You’ve heard Seahawks coach Pete Carroll say it a thousand times by now. For him, it’s all about the ball.
The turnover differential can often tell the story at any level of football, and that could be especially true for the Seahawks on Sunday against a Tampa Bay offense that gives up the ball about as many as anyone.
The Buccaneers’ 17 turnovers this season are tied for the second-most in the NFL, and Jameis Winton has given away the ball away at a particularly high rate in his career.
Since 2015, Winston’s 70 interceptions are the most in the NFL. He has also fumbled 28 times in 63 career games (losing 17 of those), and he has already three games in which he has turned the ball over four times or more this season.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have 15 takeaways in eight games, the fifth-most in the NFL, and their plus-seven turnover margin is third in the NFL.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Russell Wilson vs. Tampa Bay’s blitz
Tampa Bay has blitzed more than any team in the NFL this season, doing so on 48% of opposing quarterbacks’ dropbacks. Shaq Barrett has been one of the most improved players in the NFL, and he’s tied for the league-lead in sacks with 10, plus four forced fumbles and an interception.
“They’re going to come after you a bunch,” Carroll said. “They’re using their edge guys quite a bit. The linebackers are really fast and can make things happen, too, as well as the safeties they bring. They really give you the whole thing. They’re very difficult.”
Russell Wilson has been excellent against pressure this season, posting a QB rating of 118 against blitzes through eight games. Overall, he has a league-best passer rating of 115.5.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
To run or not to run?
OK, the Seahawks are going to run the ball. We know this, and we’re not suggesting they shouldn’t. But how stubborn will they be Sunday (relative to their default mode) against a Tampa Bay defense that leads NFL in rushing yards per game (68.6) and yards per rush (3.0)? For comparison, the Seahawks’ defense ranks 17th in yards per game (103.1) and, oy, 30th in yards per rush (4.9). Chris Carson has been tremendous this season, and Rashaad Penny is healthy again, giving the Seahawks ample ammunition to *try* to run the ball Sunday.
But the Buccaneers’ passing defense has been historically bad — allowing 285.9 yards per game, the second-most in the NFL by any team in the past five seasons. The Seahawks’ offensive plan shouldn’t be a whole lot more complicated than: Here’s the ball, Russ; have some fun with it.
PLAYER TO WATCH
The knock on Metcalf coming out of Ole Miss was he was a one-dimensional wide receiver with one go-move — a go route. While the Seahawks have simplified things for the rookie, he has developed enough that they have been able move him around and add more route-running diversity to his plate.
“He’s working his butt off. The confidence and the trust with Russ is really important,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “There’s not a route that we’re really not comfortable with him running. That allows us to move him around and put him at different spots.”
Metcalf had two touchdown receptions in the Seahawks’ victory at Atlanta last week, and he ought to be an even bigger factor in the offense in the second half of the season.
“When he came in, he was really prepared,” Wilson said. “I think he had a chip on his shoulder and just ready to roll. He’s everything that you want him to be. High character, extremely amazing work ethic. Obviously, a ball player. A guy that can make great plays. Has a relentless approach to the game when he’s playing and also when he’s practicing and studying film. He takes great notes. All those things that you want a guy to be, he’s definitely that. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
The Seahawks secondary
In Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay has one of the best receiver tandems in the NFL. The Seahawks have a secondary that not only gave up 460 yards passing to 38-year-old backup Matt Schaub last week — but a secondary that’s been thinned by injuries.
Starting free safety Tedric Thompson was placed on the injured reserve this week, leaving Bradley McDougald and rookie Marquise Blair as the expected starting safeties Sunday. As of now, rookie Ugo Amadi is the only healthy backup safety.
Cornerback Tre Flowers is expected back after missing the Atlanta game because of a stinger.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
The Seahawks’ new center, taking over following Justin Britt’s season-ending knee injury, gets his chance at a full-time role after three and a half seasons as a backup. “He’s always been ready. He’s one of the smartest guys on the team,” Wilson said. “He’s just focused all the time. He’s always just prepared to play. I have great confidence in him. I remember last year when he stepped in for Britt against the Cowboys. I mentioned (then) that he pretty much won the game for us, I felt like just how he played. I expect great things out of Joey. He’s just always been great.”
Tampa Bay has an 8-27 record over the past five seasons in games in which Winston has attempted 35 or more passes, according to the Tamp Bay Times. The one exception to that this season came in Tampa Bay’s 55-40 upset of the Rams in Los Angeles on Sept. 29, when Winston was 28-for-41 passing for 385 yards with four TDs and one interception.
THE FINAL WORD
Seahawks 31, Buccaneers 26
Trap game? The Seahawks can’t afford to look ahead to next week’s showdown in San Francisco, particularly with their inconsistent performances at home so far this season. Tampa Bay is 2-5; it has lost three straight, and it has one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses of the past five years. The Seahawks should be able to run away with this one in the fourth quarter. Can they?