The Seahawks are looking to bounce back from last week's loss at New Orleans when they host the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. The Seahawks have an NFL-best .733 win percentage on Monday night, and have won 10 straight, and in another encouraging trend, the Seahawks are 27-6 in November and December going back to the 2012 season. Hoping to end Seattle's Monday night streak is a 4-4 Buffalo Bills team that has been inconsistent, but looked very impressive at times this year, particularly during a four-game winning streak in which they beat Arizona, New England, Los Angeles and San Francisco by double digit margins.
For the Seahawks to continue their Monday night and late-season success, here are three key matchups they'll want to win:
1. Buffalo's rushing attack vs Seattle's front seven.
Bills running back LeSean McCoy is expected to make it back from a hamstring injury in time to face the Seahawks, which is good news for Buffalo's offense, and dangerous news for Seattle's defense. With McCoy in the backfield alongside mobile quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the Bills have one of the league's best rushing attacks, averaging 154.1 rushing yards per game, which ranks second in the NFL, and a league-best 5.5 yards-per-carry.
Not only is McCoy one of the most explosive ball-carries in the NFL, having rushed for 598 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards-per-carry, but the Bills also have a dangerous threat in quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who has rushed for 319 yards and three touchdowns this season, averaging an impressive 6.9 yards-per-carry.
"Tyrod is a big factor, he's averaging (6.9) yards a carry, he's run the ball almost 50 times already, and he's really a great addition to what they're doing," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "There's nobody more difficult to tackle in an open field than Shady (McCoy). He's just as tough as you can get. He's averaging 5.3 or something, (Mike) Gillislee is averaging 6.5, so everybody who's touching the ball is averaging halfway to a first down. This is a really difficult offense and a really committed, wide open running game. A lot of stuff that they do, it's a good challenge for our guys and it's the kind of challenge that our guys love. They're fired up about figuring it out and kind of unraveling the mystery of it, figuring out where the ball is going, and hopefully we do a nice job there."
The Seahawks will try to stop that rushing attack with a run defense that has been one of the best in the league again this season after leading the league in run defense last season. The Seahawks rank a respectable seventh in run defense, allowing 89.7 yards per game, but they have faced some committed running teams, and they're even better in terms of yards-per-carry allowed at 3.4, which is only one-tenth of a yard off the league lead.
"We pride ourselves in being able to run the football, and we know we've got a huge task in front of us, so it should be an interesting battle," Bills coach Rex Ryan said on a conference call with Seattle-area media. "They're outstanding in stopping the run, and I think we run the ball as well as anybody."
2. Seattle's pass protection vs. the Bills pass rush.
While the Seahawks still have plenty of things to clean up on offense, one encouraging sign has been the way the pass protection picked up where it left off after turning a corner midway through last season. After allowing 31 sacks through seven games in 2015, the Seahawks have given up only 12 this year, which is one off the league low.
Keeping that strong protection going will be a tough challenge this week, however, as the Bills bring to Seattle a pass-rush that has piled up a league-best 26 sacks. Lorenzo Alexander, who leads the NFL with 9.0 sacks, is questionable because of a hamstring injury, but even if he can't play, the diversity of Buffalo's pass-rush packages will be a challenge.
"They can get to the quarterback," Carroll said. "Alexander has nine, they got some guys that are bringing heat. The challenge is you're trying to avoid the negative plays and keep on track without that factoring in. Steady pressure usually effects the QB and how he sees things and his timing and all that… We have to handle it really well. We have to hopefully make them pay when they pressure because we see it, we pick it up and we get guys open, we take advantage of the one-on-one. That's kind of how it works."
Making things particularly challenging is the way defensive coordinator Rob Ryan mixes things up in terms of how his team blitzes and rushes the passer.
"The myriad of looks—Rex and Rob, they're known for all the different looks that they can give you," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "Different personnel groups, they don't just stay in one or two fronts, you're going to see a number of fronts, a number of different coverages. The one thing we go to is, what do we do well? We're going to do the things that we do well, that's what we'll end up running and we have to block whatever look is, because we've seen enough looks of different things, with the things that we know really well."
3. Seahawks running back C.J. Prosise vs. Buffalo's front seven.
Prosise isn't Seattle's starting running back, nor is he one of the big names on Seattle's offense like Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, but what the rookie running back could be is something of an X-factor in this game. In his second game back from a wrist injury, Prosise saw his role in the offense increase drastically, and finished the game with a team-high 80 receiving yards and added 23 rushing yards on four carries.
Carroll noted earlier in the week that the Seahawks are "just scratching the surface" with what Prosise can bring to the offense, and for a team looking to get its offense on track after back-to-back subpar performances, a versatile back like Prosise could be a difference-maker. A good pass-catching back can also be a quarterback's best friend against and aggressive pass rush like Buffalo's.
"We're beginning to get to see what he can do," Bevell said. "We've liked him from day one, the athleticism that he has, obviously saw him a couple times in the pass game, particularly came up big in the two minute drive there at the end. The running game, he just needs more looks at it. We like what we see, he showed some toughness on the sidelines a couple times, turned it up. He just needs to get more reps and continue to take a look at some of those runs."
Added Carroll: "We're really excited about his involvement and want to continue to keep him in the mix. He showed very well. I don't think the first game really showed us enough to know anything, I think the second game we saw a little bit more, and hopefully we'll just keep growing with him. I'm really excited, and this is his third preseason game. He's way behind. So we don't have all of the information that we need, but we're really excited about what he brings."
The Seahawks and the Bills have played each other 12 times throughout their history. Seattle is currently leading the series 7-5. The two teams will face off again this Monday Night during Week 9 at CenturyLink Field.