Maybe you think the Seahawks’ season is already verging on the edge of meaninglessness after three consecutive losses and a 2-5 start.
But it’s hard to imagine there’s ever been more of a must-win regular-season game for the Seahawks in the recent history of the franchise than Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. home game against Jacksonville.
Maybe that seems like hyperbole given all the big games the Seahawks have played in the Pete Carroll era.
But it’s hard to imagine the Seahawks making anything of this season — one that began with Super Bowl hopes and from the start has been perceived as likely to play a pivotal role in the future of Russell Wilson — if they lose to the Jaguars Sunday and fall to 2-6 heading into their bye week. Games against Green Bay and Arizona loom with it still unclear when Wilson will return.
So, yep, the Seahawks better win this one or the season could be over in October.
On with our keys to the game.
Matchup to watch
Seahawks defense vs. James Robinson
Robinson, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent a year ago out of Illinois State, is emerging as one of the best young running backs in the league, ranking eighth in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 76.7. He’s been especially good of late, rushing for 73 or more yards and at least 4.3 yards per carry in each of the last four games. The Seahawks still rank 30th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 134.1. But that number has decreased to 110.0 the last three games including a season-best performance in holding the Saints to 94 yards on 31 carries when the Seahawks regularly went with a “big” defensive line featuring three tackles in Poona Ford, Al Woods and Bryan Mone (all three were official starters). This is a game the Seahawks need to take the ball out of Robinson’s hands and put it squarely in those of rookie QB Trevor Lawrence.
Players to watch
Receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett
After an exceedingly conservative game plan against a good Saints defense and secondary Monday, the Seahawks may be inclined to open things up more against a Jaguars team that ranks 30th in total defense — one spot ahead of Seattle — and 31st in pass defense. Metcalf had an 84-yard TD in the first quarter against the Saints but went the next two quarters without getting a target. He finished with two catches for 96 yards. Lockett had just two catches for only 12 yards, his lowest output in his last 24 games. The Seahawks needs more out of their dynamic receiving duo.
Coaching decision to watch
First-down offensive aggressiveness
Yes, the Seahawks really were as run-heavy on first down against the Saints as you thought. On 22 first downs, the Seahawks called runs on 14 (Smith also scrambled for a 12-yard gain on a called pass). And yes, they were not successful, gaining just 22 yards on those plays with no gain of longer than 5 and eight for 2 yards or less, setting up a lot of second- and third-and-longs. As noted, the Jaguars are statistically not a good pass defense team, and this may be a good time to break out a few more first-down passes. But it’s worth noting those hardly worked better against New Orleans. Seattle was 4-for-7 passing on first downs against the Saints for 26 yards with a long of 12.
So how much does intimate knowledge of another team’s scheme matter? Most coaches and players say it doesn’t matter as much as people think, with teams usually able to figure out all that they need to know from film study. This game may be a test of that with Urban Meyer’s staff featuring five assistants who have recently been with the Seahawks including their past two offensive coordinators — Darrell Bevell, who is Jacksonville’s OC, and Brian Schottenheimer, who is the passing-game coordinator. Other recent assistants on Jacksonville’s staff are offensive assistant Will Harriger, receivers coach Sanjay Lal (who also played at UW) and special-teams coordinator Nick Sorenson. Also on Meyer’s staff is former UW assistant Tosh Lupoi, who is the defensive-line coach. There’s a few players on the Jags roster who have Seattle ties, notably cornerback Shaquill Griffin. Of course, the Seahawks have lots of Jacksonville intel thanks to QB Jake Luton, who was in training camp with the Jags before being waived and signed by the Seahawks.
Player who could surprise
Tight end Will Dissly
When Dissly caught three passes for 37 yards in the opener against the Colts, the narrative was the Seahawks’ offense under first-year coordinator Shane Waldron would indeed get the tight ends more involved. Dissly has just seven catches for 81 yards in six games since, including just two for 8 in the last two games, both against the Steelers. Fellow tight end Gerald Everett has been a little more involved, with five catches for 51 yards in the past two games. But getting each a few more touches might be a good way to jump-start things against the Jags, especially considering Jacksonville has been vulnerable to tight ends. The Jags have allowed 474 yards to tight ends, seventh most in the NFL, including four touchdowns, tied for fifth.
The first four games of the season, the Seahawks did a good job getting off to fast starts, scoring 69 points in the first halves of their first four games. But since then, they have scored just 14 points in the first half of the last three games, an average of 4.7 first-half points that ranks 31st in that span. The last thing the Seahawks need to do Sunday is allow an underdog team to hang around and go into the second half still with a legit shot to win the game.
Seahawks 26, Jaguars 21. Hope for a Seahawks turnaround rests in a schedule that includes six teams the rest of the way who currently have losing records, including the 1-5 Jags, whose win two weeks ago against Miami snapped a 20-game losing streak. Even without Russell Wilson, the Seahawks are the better team and has to play like it Sunday.