5 Matchups to Watch as Seahawks Face Buccaneers

Corbin Smith

Preparing for the “start to the finish” as coach Pete Carroll coined it, the Seahawks will look to continue their winning ways when they square off with the Buccaneers at CenturyLink Field.

If the playoffs started today, Seattle would be the fifth seed in the NFC and earn a wild card spot with a stellar 6-2 record. However, Carroll is keeping his fingers crossed his team will peak during their final two months as they’ve consistently done during his nine previous seasons on the sidelines.

The Seahawks haven’t had a losing record in the second half of the season since Carroll’s first year in 2010. On two different occasions, they’ve gone 7-1 (2012, 2014) down the stretch and they’ve also finished 6-2 in the final eight games twice, including last season.

Though the Buccaneers sit near the cellar in the NFC South with a 2-5 record, the team has been much more competitive than their record may indicate under coach Bruce Arians. An explosive passing offense coupled with the NFL’s best run defense could make them a challenging and formidable for the Seahawks.

Arians also has quite the track record of winning in Seattle dating back to his time as coach for Arizona. His teams consistently played well at CenturyLink and his Cardinals won four of their past five games at the noisy venue.

“It’s probably my favorite place to play because it’s such a great atmosphere.’ Arians said on Tuesday. “The fans are fantastic. We’re just teaching our guys to feed off that energy from the crowd like it’s a home crowd. It always comes down to a very, very close game.”

Heading into Sunday’s latest matchup pitting the defensive-minded Carroll against the fiery Arians, which five matchups will determine who picks up a pivotal Week 9 win?

--Seahawks defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah vs. Buccaneers tackles Demar Dotson and Donovan Smith: As Carroll referenced multiple times again this week, the inability to get Seattle’s pass rush rolling remains his biggest concern heading into the second half. Clowney has been dominant in recent weeks and may have played his finest game as a Seahawk last weekend, hitting quarterback Matt Schaub four times and recording a strip-sack. But Seattle continues to wait patiently with hopes the 30-year old Ansah will get untracked, as he’s produced a single sack and three quarterback hits in five games. Both Clowney and Ansah will again have an ideal matchup for a breakout game against Tampa Bay, as the offensive line has allowed Jameis Winston to be sacked 28 times this season. The two should be able to, in theory, find success rushing off the edge against Dotson and Smith.

--Seahawks center Joey Hunt vs. Buccaneers defensive tackles Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh: All eyes will be on Hunt, as he makes his second career start at center on Sunday replacing Justin Britt, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL last weekend. The 299-pound lineman will have his hands full trying to block the massive 6-foot-4, 347-pound Vea as well as Suh in the interior. The Buccaneers have given up less than 70 rushing yards per game in 2019 and yielded just one run of 20 or more yards in large part due to the contributions of their two space-eating run stuffers, who keep their linebackers clean to make plays against the run. Hunt won’t be asked to knock Vea off the line of scrimmage, but instead use his technique and athleticism to try and win one-on-one against him. Whether that will work or not could be a huge difference maker in this game.

--Seahawks cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers vs. Buccaneers receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin: Winston has had his issues with interceptions this season, but he’s also posted gaudy numbers throwing to arguably the league’s best one-two punch in Evans and Godwin. The two receivers have combined to catch 85 passes for 1,367 yards, the most for any duo in the NFL thus far. Evans torched the Seahawks back in 2016, catching eight passes for 108 yards, while Godwin hasn’t played against them in three NFL seasons. While both receivers offer excellent size, athleticism, and big play capabilities, Griffin and Flowers match up well given their respective strengths. The big-bodied cornerbacks will need to be physical at the line of scrimmage to prevent the two dangerous downfield threats from doing damage over the top, especially considering the lingering instability at the safety position for Seattle.

--Seahawks running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny vs. Buccaneers linebackers Devin White and Lavante David: Despite Tampa Bay’s excellent track record stopping the run this year, Seattle won’t abandon the ground game this weekend. In order for the rushing attack to find traction, Carson and Penny will likely need to be able to create yardage after contact, which will be easier said than done against the athletic duo of White and David, who can each pursue backs sideline-to-sideline and are outstanding tacklers both in traffic and in space. Carson and Penny could also be focal points in the passing game, as the Buccaneers blitz on 47.9 percent of opposing drop backs and quick dump offs to backs could be fruitful.

--Seahawks receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf vs. Buccaneers cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Carlton Davis: While the Buccaneers boast the NFL’s best run defense, they’ve been equally as bad defending the pass, ranking 31 in total pass defense. Through seven games, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’s unit has given up 1,283 air yards on completions and 14 touchdowns. Lack of production at cornerback has been one of the biggest culprits for the ineptitude. Hargreaves, a former first-round pick out of Florida, has allowed 489 receiving yards and four touchdowns already this season. Davis has been marginally better, giving up 295 passing yards and three touchdowns on 55 targets. As long as Russell Wilson has time to throw against an aggressive defense, Lockett and Metcalf should have an opportunity to feast against one of the weaker secondaries in the league.

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