The Seahawks make their first of two trips to L.A. this season this weekend, this time to face the Chargers—they'll be back in SoCal in Week 13 to face the Rams—and they're looking to build off the momentum gained by last week's win over the Cardinals.
Here are five things to watch as the Seahawks (3-3) take on the Chargers (4-2) at SoFi Stadium:
1. Can Seattle's defense repeat last week's performance?
Heading into last week's game against the Cardinals, the Seahawks defense ranked at or near the bottom in a lot of statistical categories, but in a 19-9 victory over Arizona, that unit played great, limiting the Cardinals to just one offensive score, an opening-drive field goal, and 15 first downs. With the pass rush having its best day, rookie corners Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant both creating turnovers—more on both of those things below—it was a big step in the right direction.
"I thought that we just had a better game overall," said linebacker Jordyn Brooks. "All three levels, rush and coverage were really working well together, so I think that made the difference for us."
Brooks noted the defense needed a performance like that "a lot" after giving up big numbers in losses to the Falcons and Saints, as well as in Seattle's win in Detroit.
"I mean shoot, all you could do is go up from that point," he said. "It was embarrassing week after week of giving up yards and giving up points, so I kind of knew it was coming. One thing about this group is that everybody stuck together. During the couple of weeks, we had where it was a rough stretch, there was no pointing the finger, everybody was just honing in on their details, continuing to try to get better, and I thought the Cardinals game was a good momentum shift for us. Now we just have to rinse, repeat, and just stay consistent to that performance."
Staying consistent won't be easy against a Chargers offense led by Justin Herbert, one of the best young quarterbacks, and one that features weapons like dual-threat back Austin Ekeler, receiver Mike Williams, and if he's able to return from injury, receiver Keenan Allen.
2. How do the rookie tackles hold up against Khalil Mack?
The Seahawks have faced plenty of talented pass rushers this season, and for the most part, rookie tackles Abraham Lucas and Charles Cross have held their own, playing a big role in Seattle's offensive success.
This week, however, Cross and Lucas will face one of their biggest tests yet in veteran pass-rusher Khalil Mack, who already has six sacks in as many games.
"It's imperative to know where he is," offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said. "He's an elite player in this league and he's been doing it at a high level for a long time. One of the challenges of going against Mack is his ability to play all three downs at such a high level. He's an elite pass rusher. His speed to power is second to none, but then he is also savvy in the run game, playing on the edges on the play action. So, just needing to know where he is at all times and they do a nice job of balancing him, so he's not just in one spot throughout the course of the game."
Last week, Geno Smith was sacked a season-high five times, and while those didn't all fall on the tackles, keeping Smith clean this week will start with how those two handle an elite pass rusher.
3. Will the rookie cornerbacks do it again?
Yes, this storyline keeps coming up, but only because rookie cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant just keep making plays. In last week's win, Woolen picked off Kyler Murray for his fourth interception in as many weeks, making him the first rookie since 2010 to accomplish that feat. If Woolen can pull it off for a fifth straight week, he would be one of two rookies in the Super Bowl era, along with Jairus Byrd (2009), to record an interception in five consecutive games. Five consecutive games with an interception has never before been accomplished in Seahawks history, and a fifth interception at any point the rest of this season will match earl Thomas and Michael Boulware for the most by a rookie in team history.
Bryant, meanwhile, has forced a league-leading four fumbles, including one in each of the past three games, all of which were recovered by the Seahawks, with Woolen recovering the last two.
4. Can the pass-rush keep it up against a QB who's hard to bring down?
The Seahawks got their pass rush going last week, with six different players contributing sacks: outside linebacker Darrell Taylor and Uchenna Nwosu, defensive end Quinton Jefferson, defensive tackle Poona Ford, defensive end Shelby Harris and safety Ryan Neal. A big part of that, players and coaches have explained this week, were changes to the techniques Seattle is using on the defensive front, changes that helped linemen and outside linebackers play more aggressively and make plays.
Getting to the quarterback this week will be a challenge, however, as Herbert is one of the least-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL, having been sacked just seven times, tied for third fewest among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts. Some of that is Herbert's protection, but he's also good at getting the ball out quickly, and is big enough and mobile enough to either avoid or shed other sack attempts.
"It's a combination of a couple of things," defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said. "One, he does get the ball out quickly. They have some RPOs and quick game things that are part of the offense and can get him in rhythm as well as some boots to get him out of the pocket. The other side of it too, it's very similar to the bigger quarterbacks in this league like a Josh Allen or some of the other bigger guys. He's really strong. You will see lineman or blitzers come near him and he will stiff arm guys and still gets the ball out. That's a unique thing for a big guy like that. We saw that when we played Josh Allen in Buffalo a couple of years ago. He has the same innate trait where he can get himself out of a lot of danger. He is a very talented passer. I was telling (Pete Carroll) this the other day, when he was his last year at Oregon, going into his last year at Oregon, I went to speak at their spring clinic when Mario Cristobal was there. I didn't know anything about the team, I was out there watching a play, and I see this defensive end or a tight end playing quarterback slinging the ball. I said, 'Who the heck is this?' He was like, 'That's our quarterback, he's pretty good,' yeah, no kidding. He's a good player."
5. Does Seattle's offense take advantage of a Chargers defense that has given up a lot of big plays?
The Chargers have been strong on defense in a lot of regards, including a dominant second half and overtime period last week, and they have playmakers at all three levels, so by no means is this an opponent Seattle's offense can take likely.
However, if there is one element of the chess match between Seattle's offense and L.A.'s defense that might favor the Seahawks, it's would be Seattle's ability to make big plays happen, and the Chargers' inability to stop those big plays.
Through six games, the Seahawks have 49 total explosive plays (runs of 12-plus yards, passes of 16-plus), and produce an explosive on 14.3 percent of their offensive plays, the second-highest rate in the NFL behind Baltimore.
The Chargers, meanwhile, are allowing explosives on 12.6 percent of their plays, the ninth-highest rate in the league, and it gets worse if you extend it out to even bigger plays, with the Chargers allowing 15 plays of 30 or more yards, including five touchdowns. Even in what was otherwise a really good defensive performance on Monday, the Chargers still allowed three plays of 30 or more yards in the first half, including a 39-yard touchdown pass.
For a Seahawks offense that has scored eight touchdowns of 25 or more yards, including six in the past three games, big plays could be the key to unlocking an otherwise challenging defense.
The Seahawks face the Chargers at SoFi Stadium for Week 7 of the 2022 season. Take a look back at photos from the past games between the two teams.