Can the Seahawks get to 5-1 for only the third time in team history (the others being 2003 and 2013)? Or will the 2-3 Browns climb off the mat just days after a humiliating Monday night defeat in San Francisco?
Those are the key story lines at work Sunday when the Seahawks play the Browns in Cleveland. But they aren’t the only ones.
Here’s a closer look at some keys to the game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Seahawks defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah vs. Cleveland’s offensive line
The “breaking in’’ time for Clowney and Ansah would seem to be running out. Clowney has played in every game and been solid throughout, but coach Pete Carroll has said he’s still finding his way in Seattle’ 4-3 defense and that there’s a lot more still to come — Clowney played in a 3-4 with the Houston Texans. Ansah has played substantially in only the last two games while easing into the season to let his surgically repaired shoulder continue to get stronger.
But six games in, and three weeks of each practicing fully, feels like it may be time for a breakout performance for two players in whom the Seahawks have invested heavily. And there’s no better time than against a Cleveland offensive line that has been struggling (and probably a bigger reason for the team’s offensive woes than quarterback Baker Mayfield). The Browns have allowed 16 sacks in five games, 3.2 per game, the eighth-highest average in the NFL, and allowed four against the 49ers on Monday night. Seattle’s defense has just 10, and just five in the past four games after getting five in Week 1 against the Bengals. The Seahawks can’t let Mayfield get comfortable.
PLAYER TO WATCH
QB Russell Wilson
Wilson is on as torrid a pace as could realistically be imagined to start the season, with an NFL-high 12 touchdowns, an NFL-low no interceptions and an NFL-high 126.3 passer rating. He’s also had five straight games with passer ratings of 100 or better, tying a career high set in 2015. And suffice to say, considering how well he has played and that Seattle has won three of its four games by two points or less, he’s the biggest reason the Seahawks are 4-1 right now. The march to the MVP can pick up even more steam with another similar performance.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
Will the Seahawks be aggressive throwing early in the game?
The Seahawks are 2-0 on the road this season, and in each of those wins — at Pittsburgh and Arizona — Seattle came out throwing.
Wilson was 25 for 34 for 293 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of those two games, while Seattle had 25 rushes for 120 yards against the Steelers and Cardinals. In each game, the run-pass numbers evened out a bit in the second half. Given how hot Wilson has been, it might make sense for Seattle to again try to strike early, especially against a reeling Cleveland team.
But the Browns also project to be stronger in the back end of their defense this week, with starting cornerbacks Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward due back from injury. And statistically, the Browns are one of the poorest run-defense teams in the NFL, allowing 150.8 per game, 29th most in the NFL. But that number was heavily influenced by giving up 273 to the 49ers on Monday. Cleveland gave up just 90 yards rushing to the Rams in what was Cleveland’s most recent home game Sept. 22. The Seahawks may need some feeling-out time on offense to figure out which Cleveland defense has shown up.
Seattle’s offensive line injuries
The tenor of this game changed a little bit slightly when the Seahawks listed both starting left tackle Duane Brown (biceps) and right guard D.J. Fluker (hamstring) as doubtful. It had seemed a given that Fluker might not play after he missed all but the first two series of the win against the Rams. Jamarco Jones filled in admirably and signs all week pointed to him getting his first career start against the Browns. Duane Brown’s sudden potential unavailability was a little more of a surprise only because he has played with a biceps injury the last two weeks and not missed a snap. But coach Pete Carroll said Friday that Brown’s biceps “has not responded the way we hoped” and he could miss Sunday, the first time he would not have started a game since being acquired by Seattle in a trade in Nov., 2017. George Fant will start if Brown can’t make it. Brown’s leadership has been regarded as a big reason for Seattle’s uptick in offensive line play since 2018 and how Seattle makes up for that if he can’t play will be a big key Sunday.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
Kicker Jason Myers
The Seahawks haven’t called on Myers a lot this season — just five attempts in five games, fewer than any team except the Jets (three). That’s in part because Seattle has been really good in the red zone, leading the NFL in scoring touchdowns on 13 of 17 possessions inside the 20, 76.5% (Houston is second at 73.3%, 11-15). That includes scoring touchdowns on 8 of 9 possessions inside the 10. But that’s a hard pace to keep up and eventually the Seahawks will need Myers to hit some big ones to get a win. This might be the game.
That’s the yards per carry for Cleveland running back Nick Chubb, whose 485 yards are seventh in the NFL. Chubb got 88 of those yards on one play two weeks ago at Baltimore. Take that out and Chubb has 397 yards on 93 carries for the season, or 4.2 per carry. So for Seattle, that’s the task again: eliminate big runs and don’t let Chubb get going as he did against Baltimore, when he had a season-high 165 yards. Seattle’s run defense has been markedly better this season, currently allowing just 80.0 yards per game, fourth fewest in the NFL, and the Seahawks haven’t allowed any running back more than the 69 that Alvin Kamara got in Week 3. Seattle’s longest run allowed this season was 27 by Rams receiver Brandin Cooks. Otherwise, Seattle has allowed just one run of longer than 16 yards all season.
THE FINAL WORD
Seahawks 30, Browns 23
The Browns have some unquestioned skill-position fire power in Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Chubb and Mayfield, and defensive end Myles Garrett (who has seven sacks) can wreck an offense. But the Seahawks just keep finding a way. Or maybe more accurately, Wilson does. It’s hard to go against Seattle right now with the way he’s playing.