As the regular season hits its halfway point this week, the Seattle Seahawks are once again starting to build some momentum.
After a few rocky weeks and consecutive losses knocked them to .500 on the season, Earl Thomas and the Seattle defense bounced back last week, limiting the Panthers to just three field goals in a 13-9 Seahawks win in Carolina.
Now the Seahawks return to the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field to host the Oakland Raiders (0-7) on Sunday.
Earl and the Seattle defense will look to build upon last week’s performance, in which they held Cam Newton and the Panthers to just 226 total yards of offense. The Seahawks continually put pressure on Newton and forced him out of his comfort zone, denying him any opportunity to find a rhythm. ET III had his most dominant outing thus far, notching a team-high nine tackles.
Though Oakland is currently winless on the season, they represent a unique challenge for the Seattle defense, one that coach Pete Carroll knows they can’t underestimate.
“Any time you play a team that’s been struggling, you could look at them and say, ‘OK, they’re not playing good ball,’” Carroll said. “The film doesn’t show that.”
Though the teams have not met in the regular season since 2010 and Sunday marks Oakland’s first regular season visit to Seattle since 2006, they aren’t unfamiliar with each other, thanks to the past preseason.
The squads faced off in the final game of the 2014 exhibition slate and the Raiders pulled off a 41-31 win over the Seahawks. Though the Seattle defense played sparingly in their final tune-up for the regular season, they did matchup with Oakland for a few drives. Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr performed well against the first team Seattle D, completing 11-for-13 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
“He played great against us,” Carroll said. “I can see why they’re excited about him and they’ve demonstrated so much trust and confidence in him by just the nature of the style of offense that they’re willing to throw.”
But Carr’s performance during the regular season has been more characteristic of a rookie signal caller.
Through seven games, the Oakland quarterback has passed for nine touchdowns and thrown five interceptions. However, he has shown improvement in every matchup, particularly since Tony Sparano took over as interim head coach of the Raiders following the dismissal of Dennis Allen.
Most recently, in a 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Carr completed 32 passes — the highest such mark for a rookie quarterback — while accumulating 328 yards.
“We’ve seen nothing but that, really, since [Sparano] took over,” Carroll said of Carr’s success against Cleveland. “The emphasis of really trusting him, believing in him, giving him a chance to win the games. He’s done a lot of marvelous stuff.
Carroll also noted that Oakland’s winless record is not necessarily indicative of the quality of their performance this season. Four of the Raiders’ seven losses have come by 10 or fewer points and they’ve played tight with some of the NFL’s elite teams.
In Week 3, Oakland took the New England Patriots (6-2) down to the wire. The Raiders handled everything that the Patriots threw at them and had a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter. With just over three minutes remaining and his team trailing by seven, Carr marched his offense down the field and advanced all the way to the New England six-yard line.
Oakland appeared to have scored a potential game-tying touchdown with 1:02 left on the clock, but Darren McFadden’s run was called back for holding. Carr was intercepted on the next play, sealing a 16-9 win for the Patriots.
Two weeks later, following a frustrating loss to the Miami Dolphins in London that marked the team’s 10th straight defeat, head coach Dennis Allen was let go. The following week, in Sparano’s first game as interim head coach, Oakland went toe-to-toe with the San Diego Chargers (5-3). After battling back and forth throughout the entire game, the Raiders took a 28-21 lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, when Carr connected with Andre Holmes.
But the Chargers responded with a field goal and a touchdown on two consecutive possessions and held a 31-28 lead with 1:02 left. Once again, Carr was picked off on Oakland’s final drive, which allowed San Diego to escape with a close victory.
Though he has made critical mistakes late in games this season, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn also praised Oakland’s young signal-caller.
“I think coming out, you knew this guy had good talent to play quarterback in this league and he certainly proved that through the first half of the season,” said Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “He’s certainly somebody that we hold in high regard.”
In speaking to the media this week, Carr said that he will not hold back from testing Earl, Richard Sherman and the Legion of Boom. Sparano corroborated this in his Wednesday press conference.
“We have confidence to throw the ball down field against anybody, we really do,” Sparano said. “I understand, listen, all due respect to Seattle, they’re an outstanding team, no doubt about it, well-coached football team, aggressive football team, plays hard and when you’re playing in their place, you better bring as many A-games as you have, but all that being said, Derek hasn’t really been afraid to throw the ball down the field against anybody.”
Though Carr has acclimated himself well to the NFL in his rookie season, the Raiders still rank last in the league in team offense, having only accumulated 105 points and 2,083 yards.
Oakland’s biggest struggle lies in their running game, which averages just 69.6 yards per game, the worst such mark in the NFL. Veteran Darren McFadden is the only Raider to have surpassed 100 yards rushing on the season, but has just 338 total yards for the season. Behind him is another veteran, Maurice Jones-Drew, but the offseason acquisition is averaging just 11.2 yards per game.
INJURIES BREED ADVERSITY
To get their second straight win, the Hawks will have to overcome some adversity, as they will once again be playing without a number of key players on both sides of the ball.
The linebacking corps has thinned considerably as middle linebacker Bobby Wagner will miss his third straight game with turf toe and Super Bowl MVP linebacker Malcolm Smith was a new addition to the injury report this week after he injured his groin in the win over the Panthers.
Outside linebacker K.J. Wright has shifted over to fill Wagner’s role in Seattle’s last two games, But that will change this week because Carroll said rookie Brock Coyle will make his first start at middle linebacker on Sunday. Wright will play weakside linebacker in place of Smith.
In the secondary, Seattle will be without Byron Maxwell, who is still dealing with a calf injury. Additionally, cornerback Tharold Simon, who had knee surgery in the off-season but had recently made his return to the field, was put back on the injury list due to a knee issue. Carroll also said that safety Kam Chancellor will be a game-time decision.
Offensively, tight end Zach Miller remains sidelined due to an ankle injury, but on a positive note, center Max Unger returned to practice this week and will be active for Sunday afternoon’s contest.
Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense will attempt to increase their productivity on third down so that Earl and the defense can stay off of the field. The Seahawks are just 34-of-96 on third down opportunities and hold a lesser average time of possession than their opponents.
Although Sunday will mark the first time since 2006 that the Raiders (0-7) will visit Seattle during the regular season, the two franchises have a storied history, as they were AFC West rivals before the Seahawks moved to the NFC in 2002.
The Raiders own a 28-23 series lead and the teams have split their last six matchups. However, the Raiders have lost four straight games in Seattle.
The teams last met in the regular season finale of Earl’s rookie season, back in 2010. ET III recorded five tackles in the game, but the Raiders prevailed 33-3. But this time, Earl and the Seahawks will be armed with a bevy of new additions that earned the team a Super Bowl Championship.
While the Raiders have yet to pick up an NFL win, their Super Bowl run last season showed the Seahawks that they can’t underestimate any opponent. In Week 9 of the 2013 campaign, Seattle matched up against the 0-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at CenturyLink and the Seahawks fell behind 21-0. But Wilson then staged the biggest comeback in franchise history and led the team to a 27-24 overtime win.
Carroll said that he expects a similarly hard fought game from the Raiders on Sunday.
“They’re played really hard and really tough,” Carroll said. “They’ve been in every game. We’ve seen them play really well against really good teams. So we’re going to get loaded up for a really good game and expect their best.”
Kickoff from CenturyLink Field is set for 1:25 p.m. PDT on CBS.