Clayton: What to watch for in Seahawks’ season opener against Bengals

Sep 6, 2019, 3:22 PM | Updated: 3:23 pm
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Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will open the regular season at home against the Bengals. (AP)

Sunday’s Seahawks season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals has the feel of a preseason game.

The first-team offense and the first-team defense have spent very little time on the field during the preseason. Even though the Seahawks defense has gotten so much better on paper after the signing of Ziggy Ansah and the trade for Jadeveon Clowney, so little is known about how they will play together.

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For the Bengals, they come to town having an undrafted rookie starting in place of an injured A.J. Green at wide receiver, and with an offensive line that has been decimated by injuries, retirements and changes.

Here are things to look for Sunday:

• Can Ansah and Clowney get off to a good start and maybe get three sacks? Clearly, Pete Carroll isn’t going to put them out there the entire game. Neither player had a training camp. But the Bengals will be almost exclusively in three-receiver formation, so the Seahawks will be in their nickel defense most of the game, giving Clowney and Ansah plenty of plays to rush the quarterback.

• The acquisitions of Ansah and Clowney is a repeat of the 2013 acquisitions of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. In that year, the Seahawks had one of the best defenses in NFL history and had 44.5 sacks. Bennett and Avril combined for 16.5.

Athletically, Ansah and Clowney offer more talent. Clowney was the first pick in the 2014 draft. Ansah was a former first-rounder. If they stay healthy, they should get more than 20 combined sacks. On paper, they have to rank among the best 12 pass-rush duos in football.

Avril and Bennett each went to the Pro Bowl and were a great pass-rush tandem. In 2013, they were only used in pass-rush situations; they didn’t start. Clowney and Ansah enter the season as starters and keys to the pass rush.

• Also looking back at 2013, Bobby Wagner had five sacks and he should be able to get that number or better this year. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. is calling more blitzes this year. With the most talented linebacking corps under Pete Carroll’s run as coach, the Seahawks front seven should create a lot of problems now for offensive lines.

• One of the keys of the game is how Russell Wilson breaks in his young receiving group. Two of the keys will be rookies D.K. Metcalf and John Ursua. With David Moore out with a fractured upper-arm, Ursua should get some looks from the slot.

It will be interesting to see if the Seahawks start Metcalf or Jaron Brown. Metcalf is back after less than three weeks from having knee surgery. Wilson will try to get him a few passes downfield.

• Will Dissly is running first team at tight end but Nick Vannett will also get some action. Dissly has made a remarkable comeback from patellar knee surgery. He’s a good blocker and a sneaky good pass-catcher. This will be first full look as a starter.

• Another player to watch is Poona Ford. Sunday will be his most extensive time on the field. He’s drawn rave reviews on how tough he is to block. Some scouts compare him to Jurrell Casey of the Tennessee Titans.

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