With the Seahawks heading to Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans this weekend, Seahawks.com reached out to Jim Wyatt, the senior writer/editor for titansonline.com, to learn more about this week's opponent.
Below is a transcript of the conversation with Wyatt, who has covered the Titans since 1999 both for The Tennessean and later for titansonline.com:
Q: The Seahawks haven't faced the Titans since 2013, and haven't been to Tennessee since 2005. For fans who haven't been paying close attention to the AFC South, what kind of team are the Seahawks facing this week?
Wyatt: "What they want to be is a team that's going to play the smash-mouth brand of football where they can have an element of throwing the ball down the field as well. In Week 1 (a loss to Oakland), that didn't work as well as it did in Week 2. Against Jacksonville, I think the blueprint for that game is kind of what they want to do the rest of the way. They got the running game going, they were able to have success throwing down field, the defense created turnovers, and they got some plays out of their special teams unit. That's kind of what they did in a lot of game last year when they went from three wins in 2015 to nine wins in 2016. They want to keep that going in 2017."
Q: You've been around this franchise a long time, how much excitement is there about this year's team?
Wyatt: "It's the most buzz around the team going into a season since I think the early 2000s. This team went to the playoffs four times in five years from '99 to 2003, went to two AFC championship game at that time, and while they've had some moments since—2008 they started off 10-0 and went to the playoffs that year, in 2011 they finished 9-7—but it has been a while since they had such high hopes and fans were this excited. This team's not too far removed from winning two and three games in a season. Then to go from two to three to nine (wins last year), I think the expectation level is there for this team to take another step. That's easier said than done. They're going to have to start beating the Indianapolis Colts, a team they haven't beaten in a long time, they're going to have to start beating the Jaguars and Texans on a more consistent basis. The goal is to do better against the AFC South and to win the division, and then do that, you're in the playoffs and you give yourself a chance. I think the fanbase has high expectations for them just like the team has high expectations for itself."
Q: The Titans have drastically improved in turnover differential dating back to the midway point of last season, how big has that turnaround been for them?
Wyatt: "That's huge for them. One thing general manager Jon Robinson wanted to do this offseason was to get faster. He built a roster for Mike Mularkey and the coaches that should create more turnovers. They got a guy in Adoree' Jackson who will be quick to the ball, a guy in Jayon Brown who will be quick to the ball making plays, and the overall team speed is better. I think you're going to see more turnovers. Kevin Byard is a second-year safety who is playing a lot faster this year, and who will be making more plays as a result. You look at the whole defense, it's capable of making more plays than it did even last year."
Q: How important will it be for the Titans to establish a running game against a tough Seahawks defense?
Wyatt: "That's really key. I think the big question this week is who will be doing the pounding. Derrick Henry had a career-high of 92 rushing yards last week in Jacksonville, and he did the bulk of it in the second half when DeMarco Murray was on the sideline with a hamstring strain. They've been careful with DeMarco Murray since that game, I know Mike Mularkey has said that when he returns and is healthy that he'll continue to be the starter, but whether or not he is for this week's game remains to be seen. If he's not, it will be the Derrick Henry show, and he has proven when he has gotten the opportunity to play that he's capable of putting up some good numbers and doing the job himself."
Q: What has quarterback Marcus Mariota shown in Year 3?
Wyatt: "He got better from Year 1 to Year 2, and in Year 3, they've surrounded him with more playmakers. It's unfortunate to him that Corey Davis has not been available to him from the beginning, but they did sign Eric Decker as well, they drafted Taywan Taylor, they've got the offensive line back intact, and again, a running game that can be pretty formidable as well. So everything is there for him to keep getting better. One thing that's pretty remarkable has been his success against the NFC. He has played in seven games and thrown 18 touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 121.4. This is a big, big challenge this week against Seattle. It's going to be tough to have that same success, but I think he has gotten better with experience and I think he'll keep getting better."
Q: Any other players to keep an eye on this weekend?
Wyatt: "Adoree' Jackson is one guy who has added a big spark in the return game. He had a big play that helped turn the game last year when he had a 46-yard punt return that helped set the stage for a big second half. He's starting at corner, he has been explosive in the return game. He has brought a youthful exuberance to that defense and special teams, so he's one to watch, because he's just going to keep getting better."
Photos of the Seahawks playing the Titans throughout the years leading up to their Week 3 game at Nissan Stadium.