Seattle will be back at MetLife Stadium for the first time since winning the Super Bowl in February 2014, but they have only 18 of the same players to face the New York Jets, who have a dominating defensive line.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In the greatest moment in franchise history, the Seahawks walked into MetLife Stadium in the early afternoon of Feb. 2, 2014, and roughly three hours later walked out with a stunningly dominant Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos.
The Seahawks return to MetLife for the first time since then on Sunday to take on the New York Jets in a 10 a.m. Pacific kickoff.
Well, 18 of them do, anyway. That’s all that is left from the 53-man Super Bowl roster that astonished the Broncos and the nation, 43-8.
Seahawks @ N.Y. Jets, 10 a.m., Ch. 13
That number includes at least one player from what would be considered each position group (quarterback, receivers, etc.) except one — the offensive line.
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Not only are all five offensive-line starters from that day gone — including guard James Carpenter, who will be on the other sideline Sunday as a starter for the Jets — but so is every reserve.
It’s that rebuilt line, which has been the most-scrutinized position this year for the Seahawks, that looms as the key to Seattle getting a win in its return to MetLife.
Not only do the Jets feature what some think might be the best defensive line in the NFL — keyed by Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson — but Seattle will again be playing with what figures to be a less-than-100 percent Russell Wilson at quarterback.
Wilson suffered a sprained MCL in last Sunday’s 37-18 win over the 49ers that looked in the moment as if it might put him in danger of missing a start for the first time in his NFL career.
Instead, Wilson again proved amazingly indestructible, and was listed by the team as fully participating in practice all week, saying on Thursday that there was “no doubt’’ he would start against the Jets.
Still, it’s hard to imagine he’ll have the same mobility as before he suffered his first injury this season — a high right-ankle sprain in the opener against Miami.
The two injuries have contributed not only to Wilson being less able to get out of harm’s way in the pocket but also less of a threat to run.
Wilson, who averaged 38 yards rushing per game on 6.5 carries in his first four seasons, has just 33 yards on 10 attempts this year.
That has helped lead to a Seattle rushing attack that despite an improved game last week is still averaging just 102 yards per game (the Seahawks haven’t averaged fewer than 136 the last four years) and 3.5 per attempt (Seattle hasn’t averaged less than 4.3 the last four years).
The task gets no easier Sunday against a New York team that is allowing 71.3 yards per game and 3.3 per carry, each third in the NFL.
The Seahawks have also allowed 23 quarterback hits, tied for third in the NFL, while the Jets are tied for eighth in sacks with eight.
Expect Seattle offensively to try to counter with lots of its quick passing game against an iffy New York secondary, and to get tight end Jimmy Graham as actively involved as he was against the 49ers (six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, all in the first half). Still, Seattle’s identity is based around its running game.
Reviving the running game was also a theme of last week, and it started off great — a 41-yard touchdown run by Christine Michael on Seattle’s first rushing attempt of the game.
But from there, the Seahawks managed just 86 yards on 30 carries, which didn’t matter on that particular day but didn’t exactly put every question to rest about the running game.
The Seahawks, though, will get first-round pick Germain Ifedi back at right guard as he makes his NFL debut against the Jets.
And after this week, they will also have a bye to get Wilson healthy.
But for Sunday, the Seahawks may have to depend largely on the line and Michael — who will have to carry the bulk of the workload with Thomas Rawls still out — to establish a running game.
Offensive-line coach Tom Cable said this week that if nothing else, the first quarter of the season, and playing other good defensive fronts in the Rams and Dolphins, has prepared the line for the long haul.
“This is a really good month for our offensive line specifically,’’ Cable said. “You think about who we’ve played. They’ve all been fine defensive lines and this is just the next one. … For me, I’m enjoying this. It’s not always fun, but I’m enjoying this growth, this process and this learning that’s going on. When they come out of it, we’ve always taken off and we have a chance to take off big time. So we’ll see.”