Here are five keys to the game heading into the Week 9 match between the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks.
1. Here Comes the Run – 31.7. That's how many carries the Seahawks average per game, which is far and away the most in the NFL. That's eye-opening considering we play in an era where passing the ball keeps drastically increasing year over year. Still, it's hard to argue with their philosophy as the result speaks for itself. Seattle began ramping up their efforts on the ground five weeks ago, and they've won four games over that span. Thus, Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley fully expects the Bolts defense will face a heavy dose of Chris Carson (questionable to play), Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny on Sunday:
"I think they're averaging over 170 yards a game rushing over the last four games. You don't watch them and say, 'Oh, there's a 30-yard run, there is a 40-yard run, there is a 20-yard run.' There are a lot of four and five, and six and seven (yard runs). When you look at the stats, there might be a 12 and a 15 (here and there). I mean, they just are very convicted."
2. Defeat the 12s – The Bolts' offense has been a well-oiled machine all year long, but they'll be put to the test in one of the most hostile stadiums not only in the NFL, but all of professional sports. CenturyLink Field is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks as Seattle's "12s" roar to near deafening levels. Just ask Head Coach Anthony Lynn:
"That place, that's the loudest place I've ever played. I think right now they hold some record for the most false starts in a stadium. It's going to be loud. It's going to be crazy. I was there a couple years ago and I was calling plays, and my quarterback couldn't hear me through the headsets. We have to make some contingency plans for our quarterback to maybe call some of his own plays."
Philip Rivers has played in every NFL city, and he knows just how hard it will be to overcome that element on Sunday. However, for the Bolts to leave the Emerald City victorious, they must overcome the raucous atmosphere:
"It's loud. I mean, it's hard to argue where is the loudest place, but this one definitely is arguably, 1A, 1B in the group (right) up there. Both regular-season games (we played) up there in 2006 and 2010 were super loud. Even preseason there in 2014 it was loud. It will be a heck of an atmosphere. They are on a roll right now, as we are, and so it will be a heck of a challenge playing against them on the field, and then certainly we have to be able to handle the noise, as well."
3. Rein in Russell – Russell Wilson is perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL at carving defenses up with his legs. It's not just his ability to run downfield with the ball, but the Pro Bowler's ability to extend plays is truly remarkable. The Bolts know they must stay true to their "plaster" rules when plays break down, sticking with their man through the whistle. While Wilson's attempts aren't as high as others, he's been just as, if not more, effective. In fact, he's coming off the best statistical outing of his career last week when he posted the first perfect 158.3 passer rating in Seahawks history. It's clear the Bolts credit his ability to make something out of nothing and extend plays. Here's why Bradley explained Wilson is one of the best in the league at the art of extending plays:
"Yeah, you try to mimic it in practice, but it's hard. Every so often, the quarterback takes off and runs, so we get our plaster rules down, but he's so effective. It's not like, 'Hey, D-line. He'll always try to escape this way.' That's not the case with Russell. I mean, you watch all those plays and you see him escape different ways. Obviously, you want to try to get to him because when he gets out of the pocket and extends plays, but when he goes through the middle, too. So our pass rush lanes have to be very disciplined this week, very disciplined."
4. New Names, Same Game – The names on the back of the jersey may be different than recent seasons, but Seattle's defense just keeps rolling. The Seahawks rank near the top in the league in several categories, including fifth in total defense (327.3 ypg), fourth in passing (219.0 ypg) and fourth in points allowed (18.7). While the likes of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bruce Irvin and so on are no longer on the field, Rivers noted that the defense is just as effective as in the franchise's heyday:
"They are playing really good defense right now. I think the biggest difference is you used to go in — and this is not by any means slighting the roster, the defensive lineup now — but you used to go into that game, and you could just say, who is on Seattle's defense and you could write out every one right because they had been together for so long, back-to-back Super Bowls, won the Super Bowl against Denver. Now there's just been so much change on that defense, but there's still the same scheme, and there's plenty of names that you can recognize. So it's a good group. They are up there high in every category, and like I said, they played really well here, won four of the last five. Heck of a job going against them. There's not a lot of tape you watch that you see many holes on that defense. I think (Bobby) Wagner in the middle is the one guy who has been there through a lot of that turn over, and he runs the show. He and K.J. Wright, they orchestrate it and do a heck of a job."
5. Mark Clark – Who leads the Seahawks in sacks? The answer is Frank Clark, a dangerous edge rusher who has flown under the radar since entering the league as a third-round pick back in 2015. Clark had 19.0 sacks between 2016-17, and is on pace to set a new career high as he has 6.5 through seven games. That mark is the fourth highest in the NFC. Thus, it's imperative that the Bolts keep track of Clark at all times. The good news for the Chargers is that they have one of the top offensive lines in the game when it comes to keeping the quarterback clean as Rivers has been sacked only 10 times. That number is tied for the third fewest sacks allowed on the year, trailing the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints who've allowed nine. It also helps that number 17 is as good as anyone when it comes to evading pressure while in the pocket, as Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll stressed during a recent press conference:
"He's just so smart. You just can't fool the guy. He sees everything. He's got great sense, that's kind of where it starts. But he also has extremely great accuracy. He throws the ball in all kinds of situations, whether he's in trouble or not. He's not a guy who's going to run around a lot but he moves really (well) in the pocket and then he finds way to make great throws. You can't sack him because he's so smart, so fast with the football. It's just hard as it gets."
Browse through the top photos as the Chargers hold their final practice before traveling to Seattle for Week 9.