Clayton: What to watch for in Seahawks-Chargers reunion
When the Seahawks met the Los Angeles Chargers on Aug. 18 in the preseason, the gap between the two teams looked significant.
The Chargers looked like a team that could win the AFC West. The Seahawks were still going through the growing pains of their reset of their young roster. Philip Rivers came out on fire with the passing offense.
After Russell Wilson posted an opening field goal drive, Rivers drove the Chargers 70 yards in nine plays and watched Melvin Gordon rush for a 2-yard touchdown. He opened the next possession with a 16-yard drive but couldn’t get the offense past mid-field.
In one quarter, Rivers completed six of seven passes for 62 yards.
Since that game, the Seahawks have found what they are as a team. They developed a power running attack that can gain 160 yards weekly. They are getting some swagger back on defense. The young secondary has played well. Of late, defenders are staying in their gaps and are stopping the run.
Still, this game against the Chargers Sunday won’t be easy. Let’s break it down.
• The secondary passed their first test in what is a five-game stretch in which the Seahawks face consecutive franchise-caliber quarterbacks. Most of Matthew Stafford’s 310 passing yards were gained in what could be called garbage time. The Seahawks led at the half, 21-7. Stafford only had 108 yards on seven completions in the first half.
Had the Seahawks not failed on a fourth-down at the goal-line they could have had a three touchdown lead.
The Seahawks have to find a way to pressure Rivers or he could put up more than 300 yards on them. He’s having one of his best seasons. Rivers has thrown for 2,008 yards in seven games and is completing 69.2 percent of his passes. He’s been getting rid of the ball so quickly and successful that he’s only been sacked nine times.
• The Chargers might have the deepest wide receiving corp in football. Keenan Allen is one of the better receivers in the league. He leads the team with 41 catches and 506 yards. But they also have Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin. Mike Williams showed his potential in the preseason game with a 25-yard touchdown pass.
How good is this group. Rivers has been spreading the ball around so much that it’s taken targets and catches from Allen. In fact, Allen blew up on the field last week when he didn’t get the ball. He’s used to being the main target, but Rivers has so much confidence in his tight ends, Melvin Gordon and the other receivers that he’s not going to focus on just one receiver.
Gordon has been fighting a hamstring injury, but he should play. He has 466 rushing yards and a 5.1 yard average along with 30 catches for 279 yards.
• The main player to watch is Seahawks guard D.J. Fluker. The Chargers made him the 11th pick in the 2013 draft but gave up on him after a couple of seasons. He bounced around the league before signing a one-year $1.5 million contract with the Seahawks earlier this year.
In the past five weeks, he’s been a force. The Seahawks running attack has thrived with the addition of Fluker and the return of J.R. Sweezy. Fluker has had a pancake block in each of the past three games, and his battle against Brandon Mebane should be a good one.
Last year, the Chargers weren’t good at stopping the run, even though they have one of the most talented defensive lines in football. This year, they are so much better, giving up only 106 yards a game and a 4.3 yard average.
One break for the Seahawks is that defensive end Joey Bosa remains out with a foot injury.
• The Chargers might have drafted the defensive rookie of the year in Derwin James. James would be the perfect safety for the Seahawks defense. He’s an incredible play-maker, and has three-and-a-half sacks and an interception.
• It’ll be fun to watch what Gus Bradley designs on defense. There will be few secrets in this game. Bradley, who worked with Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., knows how Norton works with his defense. Meanwhile the Seahawks know Bradley’s scheme from his time in Seattle.