to help them, against a Titans front that struggled last week, with Ryan Tannehill getting sacked six times, including five times by Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones.
Pro-Bowl Tackle Taylor Lewan and the rest of the line will look to bounce back after performance Lewan described as "awful."
"I don't want to go through that again," he told reporters. "Big couple days out here to definitely work on all that going into a very hostile environment with some very talented pass rushers."
3. Titans RB Derrick Henry vs. Seattle's run defense.
The good news for the Seahawks is that they started the year playing really good run defense against a talented running back, holding Jonathan Taylor to just 56 yards on 17 carries, and limiting the Colts to a 3.8 yards-per-carry average.
The not so good news? Seattle's run defense is facing an even tougher test this week with Derrick Henry, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, coming to town. Henry, like the rest of Tennessee's offense, was held in check last week, but nobody is taking the challenge of stopping him lightly, not with his rare combination of size, speed and elusiveness that makes him one the NFL's best players.
Henry has rushed for more than 3,500 yards and 33 touchdowns over the past two years, including 2,027 yards and 17 scores in 2020, and he has been particularly effective on the road in recent years. In Henry's last 16 road games over the past two seasons, he has rushed for 2,003 yards and 20 touchdowns, eclipsing 100 yards 11 times and 200 yards three times.
"I think it was a good step in the right direction," linebacker Bobby Wagner said of last weekend's performance against the Colts. "Especially for a lot of the guys that hadn't gotten (preseason) snaps, I think it was a good effort and good momentum into this game. We got to carry that. (Henry) is going to be difficult to take down. We have to make sure we've got our pads on, make sure we drive our feet and make sure we knock down that stiff arm… He's a hard guy to tackle, he's big. He's fast. He can do everything a lot of the smaller backs can do. If the quarterback doesn't see something down field, he's going to check down to him. He can fall forward and get five yards, so it's definitely going to be a challenge."
Added Carroll, "He's really unique. There have not been very many guys like him over the years because he's really fast, a big strider, and runs through things. It's not like he's an impact runner that's blasting off of guys, he keeps going, you can't get him off stride because he's such a powerful back. He has great instincts, his instincts of how to hit the line of scrimmage and how to use the opportunity of the blocking schemes is impeccable. He takes full advantage of what they do and they are really committed to running the football in their style. Their line blocks really well and their scheme is really good, so they know how to put him in the right spots. It's a really challenging guy and team to play against. Coach Vrabel wants to hard ball it, so it all fits together. They are very fortunate to have him, he's a fantastic competitor."
Photos of the Seahawks playing the Titans throughout the years, including their time as the Houston Oilers. The Seahawks face the Titans at Lumen Field during Week 2 of the 2021 regular season.