Keys to the Game and Matchups:
With All-World safety Earl Thomas out of the game, backups will be critical in this road test for the Seahawks. In addition to Thomas, cornerback DeShawn Shead and center Justin Britt are questionable for Sunday’s game; this could mean big trouble for Seattle. If Britt fails to make it onto the field (ankle), Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is bestowed a potential field day in the making. In that situation, he’ll be most commonly lined up against either one of two rookies: center Joey Hunt (who’d be making his first career start) or guard Germain Ifedi. Ifedi has shown some promise, but for the most part only in his pure physicality, not dependability. Containing McCoy will be a huge focal point of the game plan regardless of whether Britt suits up or not. As for Shead, he may get some snaps against Mike Evans on Sunday; Jeremy Lane will play a bigger role if Shead’s ailment persists. Richard Sherman should be covering Evans most of the game, but Sherman may not follow him around the field. In that case, holding Evans to the least amount of production possible will be a huge key in keeping points off the board, and ultimately pulling out a win. Safety Earl Thomas has also been ruled out with a hamstring injury, and will likely have his spot filled by fourth-year man Steven Terrell. Holding his ground and not trying to do to much as Seattle’s center-fielder will be important to Terrell’s success.
For Seattle’s offensive attack, going vertical is a must-need factor. Increased snaps for Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson are possible, as they’ll look to expose the Buccaneers’ dead middle (16th) ranked passing defense. The Seahawks have favorable matchups against just about all of Tampa Bay’s corners, as Brent Grimes and Alterraun Verner are both listed as questionable. Sustaining a run game despite all the injuries will be extremely important, as you can expect backs Alex Collins and George Farmer to be active and getting touches. The state of the offensive line will play a large role in their effectiveness, but Thomas Rawls looked good last week and that should hold true this week.
Seattle must convert on third down, and prevent Tampa from converting theirs. They have opposite conversion rates, with Seattle allowing their opponents to convert more efficiently then themselves, and vice versa for Tampa. Third-and-short could be a bigger problem in this game, and it’s already been a huge issue. Playing physical and through the whistle will be important for Seattle’s defense.
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Who to Watch for Seahawks
Terrell has big Earl Thomas-sized shoes to fill, but not all hope is lost. Terrell has appeared in all ten games this year, but taken snaps on defense in just five of them. He received his season high of 37 snaps last week after Earl Thomas left the game in the third quarter. The fourth-year safety from Texas A&M will make his first career start, and many are excited to watch the kid play. Terrell and Thomas share many similarities, both standing five-foot-ten and weighing in at that 195-210 pound range. Most importantly, they share speed. Terrell clocked a 4.35 at his pro-day, while Thomas ran a 4.37. Bottom line, Earl’s specialty is how much ground he covers in such little time, something Terrell should succeed at as well. Recording four tackles in just the second half of the game against Philadelphia, hopes are high for the young fill-in.
You can’t help but watch him a little more than the other players on Seattle’s offense anyway, but pay extra-close attention to Doug this week. If Alterraun Verner sits, who normally covers the slot for Tampa, Josh Robinson is their next man up. Robinson has taken no defensive snaps so far this season. Baldwin is a tough man to latch on to when taking your first significant snaps in two seasons. Whether or not Verner plays, Baldwin brings a favorable matchup against any of Tampa’s corners. With his quickness and crisp routes, short and quick passes should be a common theme when targeting Baldwin and they’ll likely be quite prevalent. Don’t be surprised to see him get some looks downfield as well, as he’s become an effective vertical threat from the slot position.
Who to Watch for Bucs
It’s the same thing you’ve heard all week. The Richard Sherman against Mike Evans matchup is an exciting one. The question: will Sherman follow him around the field? If not, and DeShawn Shead sits, Seattle is in trouble. Jeremy Lane has never been proficient at covering big receivers, and especially not on the outside. His home is in the slot, and abruptly sliding him out against a top-tier receiver is never a formula for a good smoothie. Evans does it all, and would have no problem making plays over the top of Lane with ease. Again, stopping him and holding the high-volume Bucs offense to minimal yardage will be the biggest focal point for Seattle winning the football game.
Regardless of Justin Britt’s status this is a matchup in favor of Tampa. McCoy is among the best interior defensive lineman in the league, who feasts upon poor interior offensive lineman. He’ll be a problem, and it all depends on how Seattle addresses that problem. They’ll be forced to take a combination block to him on every play if they hope to minimize his disruption. Input a new rookie center playing in his first career game and that solution suddenly sounds much more complicated. McCoy has 20 combined tackles and 4.5 sacks on the year. A big body to plug up the middle against a struggling offensive front is just what Tampa needs to contain Seattle’s banged-up ball-carrier group. As aforementioned the seventh-year tackle could be in for a big game this Sunday.
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