After climbing over the .500 threshold for the first time last weekend, the Seattle Seahawks will face their toughest encounter yet with the high-flying Los Angeles Chargers traveling to CenturyLink Field.
Led by ageless wonder Philip Rivers, the Chargers entered their bye week with four straight victories over the 49ers, Raiders, Browns, and Titans. Though not necessarily beating the best competition, the Bolts sit amongst the top scoring offenses in the league, averaging nearly 28 points per game and ranking in the top 10 in both passing and rushing yardage thanks to a deep stable of talented skill players.
Rivers, 36, hasn’t slowed down at all in his 15th NFL season, as he’s thrown for 17 touchdowns and completed 70 percent of his pass attempts through seven games. He’s also had great support in the backfield, as running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler are both averaging over five yards per carry and have combined for 771 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Both players have been crucial contributors in the passing game as well, scoring three touchdowns as receivers a piece.
Rebounding from a rough start in which they gave up 27 or more points in three of their first four games, including 38 to rising star Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, the Chargers have also found their groove defensively over the past month. Capitalizing on matchups against inferior quarterbacks, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s unit has held opponents to less than 15 points per game, intercepted four passes, and registered 10 sacks during that span.
Here’s a closer look at Seattle’s upcoming opponent, including series history, additions/departures, key numbers, and Carroll’s evaluation of the talented Chargers heading into Week 9:
--51st regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 26-24. The Chargers defeated the Seahawks each of the first eight times they met, but the tide turned in the 1980s, as Seattle won seven straight in the series from 1984 to 1987. Since the Seahawks moved to the NFC West during realignment, the two teams have split their four contests, with the Chargers winning 30-21 when they last played in San Diego during the 2014 season.
--Additions: The Chargers bolstered their defense by adding versatile safety Derwin James with the No. 17 overall pick in the first round. Bradley’s defense also received contributions from fourth-round pick Kyzir White, but the hybrid linebacker will not return from a knee injury for Sunday’s game in Seattle. Los Angeles didn’t make many moves in free agency, but the team did upgrade at center, signing former Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey to a two-year contract with hopes he’ll bring a nasty edge to the offensive line. Veteran tight end Virgil Green, formerly of the Broncos and best known for his blocking ability, also joined the Chargers on a three-year deal.
--Departures: Among one of the stranger decisions made by the team this offseason, the Chargers opted not to re-sign safety Tre Boston, who recorded a career-best five interceptions last season. He eventually signed with the Cardinals in August. Former starting linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu left to sign with the 49ers, while ex-Seahawks linebacker Korey Toomer also signed with the 49ers before winding up with the Packers during the regular season. Though he’s still on the team, the Chargers also lost cornerback Jason Verrett to another season-ending injury.
Inside the Numbers
140.2: Quarterback rating for Philip Rivers outside of the pocket, first in the NFL through Week 8.
37.2: Third down conversion percentage for Chargers, 23rd worst mark in the league.
4.9: Yards per attempt running the football, tied for third-best in the league.
6.7: Yards surrendered per play out of base defense, tied for third-most in the league.
83.7: Overall grade for cornerback Desmond King via Pro Football Focus, highest mark on the team.
0: Number of defensive backs with 3.5 sacks through seven games prior to Derwin James accomplishing the feat this season.
--As has been the case in the past, there may not be another quarterback in football that Carroll fears playing against more than Philip Rivers, who continues to play at an elite level at 36 years young. Already with 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions through seven games, he’s kept the Chargers in the hunt in the AFC West and Carroll expects nothing less than his best shot on Sunday.
“You can’t say enough about how good this guy is.” Carroll said on Wednesday. “He’s having a great year, he’s completing almost 70 percent of his passes… He’s just so smart. You can’t fool the guy.”
Rivers has had Seattle’s number during the two regular season matchups since Carroll arrived in 2010, throwing for over 440 yards in a losing effort back in 2010 and tossing three touchdowns when the teams last met four years ago. He’s as cerebral of a quarterback as you’ll find in today’s NFL and with the Chargers running the same defense as the Seahawks under Gus Bradley, he’ll be well-prepared to face Carroll’s team.
“He throws the ball in all kinds of situations, whether he’s in trouble or not.” Carroll added. “He’s not a guy who’s gonna run around a lot, but he moves deftly in the pocket and then he finds ways to make great throws… It’s as hard as it gets.”
--Carroll holds the utmost respect for Rivers, but the Seahawks will have to focus on stopping a Chargers team that can also run the football effectively. Despite missing their last game with a hamstring injury, Melvin Gordon has 466 rushing yards and has averaged over five yards per carry, while Austin Ekeler has given Los Angeles a nice change of pace back while rushing for 305 yards and nearly six yards per carry this season.
“The running backs are averaging over five yards a carry and it just makes it really hard…” Carroll stated. “It’s very similar to what we saw last week with a really experienced quarterback and a good running game- these guys are on it.”
Along with being dangerous weapons as runners, Gordon and Ekeler have been matchup nightmares for defenses running routes out of the backfield and the Seahawks will have to keep a close eye on them in the passing game. Rivers targets both backs frequently, as Gordon ranks second on the team with 30 receptions, while Ekeler has added 19 catches for 233 yards.
--The Seahawks nearly had a chance to draft James as the successor to Kam Chancellor, but the Chargers drafted him one pick before Seattle was on the clock and general manager John Schneider didn’t have a chance to select him. Instead, Schneider traded down to the No. 27 pick to obtain an additional third round pick and drafted running back Rashaad Penny.
With Chris Carson and Mike Davis running wild behind Seattle’s revamped offensive line, Penny hasn’t had much of a chance to contribute for the Seahawks. Stuck third on the depth chart, he hasn’t received a single carry in two of the team’s past three games. As for James, he’s emerged as a contender for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, as the former Florida State star already has 44 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and an interception in his first season with the Chargers.
“He is a great prospect and they’ve already recognized it and they’re featuring him and moving him all over the place.” Carroll said when asked about James. “He can do everything. He can cover and he can hit and he can blitz. They’re doing all that stuff with him. They got a great player.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson will have to account for James each play, as he’s just as likely to come flying off the edge on a blitz as he is to drop back in coverage. He’s a game changer at the safety position, and though Seattle’s current group of safeties has played great thus far this season, it’ll always be a fun to speculate what could have been if Los Angeles passed on him at No. 17 overall.