The Seahawks face off against the powerful Baltimore Ravens at Century Link Field today in which figures to be a very tough test for this young team. The Ravens 'Core Four" of Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Halati Ngata, and Terrell Suggs have been terrorizing opposing offenses all season and will not let off the gas this week in Seattle. Here are some keys to the game that I've identified.
Stop Ray Rice:
The Ravens' feature back has already racked up 532 yards on the ground and 416 yards receiving on 38 receptions and is on pace to sniff that elusive 1000/1000 club of running backs with triple digit yardage in both categories. He's so versatile and hard to stop and the Ravens offense goes through him. If the Seahawks can figure out a way to slow him down, not even necessarily stop him, they will give themselves a chance.
The Seahawks defense, on the season, is giving up 3.4 yards per carry on the ground right, tied with Baltimore for 2nd in the league, but struggled last week to contain DeMarco Murray, another versatile running back. If the Hawks can find no answer for Rice, it's going to be a very long day.
Fluster Joe Flacco:
Flacco has famously struggled this season at times, and getting him flustered early will go a long way for this Seahawks' defense. If the Hawks can limit Ray Rice's production and put the burden on Flacco to carry the offense, anything can happen.
Flacco has 11 turnovers this season to his 9 touchdown passes so getting after him early will be important. How do the Seahawks do this? Breaking out some blitz packages and mixing up personnel on third downs could help but the Seahawks rely on their base-pesonnel so much that I'm almost resigned to hoping Chris Clemons has a monster day.
The Anquan Boldin, Richard Sherman/Brandon Browner matchup is going to be very fun to watch. All three players are very physical and both Hawks' cornerbacks are more suited to this type of opponent. If Browner and Sherman can take Boldin out of the game, Flacco will have to look to Torrey Smith, who, despite some intriguing rookie numbers, has been inconsistent and is prone to 'rookie mistakes'.
Baltimore's tight end duo of Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta has been deadly this season and the Seahawks cannot have assignment breakdowns on the Ravens' tight ends like they did against those of Dallas. Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, David Hawthorne, and Earl Thomas will need to keep an eye on both of these guys going down the seam and try and take away that option for Flacco.
Limit Turnovers/Create Turnovers:
The Ravens' defense has won them several games this year despite poor play from Joe Flacco and the offensive side of the ball, so limiting turnovers for Tarvaris Jackson and Marshawn Lynch will be crucial. You simply cannot cough up the ball to this Baltimore defense and hope to come out on top.
This means that Tarvaris will need to have a strong game throwing the ball - no jump throws, back foot throws, or errant throw-away attempts that end up in the wrong hands. Lynch will have his work cut out for him on the ground but he cannot lose the football. If the Hawks can do this, and manage to get Joe Flacco out of rhythm and turnover prone, they will put themselves in a good place to win this game.
The Seahawks special teams' units have been major liabilities throughout the season. Returned kicks and punts for touchdowns during comeback attempts. Blocked field goals. Penalties. Lack of explosive plays on returns. On the other hand, they are due for a big game. Considering the opponent, a big special teams play or two couldn't come at a more opportune time.
The field position game will be big, especially if the Seahawks struggle to move the ball against this defense. If they start out the game backed up into their end of the field after the first few possessions, it could prove to be a long day.
John Ryan and Stephen Hauschka will need to have strong performances for the Seahawks.