The Seahawks (5-3) are back home this weekend to host the Washington Commanders, a team that Seattle knows will come in and put up a good fight despite a 4-5 record.
"We've watched the Commanders during this early part of the season have a really close opportunity for them to be on the other end of this thing with the games they've played against Philadelphia," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, referring to the Commanders' two one-score losses to the Eagles. "They played two great games against Philadelphia and scored a ton of points and had a chance to win both of those games. It would've made a little difference in the NFL world. We have a lot of respect for them. We're seeing a quarterback, a young guy, Sam Howell; he's tough, they're leaning on him, they're giving him an opportunity to control the game and it's impressive the job that he's been doing, and you can tell that Eric (Bieniemy) really believes in him by the way that he's calling it. We feel that confidence that he's exuding and realize that we have to do a great job against this offense. On the other side of the ball, they've been tough, they're really good up inside and we've got our hands full there. It's going to be a terrific matchup for us, and we have to get our act together. We're on it."
With the Seahawks looking to turn things around following a tough loss in Baltimore, here are five things to watch in Sunday's game against the Commanders:
1. Can the Seahawks bounce back from a loss once again?
The Seahawks have won a lot more games than they've lost under Pete Carroll and John Schneider, and they've very rarely suffered lopsided losses like the one that occurred in Baltimore last weekend.
But for as long as Carroll has been coaching the Seahawks, he has worked hard to make sure his team doesn't let a previous result, positive or negative, affect how his team plays the following week, which is part of the reason the Seahawks have had a lot of success following losses. This season, for example, the Seahawks bounced back from a disappointing loss in the opener to win in Detroit over one of the NFC's top teams. And after a Week 6 loss in Cincinnati that featured several missed chances in the second half, the Seahawks rebounded to win their next two. And going back several years, the Seahawks have responded well to rare blowouts, winning at Dallas in 2017 following a 35-point loss to the Rams, the most lopsided loss the team has had under Carroll, and the year before that they beat the Rams a week after a 28-point loss to the Packers.
"It's a big matchup for us coming back, we have to get on track and get going," Carroll said. "… The week worked out very well. I like how it went, start to finish. We had a lot of juice this week, guys want to bounce back, they want to get right. (The team's leaders) did exactly what we needed them to do."
2. Will Geno Smith and the offense clean up the turnover issues?
Through four games, the Seahawks committed just one turnover, the fewest in the league at that point. Since then, however, they've struggled to take care of the ball, committing nine turnovers in the last four games, with the recent stretch of games also being the first time the Seahawks have committed multiple turnovers in four straight games since 2013.
Six of those turnovers have been Smith interceptions, while he has also lost two fumbles on sacks. Carroll and others have been quick to point out that the turnovers aren't all on Smith—some have had to do with protection issues, others with receivers not being in the right place—but as the player who has the ball in his hands on every play, Smith knows he needs to clean things up to help the Seahawks get back on track.
"We have to fix that," Smith said. "I have to fix it. It starts with me, I've got to fix it, can't have any more turnovers, can't have any more of those plays that put our defense in tough positions. I look forward to it. I think that's something that I know that I can fix, and I can correct. These are the only opportunities for me to continue to grow and to learn. I look forward to the next opportunity to really show that I can get those things corrected."
3. How does Seattle's pass defense fare against Washington QB Sam Howell and his weapons in the passing game?
While Ron Rivera coached teams have been known for their running games and defenses in the past, this year's team, with Eric Bieniemy taking over as offensive coordinator, has had one of the most pass-happy offenses in the NFL, with Washington having the most pass attempts and sixth most passing yards in the NFL, while they are averaging the fewest rushing attempts per game in the league (20.8).
Some of that is the philosophy Bieniemy brings with him from his time in Kansas City working under Andy Reid, but it also has to do with the offensive firepower the Commanders have in the passing game, with Sam Howell throwing to the likes of receivers Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel, and tight end Logan Thomas.
"He's got a great group," Carroll said of Howell's weapons. "Terry McLaurin is terrific. Logan is a premier-looking tight end. He's gone to those guys, and they have a lot of speed with the other guys that they go to." Both running backs that they feature, (Brian) Robinson (Jr.) and (Antonio) Gibson, are both really well equipped. They run hard, they run thick, so they've got a good complement to what they're doing there. They are really going for it in the throwing game. They've thrown the ball a hundred times more than we have already. They're really trying."
The Seahawks will counter with a pass defense that began making big improvements after a slow start in the first couple of games, especially with Devon Witherspoon and Jamal Adams returning from injuries, and also with the pass rush picking up steam beginning in Week 3.
And for as productive as Washington's passing game has been, there should be opportunities for Seattle's playmakers on defense, with Howell tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions, and with the Commanders having allowed 44 sacks, the second most in the NFL behind the Giants' 49, a total that includes 11 sacks by the Seahawks in Week 4.
And speaking of the pass rush…
4. Can Boye Mafe continue his streak?
While there wasn't a lot to like about last week's loss, one bright spot was the play of Boye Mafe, who after a solid rookie campaign in 2022 has emerged as one of Seattle's best players on defense in 2023. On Sunday, Mafe had a sack on which he forced a fumble and recovered the loose ball, a play that put him in the Seahawks record books with six consecutive games with a sack, tying a record set by Michael Sinclair. If Mafe can get another sack Sunday, he'll stand alone atop that list.
"It's been fun to watch," linebacker Bobby Wagner said of Mafe's breakout second season. "I've watched him from afar (last season). Seeing it up close and personal, watching how hard he works at practice, how hard he works at his pass rush moves, and being able to not get caught up in the records or all of these different things, just understanding that it's him doing what he normally does that's making all of this happen and ignoring the noise. That's been the most impressive thing because sometimes people get caught up in what they hear outside, and they try to force sacks. He's doing what he's supposed to, and the sacks are coming to him."
5. Can the Seahawks continue to thrive at home?
Since losing their season opener to the Rams, the Seahawks have won three in a row at Lumen Field, with the 12s doing their part by producing some of the most raucous environments felt in that building in years, especially in Week 3 when fans contributed to Carolina committing eight false-start penalties.
"We'll see what happens this weekend," Carroll said. "It's really just one week at a time but I'm thrilled that we put three (wins) back-to-back and got the rhythm for what it feels like playing in front of the 12s. They've helped us enormously and I know that they'll be there for us again. We have to make sure that we do our part."
If the Seahawks are going to reach their goals this season, they know they need to get back to consistently winning at home, and this week is another chance for the team and the fans to feed off each other and hopefully produce a winning formula. Fans can also show Howell, who is in his first year as a starter, just how loud an NFL crowd can be in Seattle. Earlier this week Howell stated that he had yet to experience crowd noise like he experienced in college while playing at North Carolina.
The Seahawks and Commanders face off on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Commanders.