A very tough matchup awaits the Seattle Seahawks as they travel down the West Coast to battle the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, on Sunday afternoon. These two teams were long-time rivals in the AFC West for more than 20 years before realignment sent them to different conferences. However, this rivalry is not quite as heated as the ones with Denver and Las Vegas, as the Seahawks and Chargers never met in the playoffs, unlike the Broncos and Raiders.
Seattle (3-3) earned its way back to .500 on the season with a 19-9 win over Arizona in front of an energized Lumen Field crowd. The defense was the story in a positive way for a change, as the Seahawks kept Kyler Murray and the Cardinals' offense out of the end zone all day. The pressure on Murray was a game-changer, collecting six sacks and seven hits on the dual-threat signal-caller. The lone blemish was on special teams, where the Cardinals recovered a fumbled punt in the end zone for their lone touchdown late in the third quarter. That type of stuff must be cleaned up because the margin for error is slim for Seattle.
Meanwhile, the Chargers (4-2) are coming off of a 19-16 overtime over Denver on "Monday Night Football." Los Angeles cashed in on muffed punt with a gimpy Dustin Hopkins connecting on a game-winning, 39-yard field goal with 2:38 left in the extra frame. Justin Herbert completed 37 of 57 passes for 238 yards with an interception but had his first NFL game without a touchdown pass. The Chargers took the Broncos' best shot in the first quarter as Russell Wilson went a perfect 10-for-10 passing and helped his team get out to a 10-0 lead, but settled down after that to keep the home team within striking distance.
Seattle (3-3) at Los Angeles (4-2)
Three Things to Watch
1. Is Kenneth going to Walk-er all over the Chargers?
Seattle's rookie running back Kenneth Walker III got off to a strong start as the primary option, picking 97 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in last week's win over Arizona. Walker's physical nature and violent running show some shades of Marshawn Lynch's heyday with the Seahawks. And he could be in for more success against the Chargers' run defense, which ranks 23rd at 125.0 yards allowed per game. Los Angeles did hold Denver to 98 yards on 23 carries (4.3 ypc) on Monday night, but the Broncos' backfield is missing Javonte Williams, so it's not at full strength. For Seattle, guard Gabe Jackson's absence last week due to a knee injury was an issue for the offensive line against the Cardinals. So his health will be something to keep an eye on as his return would provide a boost up front. The Chargers' D isn't at full strength either. Defensive end Joey Bosa is on IR with a groin injury, so his absence is something the Seahawks must take advantage of. Establishing the run early also will set up Geno Smith for greater success in the passing game as it will keep Los Angeles honest and not allow the Chargers to pin their ears back and bring pressure all the time.
2. Chargers' short-handed offense...
This unit is beat up with several key injuries. Wide receiver Keenan Allen could return after missing the past five games because of a hamstring injury, but there's a growing sense that he may wait to return until after their bye week, which follows Sunday's game. Fellow wideout Joshua Palmer, who has helped fill Allen's shoes while he's been out, won't play on Sunday because of a concussion suffered on Monday night. The offensive line is down Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater, who is on IR with a biceps injury, and center Corey Linsley missed last week because of food poisoning. Running back Joshua Kelley (MCL sprain) also is among the walking wounded, and Herbert continues to deal with the cracked rib cartilage he suffered in Week 2. Fortunately, No. 1 Austin Ekeler has been healthy and has been incredibly productive lately with six total touchdowns over his last three games. He'll continue to carry the load on offense but Herbert has other weapons to throw to. He just needs his makeshift line to give him the time to find an open target. Herbert was sacked just twice by the Broncos on Monday night, but their persistent pressure was an issue all game long. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley may lean more on the run in this game to try and control the clock and wear down Seattle's defense.
3. ...still presents a challenge for young Seahawks D
Despite the Chargers' injury issues, this is still a unit capable of piling up the yards and scoring points. Seattle's secondary is going to be tested as Herbert has wide receivers Mike Williams and DeAndre Carter (and may possibly get Allen back), as well as tight end (and former Seahawk) Gerald Everett to throw to. Not to mention that Ekeler is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. Rookie Tariq Woolen, the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week who has four interceptions, will get another chance to prove himself, along with fellow first-year cornerback Coby Bryant. In the front seven, Boye Mafe continues to get better as a pass rusher and presence along the line of scrimmage. Last week, he did a nice job of setting the edge during Arizona’s opening drive and played a big role in forcing Kyler Murray into a four-yard loss that basically stalled out that drive. It’s one of those plays that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet like a sack does, but it's a critical piece in the puzzle for a defense that is still growing. Looking ahead to Sunday, the Seahawks must continue to play with aggression and take advantage of Los Angeles' depleted offensive line. They must force Herbert to methodically move the football down the field, limiting explosive plays, and also try and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. The other key is making Staley pay for his aggressiveness as he loves to go for it on fourth down regardless of the circumstances.
This game could swing a couple of different ways. First, Seattle could get off to a fast start on both sides of the ball, jumping out to an early lead to quiet the home crowd. It could also swing in the direction of the Chargers right away if they move down the field and quickly score a couple of times to cast a seed of doubt. In the end, this game will have momentum swings for both teams, which will keep it competitive. However, the edge goes to Herbert and the offense, which should be able to take advantage of a Seahawks defense that's still growing and has yet to prove it can string together two strong performances in a row. Look for the Chargers to win another close one to improve 5-2 on the season.
Prediction: Chargers 24, Seahawks 20
– Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Contributor Network.
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