Seahawks face short week and long trip, but Titans expect they’ll be prepared
Dec 21, 2023, 4:50 PM | Updated: Jan 19, 2024, 10:58 am
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Titans linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair has played against coach Pete Carroll long enough to know the Seattle Seahawks will be ready to play Sunday.
Just ignore that the Seahawks won an emotional game Monday night, downing Philadelphia 20-17.
Flying across the country to Music City for an early kickoff? Yes, that too.
“He’s going to have them guys ready to go regardless of whether the game was on a Saturday at 3 in the afternoon,” Al-Shaair said. “I just know they’re going to be ready to play. So we got to do the same.”
The Seahawks may be sitting just outside the NFC’s seventh and final playoff spot, but they’re among five teams tied at 7-7 after snapping a four-game skid. Their schedule also gets easier, even though they finish with two of three on the road.
Carroll thinks his Seahawks are at their best now because of fighting through their schedule.
“We’ve been sharpened against the best the NFL can offer,” Carroll said. “Hopefully, we can use that down the stretch here and we can play really good ball in this game and take it to the next one. The setup, as hard as it was, couldn’t have been better for us, and we’ll see what happens.”
The Titans (5-9) have lost back-to-back home games in overtime, the last a 19-16 loss to Houston that ended their playoff hopes. Right now, all that’s on the line is pride, job security somewhere if not in Tennessee and another chance to play.
“You don’t want to put bad film out there,” said Titans defensive lineman Denico Autry, who has a career-high 11 sacks with his contract up after this season.
The Seahawks just concluded a five-game stretch against NFC opponents that have either clinched a postseason berth or currently hold a playoff spot — including two against NFC-best San Francisco.
So don’t mind the Seahawks if they find the final three games to be a bit of a breather, comparatively speaking.
Seattle closes with the game at Tennessee, home against Pittsburgh and at Arizona in Week 18. Those teams have a combined record of 15-27 going into Week 16.
The Seahawks expect Geno Smith to play after missing two games with an injured groin. The Titans are hoping rookie Will Levis can play after aggravating an injured left ankle he has been dealing with mid-November. He made clear he wants to play his ninth straight game.
If not, veteran Ryan Tannehill will make his first start since Oct. 15 when he sprained his right ankle in a loss to Baltimore. Carroll said he can see why the Titans are fired up about watching Levis develop, but they’re preparing for both possible starters.
“Ryan comes back, and he’s an accomplished, established, experienced quarterback that can run this offense. We’ve got to get ready for all of that,” Carroll said.
Seattle ranks 28th in the league in rushing and is averaging less than 100 yards per game on the ground. Nonetheless, the Seahawks are simply a different and more productive offense when they commit to the run.
It showed in the second half last week as Kenneth Walker III carried 12 times for 65 yards and a TD. The Titans are 17th in the league at stopping the run, but have allowed big days on the ground the past two weeks against Miami (158 yards) and Houston (148) while playing without two-time Pro Bowl lineman Jeffery Simmons.
Derrick Henry is coming off his worst game as a starter in the NFL with a combined 10 yards from scrimmage last week. The two-time NFL rushing champ had the fewest yards with at least 20 touches in an NFL game since 1948.
The Seahawks rank 25th in rushing defense, giving up 127.3 yards per game. Henry has dominated in December and January since 2018, averaging a league-best 117.2 yards per game and running for 26 TDs, including four this month.
Seattle made changes to its secondary against Philadelphia. Cornerback Michael Jackson started with Riq Woolen benched after Carroll said there was an open competition in practice. Tre Brown started after missing time with a heel injury.
Artie Burns played with rookie Devon Witherspoon out, and safety Julian Love stepped into a bigger role with Jamal Adams out. Love, the NFC defensive player of the week, had two fourth-quarter interceptions.
How much those changes stick is unknown. Jackson played well enough to get another start. Witherspoon seems likely to miss another week due to his hip injury. Carroll also sounded pessimistic that Adams, who’s still experiencing knee discomfort, would be back this week.
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