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What To Watch In The Seahawks' Week 17 Game vs. The Pittsburgh Steelers

Players, matchups and storylines to watch when the Seahawks host the Steelers on Sunday.


The Seahawks host the Steelers Sunday in what is a crucial matchup for a pair of 8-7 teams battling for playoff spots. Seattle has won two straight since snapping a four-game losing streak, while Pittsburgh bounced back from three straight losses with a big victory over the Bengals last weekend.

"It's a championship matchup for us, and fortunately we're in that situation to see if we can generate another good ballgame and keep this thing moving along," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We're making some progress, we're doing some things better, some things we continue to work on that we'll try to get ironed out this week. Knowing that this club just came off a great victory over a division rival and played an amazing game, it's going to be hard. That's what we expect this time of year."

Here are five things to watch when the Seahawks host the Steelers in a matchup with big playoff implications for both teams:

1. Can the Seahawks keep taking care of the ball against one of the NFL's best teams at forcing turnovers?

The Seahawks have played turnover-free football in each of their past two games, and not coincidentally, they've also won two in a row. Carroll and his coaching staff preach the importance of ball security on Day 1 of training camp and continue to do so throughout each season, and for good reason—there's a very strong correlation between turnover differential and winning.

The Seahawks are now 5-1 this season when they do not commit a turnover, but staying turnover free against the Steelers will not be an easy task. Pittsburgh, which is tied for the NFL lead with a plus-10 turnover differential, has forced 24 turnovers this season, two off the league lead, including three in last week's win.

And if the Seahawks are going to take care of the football, this next item will be crucial…

2. Can the Seahawks limit the damage done by All-Pro pass-rusher T.J. Watt?

While turnovers can occur in a lot of different situations, the players who can create the most havoc are pass-rushers that can make life difficult on quarterbacks. And few pass-rushers, if any, present a bigger challenge than Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Two seasons ago, Watt tied the NFL record with 22.5 sacks on his way to Defensive Player of the Year honors, and after injuries limited him to 10 games in 2022, Watt is back to his disruptive self once again this season.

Through 15 games, Watt has an NFL-leading 17.0 sacks along with 33 quarterback hits, 58 tackles, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown, an interception and eight passes defensed.

The Seahawks' line has benefited from being as healthy as it has been all season in recent weeks, including the return of right tackle Abraham Lucas, but that unit will have its hands full Sunday.

"It starts with T.J. Watt, 17 sacks," quarterback Geno Smith said. "One of the better defensive players in the league. Great edge guy, a guy who has it all. He has the bull rush, he's got quicks on the edge. He's really good at punching the ball out, causing havoc, getting turnovers for them, and also great at batting balls at the line of scrimmage. Just being mindful of where he is at all times, knowing that we have to have a plan for him, and being able to make sure that he isn't impacting the game the way that he has, and then overall, a Mike Tomlin coached team. A defense that plays hard, that gives you multiple looks. They're going to go out there, they're going to fight, they're going to compete. They lead the league in turnover differential, they're plus 10 right now, and they get a lot of turnovers. You can see they're in a lot of close games, they figure out ways to win at the end, they keep believing and keep fighting, very similar to how we are, and we're built. A great defense, a lot of good players on that side, some young players, but another challenge. They've got (Alex) Highsmith on the other side, he's got seven sacks, and he's got two interceptions and a couple of forced fumbles. There's a couple of guys on that side we have to be very mindful of."

3.Does DK Metcalf continue his hot streak while likely shadowed by Joey Porter Jr.?

DK Metcalf is just two yards away from his third 1,000-yard season in five years, and has been playing vey well of late, with five touchdowns in the past four games, and with at least 50 yards in nine of the last 10, including games with 134, 98 and 94 yards.

Attempting to stand in the way of Metcalf and another big game will be rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr., who has been shadowing opponents' top targets in recent weeks, and who figures to spend a good portion of his afternoon on Metcalf.

An interesting subplot to that matchup is that it is between two players who are the sons of former NFL players, Joey Porter Sr. and Terrence Metcalf.

"He's a very smart corner, for him just being a rookie he's made a lot of plays and has taken on a lot of big receivers," Metcalf said of Porter. "It's going to be a fun matchup just going against him knowing his dad was a heck of a football player for the same organization, so I think it's going to be a good matchup."

4. Can Seattle's defense continue to limit explosive passing plays against George Pickens & company?

The Seahawks have held back-to-back opponents to 17 points, and a big factor behind the improvements on that side of the ball has been the way the defense has cut back on the explosive plays it allows. In a Week 14 loss to the 49ers, the Seahawks gave up 12 explosive plays, including four plays of more than 40 yards. In the two games since, Seattle has allowed a total of nine explosive plays, with a long of 23 yards.

"It's made a difference," Carroll said. "We've slowed down the throwing game considerably, and the points are down in a range that you can live with and all that. We've got a long ways to go here to make this season really something, but we've turned a corner that really is significant, I can tell and we all know that, so we're building on that."

Pittsburgh's offensive numbers don't jump off the stat sheet, but that doesn't mean they can't still test a defense as was apparent last week when the Steelers scored a season-high 34 points thanks in large part to their down field passing game, including touchdown receptions of 86 and 66 yards for second-year wideout George Pickens, who finished the game with 195 yards on just four catches.

5. Does Devin Bush take on a bigger role against his former team?

The Seahawks signed former Steelers first-round pick Devin Bush expecting him to compete for a big role in the defense, but thanks to Jordyn Brooks' remarkable comeback from last year's knee injury, Bush hasn't seen a ton of playing time on defense this season.

Bush took over for an injured Brooks last week and played most of the game, and with Brooks questionable for Sunday's game, there's a decent chance Bush is once again a big part of the defensive gameplan. And it just so happens that Bush will be facing his former team this week, something Carroll expects Bush to handle well.

"He's a really good all-around athlete and he's got good versatility to him," Carroll said. "You've seen us play him on the edge quite a bit as an outside backer. He has all of that flexibility, and he's a really good natural football player. He's fit in. It's been hard behind Bobby (Wagner) and Jordyn a good deal of the time, but his spirit has always been there. He's got a great chance to play a lot this week, and I know he'll be fired up about that. There's always something to that. Last week, (Mario Edwards Jr.) had his chance to go back against his old club. There's something to that that just kind of juices guys and I totally respect that, and I like honoring that, because it's meaningful, it means something."

The Seahawks and Steelers face off on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Steelers.

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