RENTON — Can the Seahawks start 2-0 for the first time since the 2013 season? Can they also win their first road game of the season for the first time since that Super Bowl year?
Here’s a look at some keys to getting victory in Pittsburgh Sunday.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Seahawks offensive line vs. Steelers defensive line.
Seattle’s defensive line vs. Pittsburgh’s veteran OL is also a key one, as is Seattle’s secondary against a Steelers receiving corps that was shaky a week ago. But when the Seahawks were at their best last season — and how they are still built to be at their best — is when they can maul teams with the run. Seattle averaged 160 rushing yards per game last season in overcoming an 0-2 start to win 10 games. The Seahawks were held to less than half that against the Bengals — 72, on 25 carries. It may help that the are likely to have Mike Iupati at left guard, finally giving them the offensive line they envisioned. Whoever does it, re-establishing the run may be as vital in the big picture as anything that can happen for Seattle Sunday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Safeties Bradley McDougald and Lano Hill.
A hamstring injury to Tedric Thompson means the Seahawks are expected to go with a different look at safety this week with Lano Hill at strong safety and Bradley McDougald moving to free. Seattle had a few notable breakdowns in last week’s narrow win over the Bengals, including a 55-yard TD right before the half when Thompson mistimed his jump, allowing John Ross to make the catch. Seattle will hope for steadier play out of Hill and McDougald, who were also the safety duo when the Seahawks pulled off one of their best wins of 2018, a 38-31 win over Kansas City. The Seahawks have consistently praised Hill’s tackling ability. Sure tackling will be a necessity in this one.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
Will the Seahawks play more nickel defense than in week one?
They could hardly play less. Seattle had a fifth defensive back on the field for just 22 of 77 snaps against the Bengals, preferring to leave linebackers Mychal Kendricks and K.J. Wright on the field as often as they could. But since then, the Seahawks re-signed Taylor this week after he was released in the cutdown to 53. Taylor was with the Seahawks throughout the offseason and training camp and spent much of the preseason working as the number one nickel. And the assumption is he’ll move into the starting nickel spot now ahead of rookie Ugo Amadi, and that Seattle will use a nickel defense more like it usually does — most NFL teams are in nickel at least two-thirds of the time.
Starting fast on the road.
Playing on the road isn’t easy for any team, and won’t be for the Seahawks at Heinz Field — the Steelers have outscored opponents at home by 389 points since 2012, the fourth-largest margin in the NFL in that time. Seattle is second at plus-563 (the Patriots are first at plus-730). Seattle went 3-4 in true road games last year (also winning a neutral site game in London against the Raiders). But only once did they outscore a team on the road in the first half last season — taking a 21-7 lead at Detroit. Seattle was otherwise down at the half in each of its other six road games last season by a combined 84-57. Suffice to say having to come from being in the second half at Pittsburgh doesn’t portend to be a real winning formula.
WILD CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
DE Ziggy Ansah.
Will he or won’t he play? The team listed him as questionable for the game, same as last week when he did not play. But there may be more urgency to get him on the field this week. Ansah has 16 sacks in his last 21 games. The Seahawks will take those odds. One other intriguing name to watch is first-round pick L.J. Collier. Carroll said Friday he’s healthy enough to play but said he’d be up — meaning active for the game — depending on “what the rotation would be.’’ So, Seattle could see the debuts of one, both — or neither — of two of its key offseason acquisitions.
First-down play calling.
The Seahawks’ offense “fell behind schedule,’’ to use their phrase, a bit too much last week, ending up with third-and-16 or longer on five of 12 possessions. Penalties were a culprit and so were sacks. But so was an inability to run the ball well early. Seattle had 23 first-down plays against the Bengals. The Seahawks ran on 13 of them, gaining just 24 yards while throwing on 10 and gaining 102, with 44 coming on one play — Tyler Lockett’s TD that won the game. Of Seattle’s 10 longest-gaining plays in the game, nine came on second- or third-down. Seattle may need to be more aggressive in early downs in this one.
THE FINAL WORD
Steelers 24, Seahawks 20.
Expect the Seahawks to play better than they did in week one. But being at home and having the urgency to avoid an 0-2 start figures to also mean an inspired effort from the Steelers — and that, coupled with Ben Roethlisberger’s passing and a tough Heinz Field environment — may be too much for the Seahawks to overcome.