The Seattle Seahawks return home to CenturyLink Field to take on the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Seattle is looking to get back into the win column after a tough loss on the road to Indianapolis Colts last week.
The Seahawks are 13.5-point favorites in this game, according to Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune. The odds-makers from Las Vegas clearly think that Seattle is going to coast though for an easy victory. Despite what the point spread might suggest, the Titans have been competitive this season.
Fortunately for Seattle, this game is at home. The Seahawks have looked unbeatable so far in their two home games, outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 74-20.
The Competitive Edge
This is a matchup of teams that are in completely different places in their roster development. While the Seahawks are playing like a true contender this season, the Titans are in just their second year of rebuilding around young quarterback Jake Locker.
That doesn't mean the Titans are a weak team. Tennessee has some tremendous talent in places on their roster, especially on defense. The Seahawks will have to play a good game if they are going to avoid losing their second straight game.
Unfortunately for Titans, Jake Locker has been ruled out with a hip injury. Tennessee will have to try and upset the Seahawks with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.
Here is how the two teams rank statistically among the rest of the NFL:
The only area in which the Titans have an advantage over the Seahawks is in rushing defense. It has been a bit of a weakness in Seattle this year, but not in every game.
It will be interesting to see if the Titans can take advantage of that. Running back Chris Johnson has been shut down the last two weeks. If Tennessee can't get Johnson and the running game going, it is likely going to be a very long game for the Titans.
Seattle's Offense vs. Tennessee's Defense
Protect Russell Wilson
The Seahawks must do a better job of protecting their franchise quarterback. Approximately half the times he's dropped back to pass, Wilson has been under pressure. The pass blocking as a whole has been dreadfully bad for the Seahawks.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Wilson has managed to scramble for positive yards 21 times already this season. On the other 48 pass attempts where Wilson was under pressure, things have mostly gone poorly for the Seahawks.
Wilson is among the best in the NFL when he's given adequate protection from his offensive line. The Seahawks have to find a way to begin doing that with more regularity this week against the Titans.
Don't Let Jurrell Casey Beat Them
Tennessee defensive tackle Jurrell Casey isn't the household name that J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans is, but he has been similarly dominant so far this season. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Casey ranks fourth in pass rushing, seventh against the run and second overall, amongst all defensive tackles and nose tackles in the NFL.
Casey plays primarily at left defensive tackle, which means it'll be up to Seattle right guard J.R. Sweezy and center Max Unger to contain the dominant defender. That's a very tall task for a pair of players who have struggled, thus far, this season.
More Touchdowns, Less Field Goals
The Seattle Seahawks currently rank fifth in the NFL in scoring offense at 27.4 points per game. That is very good, but it masks a problem that hurt them last week in Indianapolis.
The Seahawks need to do a better job of "cashing in" on those possessions. They have settled for three points far too often.
The causes for this problem have been numerous: penalties, dropped or overthrown passes and poor blocking. There is no easy fix. The Seahawks must simply be better and more efficient once they get within scoring range.
Seattle's Defense vs. Tennessee's Offense
Bottle Up Chris Johnson
Titans running back Chris Johnson looks like a shadow of the player who ran for over 2,000 yards back in 2009. Johnson is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry so far in 2013, and he currently leads the NFL in the number of times being stuffed at/or behind the line of scrimmage, per Stats Hosted Solution.
Despite the lack of recent success for Johnson, he still has the speed that has led to him having 64 runs of 20 yards or more throughout his career. Johnson is still a threat to take the ball the distance if he can get to the second level of the defense.
With Jake Locker out at QB, the Titans are likely to rely on Johnson more than they have, thus far, in 2013. It'll be important for the Seahawks to keep Johnson bottled up behind the line of scrimmage and not give him the chance to break off any long runs.
Bring The Heat at Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick hasn't played enough this season to use his current stats to find trends. The sample sizes are still too small for proper analysis.
Looking at his 2012 numbers, though, it is clear that getting pressure on Fitzpatrick is the best way to cause problems for him and the passing attack. It is also clear that Fitzpatrick isn't the type of QB who can exploit the blitz for big gains like others can.
The Seahawks can take advantage of these two trends by bringing the heat on every obvious pass play. Seattle has some accomplished pass-rushers at linebacker. Getting linebacker Bruce Irvin and company into the backfield with some regularity will be key to shutting down the Titans offense.
*Includes one game that ended in a tie.
QB Fitzpatrick has been prone to throwing interceptions throughout his career, throwing them at a rate greater than one per game. The Seahawks need to take advantage of this, especially given that Fitzpatrick's interception rate is more than three times higher in losses than it is in wins.
The Seahawks lead the all-time series between these two teams, 9-6.
The last meeting between these franchises was in January 2010, when the Titans travelled to Seattle and won by the score of 17-13.
That loss ended a stretch of five straight wins by the Seahawks over the Titans that dated all the way back to 1994. At that time, the Titans were still the Houston Oilers.
The Titans rank 26th in total offense at 318 yards per game. That's lower than every team the Seahawks have played other than Jacksonville.
Seattle has won 10 straight home games and hasn't lost at home since Week 16 of the 2011 season.
Warren Moon, who played QB in Seattle and is part of the local radio broadcast team there, is the all-time leader in most passing categories for the Titans. Moon was the primary starter at the position for 10 years when the team was still in Houston, and his No. 1 jersey has been retired by the franchise.