The Seahawks will host the Kansas City Chiefs and their top-ranked offense at CenturyLink Field on Sunday Night Football, a game with big playoff implications for both teams. The Seahawks (8-6) are still looking to secure a wild card berth, while the Chiefs (11-3) are already playoff bound, but are still trying to clinch the AFC West and a possible first-round bye.
If the Seahawks are going to win a fourth straight home game and take a step closer to the playoffs, these are three matchups that could make a difference Sunday night:
1. The league’s No. 1 rushing offense against a defense that struggles to stop the run.
While discussing the decision to bolster running back depth with the signing of Bo Scarbrough, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll noted that “we’re serious about running the football.” That’s something that anyone paying attention to this season should have noticed by now about the 2018 Seahawks.
Through 14 games, Seattle ranks first in rushing yards per game (154.9), second in rushing attempts (32.6 per game), and is tied for seventh in average yards per carry (4.7). So regardless of the opponent, it’s a safe bet that the Seahawks head into any given weekend hoping to run the ball, but this game in particular is one in which the Seahawks will likely try to run the ball early and often.
For all the Chiefs have done well on offense this year, their defense has struggled to stop opponents, and that has been especially true when it comes to the running game. Opponents are averaging 5.0 yards per carry against the Chiefs this year, tied for the highest total in the NFL, and five different teams have rushed for more than 170 yards against them, including two of their last three opponents.
If the Seahawks can run the ball well, that won’t just help their offense; sustained drives that feature a lot of running plays can also eat up a lot of clock, which in turn can limit possessions for a Chiefs offense that leads the NFL in both total yards (427.3 per game) and scoring (35.6 points per game).
2. Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s passing game against a potentially depleted Seahawks secondary.
As mentioned above, the Chiefs are having a spectacular season on offense with second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading the way. In his first year as a starter, Mahomes has thrown for an NFL leading 45 touchdowns, 4,543 yards and has a 114.8 passer rating.
Much like Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Mahomes can beat a defense in a number of ways, including by making big throws on the run after scrambling.
“He’s young, he’s really good, really strong arm,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “You see him just barely move his arm and the ball will go 50 yards. He’s really confident and he’s made a lot of plays so his confidence is continually building but he’s done some amazing things.”
Mahomes’ weapons include Travis Kelce, who has 10 touchdown receptions and who leads all NFL tight ends with 1,220 receiving yards, as well as Tyreek Hill, who has 1,304 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns and who is one of the league’s fastest receivers.
“We’ve got to do a great job on their really classy receivers,” Carroll said. “Kelce and Hill are just unbelievably talented guys having great years. So there’s a lot of issues here. I think our guys will be ready to do this.”
The Seahawks will be as ready as possible for the Chiefs, but what they won’t be able to do is field a secondary that is playing at full strength. Free safety Tedric Thompson, who took over the starting job after Earl Thomas broke his leg in Week 4, has been ruled out due to chest and ankle injuries, while strong safety Bradley McDougald is questionable due to the knee injury that caused him to exit last week’s game in the first half. Left cornerback Shaquill Griffin is also listed as questionable due to a hip injury, but after Friday's practice in which Griffin was a full participant, Carroll said Griffin is "ready to go."
Seattle’s options at safety include Delano Hill, who took over for McDougald last week, as well as Shalom Luani and Maurice Alexander.
3. Kansas City’s pass rush against Seattle’s offensive line.
While the Seahawks want to run the ball on Sunday, they’re going to have to throw it too, and that means trying to protect Russell Wilson from one of the league’s top pass-rushes. For all the struggles the Chiefs have had on defense, allowing the second most total yards, most passing yards and fifth most points in the NFL, they are capable of making big plays on defense in large part due to a very strong pass rush. The Chiefs have sacked opposing quarterbacks 46 times, the second highest total in the NFL, and have two players with double-digit sack totals, Chris Jones, who has 14, and Dee Ford, who has 11.5. And those aren’t the only players capable of rushing the passer—Justin Houston, who once recorded 22 sacks in a single season (2014), has 6.5, while Allen Bailey has 6.0.
One of the biggest ways the Seahawks can mitigate that pass rush will be to keep the score close or to play from ahead. In addition to all the pass-rushing talent the Chiefs have, they also have been able to pile up big numbers because opponents have been playing from behind so often this season.
“Really good pass rushers, obviously,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “They’ve got Jones inside, he can be dominant at times—is dominant at times. Dee Ford, explosive—undersized guy but explosive, unbelievable motor. And then, of course, Justin Houston. You just look at what he’s done over his career, it’s pretty much enough said about that. They’ve been up in a lot of games, so you obviously get to where you’ve got to throw it to catch up and stuff like that. That plays into their hands a little bit.”
The Seahawks and Chiefs will meet for the 52nd time in the regular season this Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Take a look back at photos from past games played between the two teams.