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Three Key Matchups: Seahawks at Raiders

CHANDLER’S CROSS, England—The setting will be different when the Seattle Seahawks face the Oakland Raiders at Wembley Stadium, but as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll noted earlier this week, “it will still be the same game as always.”

So regardless of where the game takes place, it will still come down to what team executes and can win some of these key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday’s game:

1. Seattle’s running game vs. Oakland’s run defense.

By getting their running game going the past three games, the Seahawks have found a style “that we’ve been seeking,” Carroll said. And even though Seattle lost a close game to the Rams in Week 5, the 190-yard rushing performance was a very positive sign for the offense moving forward.

Even more encouraging is that the Seahawks have been able to run the ball well with multiple backs, a sign that the entire running game is functioning well. Chris Carson went over 100 yards for the first time in his career three weeks ago, then when he missed a game with a hip injury, Mike Davis took over and had his own big game, only to have Carson come back with another 100-yard performance last week. Those three games marked the first time the Seahawks have had a 100-yard rusher in three straight games since Marshawn Lynch did it in four straight to close the 2012 season.

“I think it just shows you that we’re a pretty good running team,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “Both of those guys are really good players. They both are running very hard. They’re running with confidence. The line gets a lot of credit. Our tight ends—Nick Vannett has done a great job, throwing George (Fant) in there some last week was good for us. The receivers, they don’t get enough credit. You watch those guys work in the running game; they do an awesome job. Sometimes it’s hard for a receiver. You throw it 21 times and there’s not enough balls to go around but you watch the way that those guys compete in the running game and it’s pretty cool. It’s a philosophy, it’s a personality that all those guys have bought into and it’s just been cool to see us, when teams know we want to run it, that we can still do that.”

As Carroll has always said, he wants his teams to run the ball not just for yards those plays gain, but for what it does for the overall performance of the team in all three phases.

“We’ve always been seeking this kind of balance that you’re seeing now for years,” Carroll said. “I’ll go back to the USC days, we’ve always have been in the same mentality because of the philosophy of it. Because the running game does fit with the defense, does fit with special teams, and it all does fit together. When you can close the circle with a really aggressive, tough running game, then you really can make your style known. It’s a great formula and it has always been a winning formula for us. We were just a little bit out of it the first couple weeks of the season and we got rolling, got back on track. We can feel the connection of the whole team and how we’re trying to win our football game. It’s a good observation, it does affect the entire style of the way we play.”

The numbers suggest the Seahawks should be able to run the ball against Oakland, which ranks 28th in rushing yards allowed and 27th in yards-per-carry given up, but the Raiders have held two of their last three opponents to 79 and 41 yards. That the game in between those saw the Browns rush for 208 yards against the Raiders shows there are yards to be had, but Oakland’s defense has demonstrated at times it can be solid against the run.

2. David Carr and the Oakland passing game vs. Seattle’s pass defense.

One of the big storylines in this game will be Marshawn Lynch facing his former team, and indeed Lynch remains a very productive back even at the age of 32. But while stopping Lynch will certainly be a focus for Seattle, the toughest test might come against a passing attack that averages 316 yards per game. And Derek Carr has put up those prolific numbers while still completing 71.3 percent of his passes under Jon Gruden, who returned to coaching after nine years in the broadcast booth.

“They’re throwing the football really well,” Carroll said. “The quarterback is terrific—Derek Carr is a good player with all the ability you need. He’s got a great group to throw to. His receivers are fantastic. They’ve got a whole array of guys, different styles, big guys, speed guys—Amari Cooper is as talented as you can get, but what he’s really done is Jared Cook has really turned out to be their leading receiver and their go-to guy right now, which just makes those other guys even more difficult to cover. Marshawn (Lynch) in the back behind it all to run the football, it’s a really good looking offense with really highlighted players across the board.”

The Seahawks, meanwhile, rank sixth in passing yards allowed, giving up 226 yards per game, and fifth in opponent passer rating allowed at 79.3.

3. The turnover battle.

While Carr has done a lot of good things for Oakland’s offense, Gruden noted that his quarterback also has things he “has got to clean up and eliminate, no question.” In particular, Carr has thrown a league-high eight interceptions, contributing to Oakland’s minus-4 turnover ratio, which is tied for 28th in the league.

Cleaning that up won’t be easy against a Seahawks defense than has recorded nine interceptions, the second most in the league, including two more last week against the Rams. That number has helped the Seahawks get to plus-6 in turnover differential, which is tied for the second best mark in the league, but another reason Seattle is strong in that category is that its offense has gone three straight games without committing a turnover.

“You go week after week after week after week of not giving the football up, that’s a big deal; you can’t play ball any better than that,” Carroll said. “It’s a huge aspect towards being successful and we’re learning the respect that you have to have for the ball and how you take care of it. Russell (Wilson) has always been great at it. The young runners are doing a good job. Hopefully, we can just keep that going one more week and keep taking care of it. It’s an enormous asset when you can do that.”

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