The Seahawks head to Kansas City for what is expected to be a chilly Christmas Eve matchup with the Chiefs—Saturday's forecast calls for a high of 18 degrees—a game that is big for Seattle's playoff hopes. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have already clinched the AFC West, but still have plenty to play for with the No. 1 seed and first-round bye still up for grabs.
As the Seahawks look to get back on track and improve up on their 7-7 record, here are five things to watch in Saturday's game at Arrowhead Stadium:
1. Who steps up in Tyler Lockett's absence?
The Seahawks have rarely played without Tyler Lockett during his career—he has missed just one regular season game due to injury in his eight-year career, and another due to COVID-19—but they are preparing to do so this weekend after Lockett fractured a bone in his hand in last week's game leading to surgery that should allow him to make a quick return, possibly as soon as next week.
While Lockett won't be out long, playing even one game without him will present a big challenge for Seattle's offense, which has come to rely on one of the NFL's best pass-catchers, particularly in big moments such as crucial third downs and in the red zone.
The good news for the Seahawks is that they still have an elite receiver in DK Metcalf, and there's also confidence that the likes of Marquise Goodwin, Laquon Treadwell, Dareke Young, Penny Hart will collectively step up and fill the void. The Seahawks also know they can count on their tight ends to make contributions in the pass game.
More than anything, the Seahawks know it needs to be a collective effort to fill in for Lockett, and not a case of one player trying to replace all of his production.
"You miss him, but you know that everyone else will step up, and it's not going to be one person that fills that role," offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said. "… We are looking for everyone to step up a little more and fill in from DK to Dareke to Marquise, Laquon, Penny, and all of the guys that can step up and fill that void that Tyler has left a little bit this week. We know that it won't be one person, it will be a collective effort."
2. Can the Seahawks get the running game going on a day when it could be tough to throw the ball?
Regardless of circumstances, the Seahawks always prefer to have a balanced attack on offense, but with their leading receiver sidelined and with freezing temperatures expected that could make it a little tougher to throw and catch the ball, this would be a particularly good time for the Seahawks to have a productive running game.
After running the ball well during a four-game winning streak, the Seahawks have struggled to establish the ground game in recent weeks, rushing for 90 or fewer yards in five straight games. The good news is that there were signs of progress last week, albeit in limited carries, with the Seahawks averaging 5.0 yards per rush.
The hope on Saturday is that the wind doesn't become a factor, in which case the cold weather shouldn't make too big of a difference, but if conditions do make it challenging to throw the ball, the Seahawks know they'll need more out of the rushing attack.
"It's crucial to have the balance that you need so that if (weather) does dictate the action of the play, then we have to be able to manage that in that manner," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We are on it."
As for the recent struggles in the running game, Carroll said. "It just has not been clean like we wanted to. Those guys are still working hard and busting their tails, but more than anything, we just need to keep doing it. We just need to keep doing it, taking our swings, and the plays will pop. I just want more frequency."
3. Can the defense limit the damage of the Mahomes-to-Kelce connection?
The Chiefs have the league's No. 1 offense in total yards, passing yards and scoring for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the presence of head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. But when it comes to what makes the Chiefs offense go once the ball is in play, there's no denying that the two biggest factors are quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a leading candidate for MVP honors this season, and tight end Travis Kelce, an eight-time Pro-Bowler who has eclipsed 1,000 yards in seven straight seasons, including this year with a team-leading 1,144 yards and a career-best 12 touchdowns.
"It's the two of them," Carroll said. "They both are great players and are great awareness players, and they just make things happen out of the normal stuff. They are impeccable. That's the rhythm stuff in the zones, and he's all over the place and available to the quarterback, but it's the other stuff too. There's a play where Patrick gets messed up and he spins around, coming off the ball, Kelce goes to the ground, gets up, doesn't feel like he's in the play. The play is still going on and then he takes off across the field and Patrick hits him down by the goal line. It's just amazing stuff to watch. Unusual things happen when those guys play and that's why they are so unique and special. The 12 touchdowns and 90-something catches are for a reason."
The Seahawks know it's not realistic to expect to completely shut down Mahomes and Kelce, but they do know it's important to limit the damage when Mahomes looks to extend plays and take a shot down field.
"It's his ability to extend plays," said outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, who knows the Chiefs well after spending four seasons in the AFC West with the Chargers. "He's been doing that since he entered the league, even in college, just being able to leave the pocket, keep his eyes down field and make great throws. He's got great arm talent, and he also can run. People sleep on him for how athletic he is, but he can run and get first downs. He's just an athlete.
"You have to rush more with eyes and awareness. It's not just beating the tackle with a move, because Patrick Mahomes is not going to be there if you beat the tackle cleanly. So it's more rushing with vision, keeping him in the pocket as long as you can, and just effort, strain. Because if he holds the ball, he'll look for the big play. He will hold the ball, so we have to keep giving maximum effort."
4. Can the Seahawks get back to winning the turnover battle?
The Seahawks have historically been among the league leaders in turnover differential during Pete Carroll's tenure in Seattle, and have been in the positive in that category for most of this season as well, but of late the Seahawks have both struggled to create turnover and to take care of the ball. The Seahawks still have not played a turnover-free game this season, but while for much of the season they would have one a game, they have seven in the last four games, including a game-changing fumble last week. The defense, meanwhile, went from having multiple takeaways in 10 of the first 12 games, to having none in the past two games.
If there is a weakness in the league's top offense, it's that the Chiefs have been somewhat turnover prone, a big factor in Kansas City playing a lot of close games. Last week, two turnovers led to Houston touchdowns, a big reason the one-win Texans took Kansas City to overtime, and over the past four games the Chiefs have committed eight turnovers.
And while there are no guarantees that winning the turnover battle will lead to victory, it's certainly a great place to start when on the road and facing one of the league's top teams. Carroll noted that his team needs to play a clean game to beat the Chiefs, and a huge factor in that will be taking care of the ball, and taking advantage of any opportunities the Chiefs present if they're careless with the ball.
"We've got to play really sharp football across the board," Carroll said. "We have to take advantage of all the opportunities that we get to. We've got to catch the interceptions. We've got to stay onsides and not give them things. We have to make them have to work and play a championship style game. If we can do that, now we are getting to our capabilities. Other than that, we have come up short. We keep knocking our head against the wall with a play here and a play there and haven't gotten rid of all of the stuff that would allow you to play a great championship style game. So, it's clean, sharp, focus, discipline, and the precision have to be there. Particularly in this game, this is a great game for us, but if we don't play like that, they beat you. They are too good. We have to play a great football game. That doesn't mean we have to kill them; we have to do right throughout. So, that's really what we are trying to do across the board; don't give them this play and that play in a tight ballgame. It will make it harder to get the win."
5. Will Seattle's special teams play again be a factor?
Early this season, the Seahawks made some critical errors on special teams, ones that on multiple occasions led to opponent touchdowns. Since getting those disaster plays out of their system, however, the Seahawks have been outstanding on special teams in everything from Jason Myers' Pro-Bowl season to Michael Dickson's punting to the coverage teams to, of late, the spark Godwin Igwebuike has provided as a kick returner.
Seattle's special teams play has been so good of late that the analytics site Football Outsiders moved them to No. 1 in special teams play in their DVOA rankings. Much like turnovers can be game-changers on the road against a good opponent, so too can plays on special teams that can swing field position and set up scores.
"We have really good skill guys kicking the ball—the kicking and punting have been fantastic and they can do everything that anybody can do," Carroll said. "That's the highlight of it, but what it is, is the core group that Tracy (Smith) and Larry Izzo put together out there. They have a really good, complementary group of guys led by (Nick) Bellore, but Cody (Barton), Tanner (Muse), and now Jon Rhattigan is back out there doing stuff. All of the guys that have contributed, we have really good perimeter play, gunners and hold up guys. It's just a really well rounded, well executed group that rarely has big errors and penalties are not a big factor for us, we are really good at that. It's just a complete group."
Four Seahawks were named to the 2023 Pro Bowl roster today: safety Quandre Diggs (starter), kicker Jason Myers (starter), quarterback Geno Smith, and cornerback Tariq Woolen. Take a look at photos of the Pro Bowlers from throughout the 2022 season.