3 Players to watch when Seahawks take on Raiders in London
The Seahawks and Raiders will kick off the NFL’s 2018 series of international games this Sunday with a Week 6 matchup at Wembley Stadium in London.
Seattle (2-3) is coming off of a loss – be it an admittedly encouraging one – to the Los Angeles Rams. They’ll be looking to improve to .500 and remain competitive in what has become a wide-open NFC race.
The Raiders are 1-4 under new head coach Jon Gruden, who this year makes his first return to coaching in a decade. Despite their record, the Raiders pose a real threat for a Seahawks defense entering its second game without starting safety Earl Thomas and linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Quarterback Derek Carr ranks fifth league-wide in passing yards (1,641) and the trio of Jared Cook, Jordy Nelson and Amari Cooper have combined for six of Carr’s seven touchdowns.
The two teams will kick things off Sunday morning at 10 a.m. Seattle time. Here are three Seahawks to keep an eye on:
WR Tyler Lockett
Tyler Lockett has a touchdown in all but one game this season and has recorded at least 50 receiving yards every week. He led all receivers last week with three catches for 98 yards and one touchdown (that doesn’t include his 77 yards on three kickoff returns). His four touchdowns this year are more than he had in 2016 and 2017, and two shy of the receiving touchdowns in his Pro Bowl rookie season. So far, Lockett’s performance has been vindicating for a team that decided to sign the fourth-year pro to a multi-year extension in August.
No. 1 receiver Doug Baldwin was sidelined earlier this season with injuries to both knees and received an uncommonly low number of targets (one) last week against the Rams. It’s unlikely that Baldwin will continue to see so few targets, even while at less than 100 percent, but Lockett has emerged as one of the most consistent performers this season in the receiving corps and will be looking to help Baldwin out in the lead role.
The Seahawks will continue to follow their run-first blueprint in London, but the Raiders’ defense ranks 24th against the pass this season and has allowed 277 opponent passing yards per game. If the opportunity presents itself, quarterback Russell Wilson could take a few deep shots — and Lockett has been a favorite target.
RB Rashaad Penny
Five games is too early to write off any player as a bust – especially a rookie who missed most of the preseason with a broken finger – but it doesn’t mean fans will any sooner stop questioning when first-round pick Rashaad Penny is going to see more than a handful of carries per game.
Penny has 92 yards on 29 carries this season, plus another 35 yards through the air on four catches. After rushing for a season-high 49 yards against the Cardinals in Week 4, Penny didn’t see the ball at all against the Rams.
“He’s just looking for his opportunity, he’s dying to get in there,” Pete Carroll said Tuesday of Penny’s role in the offense. The head coach admitted Penny’s preseason finger injury set him back a bit. “He’s just scratching, clawing to get back out there and get more turns. There just wasn’t enough (opportunities). But this is a long season, there’s a lot of carries, there’s a lot of running to be done. I can’t wait to see him get in there and get going too. He’s done nothing but good stuff for us.”
To be fair, the Seahawks have been going with what works, and what’s working right now is Chris Carson. The second-year pro was the lead back heading into the season and already has two 100-plus yard games. Mike Davis proved he could handle the task against the Cardinals when he took the bulk of the carries over Penny and racked up 102 yards. Both players will likely lead Seattle in rushing yards Sunday.
Fans shouldn’t expect 100 yards from Penny this week, nor see that as the only measure of his success. Rather, the rookie will be a player worth keeping an eye on as the Seahawks work to integrate him more into the offense. Look for contributions from Penny on returns, too.
“(Penny) is handling it but he’s frustrated and that’s exactly what I want,” Carroll said. “I want him to be frustrated, I want him to be anxious to get out there, I want him to be unsatisfied with what’s going on right now. That’s fine. I think that’s the only way he should be. He’s classy and he’s for the team and every time he would say anything, he would always talk about the team first so he’s got his priorities in line and I expect him to keep battling.”
The Seahawks’ defensive line depth was a concern heading into the season following the loss of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Sheldon Richardson. That concern was dulled with the additions of Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen, and a strong preseason performance from rookie defensive lineman Rasheem Green. But new issues have arisen since: Johnson was released by Seattle and subsequently signed by the Vikings, and Green is expected to miss several weeks with an ankle injury.
Defensive end Frank Clark and third-year defensive tackle Jarran Reed have combined for six sacks. But the Seahawks will need to bring the pressure against an Oakland team that ranks sixth in passing yards per game.
“I don’t think we’ve been as effective,” Carroll said of the pass rush. “I think we’ve been saying this for a while now, we have not been as effective particularly on early downs transitioning from the run game to the pass game. There’s things that – we are adding some rushers and stuff like that, some pressures that we did in this last game to try and add to that. It’s just a work in progress.”