Facing off with the talented 5-2 Los Angeles Chargers in Week 9, the Seattle Seahawks will have a chance to win their third consecutive game and further enhance their legitimacy as a playoff contender.
All eyes will remain on stars such as quarterback Russell Wilson, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and defensive end Frank Clark. But for the Seahawks to win against a deep, well-coached Chargers squad, they'll need the rest of the supporting cast to bring their A games.
These five players will need to step up for Seattle to leave the field victorious on Sunday:
1. Rashaad Penny, RB
It's been a challenging past couple of weeks for the first round pick out of San Diego State, as he's been frustrated by his lack of playing time and didn't log a single carry in two of Seattle's past three games. But with starting running back Chris Carson a game-time decision dealing with a groin issue, the Seahawks will likely need Penny to play significant snaps out of the backfield against the Chargers.
"He’s doing fine, he just wants to play more and I don’t blame him one bit." Coach Pete Carroll commented on Friday when discussing Penny's progress. "He wants to get out there more but it just hasn’t happened enough for him to get a chance to really show it. I’m hoping that we can get that done for him.”
Penny has only carried the football 38 times for 135 yards and has yet to score an NFL touchdown, but he has averaged over five yards per tote in the last two games he's played and the Chargers have surrendered 100-plus rushing yards four times this year. In those games, Los Angeles has went 2-2, giving Seattle hope the ground game can give them an advantage on their home turf.
2. Jaron Brown, WR
Similar to recently released veteran Brandon Marshall, Brown has seen his snap totals decrease over the past month as a result of the emergence of second-year receiver David Moore. After catching six passes and a touchdown in Seattle's first three games, he's only caught a five-yard touchdown on one single target over the past four games.
Due to the Seahawks recent run-heavy approach, there haven't been many throws to spread around to the team's receivers. But Brown could be an impact player in this game, as his speed will be valuable against a defense that has had some trouble giving up explosive pass plays at times this season.
With opponents now well aware of Moore along with Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, Brown will have a chance to do some damage in Seattle's four wide sets on Sunday.
3. George Fant, T
Though Fant returned from a severe knee injury without a starting job thanks to the addition of Duane Brown last season, he's found his niche as a beneficial role player for Seattle's offense.
Over the past several weeks since rookie Will Dissly was lost for the season with a ruptured patellar tendon, Fant has seen the field frequently as a sixth lineman. He played 24 snaps against the Lions last weekend, good for 38 percent of Seattle's offensive plays, and also slid out to slot receiver on a couple of plays.
Given his athleticism as a former college basketball player, it shouldn't be shocking Fant has ran routes and caught passes at practice. Seattle could have a few wrinkles in the playbook ready to unleash against Los Angeles and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him report as eligible and actually receive a target at some point.
4. Jacob Martin, DE
If there’s a game where defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. needs to be cautious about blitzing, it’s against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Though not a great athlete at this stage of his career, the 15th year veteran signal caller maneuvers the pocket as well as anyone in the league and welcomes extra pressure, as his 91.4 quarterback rating under duress ranks second in the NFL this season.
Keeping that in mind, Norton has to hope his front four can successfully collapse the pocket and turn up the heat on Rivers. While Clark and Dion Jordan will be expected the carry the biggest workload rushing the passer, Martin has gradually seen an uptick in snaps and though the statistics aren't there yet, he's impressed Carroll and the coaching staff.
“We like his speed, his intensity of what he brings on pass rush [and] the consistency of his get-off is really good." Carroll said about the sixth-round pick. "We haven’t seen him at home much – we haven’t been here – but he should be really effective with the crowd and all that. We’re anxious to get him a lot of play time.”
Feeding off a frenzied CenturyLink Field crowd, Martin will have a chance to get great jumps off the snap. Using his motor and athleticism off the edge, this would be the perfect game for him to finally get home and collect his first NFL sack.
5. Justin Coleman, CB
Rivers has a deep, loaded receiving corps at his disposal, headlined by sixth-year veteran Keenan Allen. The former California star caught 102 passes for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns last season, and despite only scoring once so far this year, he remains Rivers' favorite target.
Playing a fair amount of snaps out of the slot, the versatile Allen leads Los Angeles with 41 receptions for 506 yards. While fellow cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers will have tough assignments battling with Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams on the outside, Coleman may have the most challenging job working against one of the league's most fluid route runners in Allen.
Quickly establishing himself as one of the better slot corners in football, Coleman should be up to the challenge, but the biggest key will be keeping Allen and the Chargers other receivers in front of him while limiting yards after the catch. If he fails to accomplish those two goals, it could be a long afternoon for Seattle's pass defense.