John Clayton’s 5 things to watch in Seahawks vs Titans

Sep 22, 2017, 11:40 AM | Updated: 12:00 pm
Seahawks, wilson, russell wilson...
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is one of the league's best against the blitz this season. (AP)

The Seahawks slow starts on offense have been well chronicled this week.

In two games, the Seahawks have scored only 21 points and had to wait eight quarters to get their first touchdown drive; last year, they scored 15 points in the first two games. As the Seahawks approach Sunday’s game in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans, the offense has to try to conquer another demon: offensive struggles on the road. In the last nine regular season road games, the Seahawks have scored 10 points or less five times. Those concerns will certainly play into Sunday’s game because the Titans are on the verge of being a playoff-caliber team.

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Here are five things to watch for Sunday:

1. Expect change along the offensive line.

I expect Oday Aboushi to get the start at right guard over Mark Glowinski. According to Pro Football Focus, Glowinski was the Seahawks lowest rated offensive lineman at 31.9. He graded out worse pass blocking compared to his run blocking. The timing of a change could help; Aboushi played for the Houston Texas the past two years, so he has experience playing against the Titans. And one of the keys of succeeding against the Titans and Dick Lebeau’s defense is communication. The Titans’ defensive coordinator loves to confuse offensive lines with his zone blitz scheme — pass-rushers can come from any angle with the idea of getting an angle on the blocker and getting to the quarterback. It doesn’t hurt that left guard Luke Joeckel, who played in Jacksonville, has played enough games against LeBeau to help improve the communications along the line, and both guards have to help the Seahawks’ young tackles Rees Odhiambo and Germain Ifedi.

2. The biggest challenge for the defense will be to stop the run.

Last year, the Seahawks were about the best in the league stuffing the run and there isn’t any reason they can’t be about the same this year. In fact, with the addition of Sheldon Richardson at defensive tackle, they could actually be better. The Green Bay Packers had only 84 yards rushing in the season opener, but a few breakdowns last Sunday allowed the San Francisco 49ers to rush for 159 yards. Titans coach Mike Mularkey loves to run the ball, and has one of the best offensive lines in the game and two very good running backs in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Murray has a hamstring injury, so it’s not out of the question that he might not play. Henry replaced him in the second half and finished with 87 yards rushing.

3. One of the better matchups is Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey against Aboushi and right tackle Germain Ifedi.

Casey is one of the better defensive players that not everyone knows about, and is certainly the Titans’ best defensive player. He’s a big force coming from the right side of the defense at end on early downs, and from right tackle on passing downs. Even though he’s looking for his first sack this season, he usually gets between five to 10 sacks per year. Because he’s getting a little older, Casey decided to trim down a bit to get quicker; he’s gone from 300 pounds last year to 290 pounds today.

4. Russell Wilson will need to sort out what type of offense the Seahawks will be.

Will the Seahawks be a power rushing team with Chris Carson and Thomas Rawls, or do they need to morph into a fast-paced, no huddle type of offense trying to get the passes off quickly? Clearly, they want to run the ball. Their desire is to be a 500-carry team, but the line problems bottled that up last year and for the first game of this season. The Seahawks can’t allow Wilson to be as pressured as much as he has been: He has been sacked or harassed 39 percent of time, third most in the NFL. He also ran into some pressure last week against the 49ers. On the flipside, Wilson needs to get off some quicker passes — he’s holding onto the ball for 2.8 seconds, and that time needs to come down.

5. The Seahawks can’t allow Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota to get into the red zone.

In seven redzone drives, Mariota and the Titans’ offense have scored four touchdowns and three field goals, for a total of 37 points. Notably, though, Mariota is off to a bit of a slow start: his completion percentage is his lowest in three years at 58.8 percent, and his yards-per-attempt are down to 6.9 after two consecutive years of being 7.6. Still, he is one of the better young quarterbacks in football and his ability to run makes it tough on a defense. The Seahawks defensive ends have to concentrate on not letting him run out of the pocket, and have enough talent in their front seven to meet that challenge.

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