The Seahawks host the Indianapolis Colts in primetime Sunday, and are looking to bounce back from a tough loss in Tennessee when they face an unfamiliar opponent.
“We have a new team that we are learning this week in Indy,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “A team we haven’t played in a while. So it is a good challenge for us coming back home. We’ve got a lot of work to do to figure these guys out and how they are playing. They have a new quarterback and also it’s a good challenge for us.”
With both teams looking to get on track after 1-2 starts, here are three key matchups that could make a difference in Sunday’s game:
1. Colts QB Jacoby Brissett and a young offense against a primetime environment at CenturyLink Field.
Jacoby Brissett has played well since being traded from New England to Indianapolis, but as his own head coach pointed out this week, he hasn’t seen anything quite like the crowd and the defense he’ll face in Seattle Sunday night.
The Seahawks defense is a formidable enough foe in any environment, but add to that the noise of CenturyLink Field, especially during a night game when fans have more time to, um, warm up, and primetime games in Seattle become a very unenviable task for opposing offenses.
During Pete Carroll’s tenure in Seattle, the Seahawks are 19-3-1 in primetime games, including a 12-1 record at home.
“We’ve got a really young football team and we will bring a bunch of guys that have never been in an environment like this and play an opponent like this,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “It’s so hard.”
“You try to do as much as you can (to prepare for noise), especially for our offense. The crowd noise, to try and simulate it. It’s impossible to get close to it, we know how difficult and what a great job that they do. It comes down to execution. It comes down to focus. If you play well and you are fortunate enough to get off to a good start and you have some early success, you can calm some of that down, so really just for those guys, they have to know their job inside and out. They got to know the opponent inside and out. Then they just got to go play and they have to stay focused and they can’t control all that stuff. But what they can control is their fundamentals, is their technique, their eyes, their footwork, their hands and just stay laser focused.”
While the Colts haven’t been to CenturyLink Field since 2005, there are a few players on their offense who know a thing or two about playing in Seattle. Running back Robert Turbin and tight end Brandon Williams both played in Seattle, while veteran back Frank Gore knows the Seahawks well having spent most of his career in the NFC West with the 49ers.
“He will be a great asset for our young guys and kind of educating them throughout the week on what to expect,” Pagano said of Gore.
2. T.Y. Hilton and the threat of big plays against Seattle’s defense.
One of the most important things to Pete Carroll when it comes to defense is presenting big plays, so he has been less than thrilled, to say the least, with the long touchdowns and runs his team has given up in the past two games, including a 61-yard run to the 49ers, a 55-yard touchdown pass against Tennessee and a 75-yard touchdown run in that same game.
“We’ve made a couple of big mistakes and they’ve really cost us,” Carroll said. “Really fine running backs have been able to take advantage of it, and really maximize them…We’re concerned, yeah, we’re concerned that we don’t want that to happen anymore. We want to get rid of that, we played such a perfect first half of run-fits, and then it was just a couple of similar plays in the second half that we didn’t hit right, different looks from the defensive side, but we were just so on it.”
While giving up big plays is far from ideal, the Seahawks do feel like that’s an easier fix than if they were just being overmatched at the line of scrimmage.
“It was very weird,” safety Kam Chancellor said. “I don’t know what else to say. It was weird, it was uncommon. It’s stuff we can fix. It’s self-inflicted problems, we can definitely fix it.”
And while more of the big plays have come in the running game, the biggest threat this week comes in the form of veteran Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, who is averaging 18.5 yards per catch this season. Hilton is coming off of a seven-catch, 153-yard performance last week, and when he faced Seattle in 2013, he had five caches for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“He’s small, he’s fast, he’s shifty, and explodes in and out of his breaks,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “Obviously, he has great top-end speed, so you have to be aware of where he is on the field at all times.”
3. Seattle’s offensive momentum vs. a Colts defense still finding its way.
The Colts like the young talent they have added on defense, but they’re also a pretty young group—amazingly, they had 11 new starters on defense in Week 1—and have struggled a bit this season, allowing 30 points and 369.3 yards per game.
Regardless of the opponent, the Seahawks would feel pretty confident about their offense’s chances of performing well based off what they did Sunday in Tennessee. While the Seahawks struggled early in that game, punting on their first six possessions, they bounced back to score four touchdowns on their final seven possessions.
“We got better,” offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable said. “That’s all I care about. In September, you want to get better and you want to win. In October you want to get even better and you want to win. And by November and December, you want to be as good as there is. That’s how you do this. So you don’t panic over this; you want to get better. That means you’ve got to eliminate distraction, stay true to the game every snap, then go play your butts off.”
Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Colts as the two teams ready to face off during Week 4 at CenturyLink Field.