After a long offseason, training camp and three preseason games, the NFL regular season is finally here, and for the Seahawks that means opening up the 2023 season with an NFC West clash against the Los Angeles Rams at Lumen Field.
"It's been a while getting here," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Offseason, preseason work, and all of that… It's really fun. Everybody is jacked up about it. We've had really successful work throughout the process of getting here, but all that doesn't mean nothing unless we go out and play good football. Our focus is to play really well, play clean in all areas and be accountable in all areas and do the kind of stuff that gets you good football. We've led up to this point on track to get that done, but now we have to finish the week and get ready. It's a huge week because it's the only week we've got."
Here are five things to watch as the Seahawks and Rams face off on Sunday:
1. How does a retooled run defense hold up against a tough opening test?
After ranking 30th against the run in 2022, the Seahawks made it a big priority to improve in that area this offseason. Some of the change has come in the form of personnel, with the Seahawks overhauling their defensive line, bringing in Dre'Mont Jones, Jarran Reed and Mario Edwards Jr. in free agency, while selecting Mike Morris and Cameron Young in this year's draft.
The Seahawks also made some subtle adjustment from a schematic standpoint that Carroll is hoping will lead to improvements against both the run and the pass, and when it comes to the run defense in particular, Sunday should represent a good first test. The Rams have made several changes to their roster on offense and defense, but one player who the Seahawks will know well is Cam Akers, who rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his last three games to close out the 2022 season, including 104 yards on 21 carries against Seattle in Week 18. With star receiver Cooper Kupp sidelined due to a hamstring injury, the Rams will have even more incentive to test out Seattle's run defense on Sunday.
"I'm expecting us to play better all around, and that starts with how we leverage the football and how we contain the game, pass and run on the edges," Carroll said of his defense. "The consistency that we stay with our fits in the running game, we just want to get better in all phases. I've hit it from the very first day about the overall basics of the game. That's playing really good force and containment, and leverage and staying on top and keeping the ball underneath us and all those kinds of things and make people work really hard and not give away anything. We hope to be very aggressive with that thought in mind but that's where the focus has been."
2. How much does the rookie class contribute?
A year after getting huge contributions from their rookie class, the Seahawks head into this season with 10 draft picks and 14 rookies on their roster. Most will be expected to contribute on Sunday, though No. 5 overall pick Devon Witherspoon is questionable due to a hamstring injury, while seventh-rounder Kenny McIntosh is out with a knee injury.
Plenty of other rookies will play and some will potentially play a lot, with Zach Charbonnet likely to see significant time at running back behind Kenneth Walker III, and with Derick Hall and Mike Morris expected to be parts of the rotation at outside linebacker and defensive line. Then, of course, there's first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who should have a big role in the offense.
"I've been working for this day for a long time with those guys, particularly in our language and our perspective and how we want to respond and deal with it and all of that," Carroll said. "We'll find out how we did, we'll find out if the guys are able to play like they're capable. That's really all, it's a simple ask in a sense, but it's way harder to do—anybody could do it if it was easy. I'm hoping the guys will do their part and play the game like we've been counting on, and play really hard and chasing around and doing all the cool stuff we've seen them do to get to this point. It's a very, very exciting young group of guys now. They're going to play, they're going to be out there."
3. How do the Seahawks limit the damage caused by Aaron Donald.
Aaron Donald, who will go down as one of the best defensive players in the sport's history, has been a menace to the Seahawks—and darn near every opponent, throughout his career, but he missed both meetings last season due to injury.
In 16 career games against the Seahawks, Donald has piled up 15 sacks, 24 tackles for loss 41 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles, and will no doubt be looking to start off the season strong to help bolster a young defense around him. While the Rams have a lot of young, unproven players on defense after a significant roster overhaul this offseason, the Seahawks know they have their work cut out for them thanks to the presence of No. 99.
"He's a great player and Aaron is going to have a chance to make his plays," offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said. "He's been at the top of his game at his position for a long time now. I don't see anything changing. I know the way he works, the way his mindset is. Whether he missed a few games at the end of last year or not, he's coming in ready to go. For us, I think the training, the technique, the stuff with Damien Lewis, with Evan (Brown), with Phil Haynes, the guys inside that will be matched up with him a lot, is trusting their technique. Trusting that they're also great players in this league. They've accumulated a lot of snaps as well. Obviously, a player of Aaron's stature, you have to have a plan for him, but then also making sure the plan for him doesn't take away from the rest of the game and the other guys that they have."
4. Bobby Wagner's return to Lumen Field in a Seahawks uniform.
OK, OK, so technically he played in the preseason a bit, and also in a mock game at Lumen Field, but Sunday's game is a more official return home for Wagner, who re-signed with the team this spring after one year with the Rams.
Wagner already got a nice ovation when he was introduced with the defense for Seattle's second preseason game, and figures to get an even bigger welcome this time around. It will be a special moment for the veteran linebacker for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that his last game in a Seahawks uniform saw him leave the field with an injury late in the 2021 season.
"My last play in a Seahawks uniform wasn't that positive," Wagner said. "God blessed me with an opportunity to right that, and I'm excited to do that."
5. Who starts at left cornerback, and is that competition settled?
Pete Carroll has said in recent weeks that the competition is still on at left cornerback, with Michael Jackson, last year's starter, battling with Tre Brown, who was a starter for part of his rookie season before suffering a torn patellar tendon.
Brown is currently listed ahead of Jackson on the depth chart, but Carroll did not say on Friday who will start, adding that whoever it is, both will play.
"It's a good battle, they're battling, it's a great battle," Carroll said last week. "Both guys can play, both guys can play. We can play with either one of the guys and it's not going to change things. Somebody's got to go out there, we'll see as we get through it."
If the Seahawks indeed rotate Jackson and Brown during the game, that would be a pretty good indication that the two are still competing for that job, while if it's almost all one or the other, then the position may be settled, for now at least.
The Seahawks and Rams face off for the first game of the regular season on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Rams.