Clayton: What to watch for in Seahawks vs Colts

Sep 29, 2017, 9:25 PM | Updated: 9:26 pm

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NBC thought they struck gold when they were granted the Seahawks-Colts game in Week 4. Unfortunately for the network, Andrew Luck is out with a shoulder injury, so a Russell Wilson-Luck matchup is going to happen Sunday night.

There is a chance of a one-sided game for Seattle: Pete Carroll knows how to prepare his team for prime time games, and Russell Wilson is 9-1 in home prime time games. In those games, he’s thrown 20 touchdown passes and five interceptions.

Here are some things to look at for Sunday night.

The Colts’ pass rush
Even though the Indianapolis Colts are going through one of the most intense rebuilding projects on defense, the Seahawks still have to worry about the Colts pass rush. In the first three games, the Colts have 28 quarterback pressures, three sacks and eight quarterback hits. Last year, in what turned out to be an 8-8 season, the Colts had 17 pressures, one sack and five quarterback hits in the first three games. Indianapolis has two decent pass-rushers in Jabaal Sheard and John Simon.

Obviously establishing a running game early would help and make life easier for Russell Wilson. It helps having Oday Aboushi and Luke Joeckel as the starting guards because — like last week —  each has experience going against AFC South teams.

Young quarterbacks
Sunday’s game against the Colts and next Sunday’s trip to play the Los Angeles Rams will give an idea how the Seahawks defense will do against young quarterbacks, in these cases, Jacoby Brissett and Jared Goff. That should be an advantage for the Seahawks, who have eight Pro Bowlers in the starting lineup.

In the first half of the loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Seahawks bottled up third-year pro Marcus Mariota, holding him to four three-and-outs in the first quarter and limiting him to no touchdowns in the first half. The Seahawks got a break on the schedule now that the Colts don’t have a healthy Andrew Luck. Instead, Indianapolis come to town with an offense that is averaging only 275.3 yards a game and 4.54 yards per play. While Brissett is more mobile than quarterback Scott Tolzien, benched in favor of Brissett, if the Seahawks defense plays to its standard then it should hold the Colts to less than 300 yards and no more than one or two touchdown drives.

Making matters tougher for the Colts is that this is Brissett’s first start on the road and it occurs in perhaps the loudest venue in the NFL. It’s stunning to think the Seahawks rank near the bottom of the league in stopping the run, but this week should help boost that stat. Figuring the Seahawks aren’t going to fear the passing threat of Brissett, the team can try to concentrate on stopping the run and halfback Frank Gore. With Gore, the Colts average only 81 yards a game and 2.73 yards a carry.

Seattle’s identity on offense
Once again, the Seahawks are entering a game not knowing exactly what they are on offense. The key is getting the running game going. J.D. McKissic is expected to be the pass-catching back (filling in for an injured C.J. Prosise) which leaves the bulk of the run game to Thomas Rawls and rookie Chris Carson.

The Colts aren’t bad against the run, giving up 85.7 yards and 3.25 yard a game. What Russell Wilson needs to do is execute an offense that gets Carson about 15 carries and maybe seven to nine to Rawls. If the Seahawks get 30 or more rushing attempts, they should be fine. It’s clear so far the Seahawks are better working on a fast-paced offense, letting Wilson win with his arm and his legs. That might be a little tougher to do with Prosise not playing and Doug Baldwin nicked up with a groin injury.

Will Jimmy Graham have a breakout game?
Graham broke out of a two-game slump with seven catches for 72 yards against the Titans last Sunday. Baldwin is expected to play but he’s battling a groin injury that might slow him down, meaning Wilson will be without his favorite receiver (Baldwin has been targeted 28 times, and has 20 catches for 212 yards). Say what you want about Graham and how the team uses him, but he is Wilson No. 2 target.

The Colts have two new safeties, so Graham should cause a matchup problem for that defense. Overall, the Colts entered the season with seven new starters and have been juggling in more new players each week because of injuries. They now have two new safeties — a matchup problem that should lean in Graham’s favor. A good game by Graham could make it easier for Baldwin to get through the next two weeks and fully rest his groin injury.

Where should Seattle use Richard Sherman?
The Seahawks face an interesting decision. Should they put Richard Sherman exclusively on T.Y. Hilton, the Colts best receiver. He has 14 catches and an impressive 18.5 yard per catch average.

Indianapolis is less talented on offense than they were last year. They traded wide receiver Phillip Dorsett to New England for Brissett, and traded tight end Dwayne Allen to the Patriots. Donte Moncrief, a third-round choice in 2014, was demoted from the starting lineup after not giving as hard as an effort as the coaches wanted.

Sherman has been staying on the left side most of this season and isn’t getting a lot of action. In three games, he’s been targeted only 15 times for eight completions and 78 yards. If Sherman shadows Hilton and limits him to less than 40 yards, Brissett’s numbers won’t be good. The Colts win 73 percent of the games when Hilton has 80 yards or more receiving — they are 17-19 when he has less than 80.

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