Inside Slant: Seahawks excited for first opportunity to play in London

The Seahawks will square off with several familiar faces in a must-win game against the Raiders at Wembley Stadium.

Heading across the pond to London for the first time in franchise history, coach Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks hope to recapture the momentum that nearly led to an upset victory over the undefeated Los Angeles Rams last Sunday.

Carroll, who previously coached nine seasons at USC before being hired by the Seahawks in 2010, plans to approach this weekend’s international matchup with the Oakland Raiders by leaning on his past experiences preparing college teams.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting event.” Carroll said. “Nobody has home field, so we just go ahead and go for it kind of like a bowl game and we’ll go make the most of it.”

Aiming to keep the weekly schedule as normal as possible, Carroll said the Seahawks chose to leave for London on Wednesday rather than earlier in the week to help initiate game-planning before making the 11-hour flight. Of all the legitimate concerns undertaking this lengthy trip, he wants to establish a healthy sleeping schedule right away to help players and coaches adjust well before game day.

“There is some science to it.” Carroll said. “We’ll try to sleep on the way over and then keeping them up the day that we get there so that they can get a regular night’s sleep, a real healthy night’s sleep without going to sleep during the day – that’s one of the big issues. Then we have days to turn it around.”

Once they arrive at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, the Seahawks will square off with former star running back Marshawn Lynch and a Raiders squad that Carroll believes is far better than their 1-4 record indicates. Coming off a challenging 33-31 loss to the Rams, Seattle certainly won’t be overlooking the “home” team in a must-win contest.

“They’ve been ahead and had chances to play well in every game. Their games, they’ve struggled to get the finish.” Carroll stated respectfully. “They’ve got a lot of fire power, they’ve got a lot of offense. It’s a star-studded offensive group that they have there.”

Coach Jon Gruden left the broadcast booth to return to the Raiders with a 10-year contract and added veteran receiver Jordy Nelson and enigmatic talent Martavis Bryant to an already-talented offense headlined by quarterback Derek Carr, Lynch, and ex-Alabama star Amari Cooper, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing in his first year back with the organization.

Despite racking up the sixth-most offensive yards in the NFL through five weeks of action, Oakland hasn’t been able to overcome turnover issues and has been inefficient offensively, ranking 22nd in the league in scoring. At the core of its offensive struggles, Carr currently leads the league with eight interceptions and has thrown three of them in the end zone, immediately ending potential scoring drives without any points.

Making matters worse for Carr, his normally reliable offensive line has been ravaged by injuries. Oakland placed long-timer starting tackle Donald Penn on injured reserve a week ago, first-round pick Kolton Miller has been playing with a sprained knee, and All-Pro guard Kelechi Osemele could miss a second game in a row with a knee injury of his own.

Carroll expects Gruden, who helped guide the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl championship in 2002, will get things turned in the right direction, though he’s hoping he’ll wait another week.

“They have caught our attention by just the playmaking ability that they have and they’ve got great coaching.” Carroll stated. “Unfortunately for somebody, and hopefully not us, it’s just a matter of time. These guys are going to get going and get ripping and be close enough to win all of their games.”

Knowing Oakland’s offensive potential, it’ll be key for the Seahawks to continue grinding out drives with a suddenly-potent ground attack. Since guard D.J. Fluker returned to lineup in Week 3, Seattle has rattled off three straight games with a 100-yard rusher, including Chris Carson’s career-best 116-yard performance against the Rams. Mike Davis also added 68 yards in a reserve role as the team amassed over 190 yards rushing against a defense featuring defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.

Along with Oakland’s inconsistencies on offense, they’ve been plagued by poor run defense, surrendering over 127 yards rushing per game and a healthy 4.9 yards per carry. Gruden’s defense has missed linebacker Khalil Mack, who was dealt to the Bears prior to Week 1, as the Raiders sit at the bottom of the league with only 6.0 sacks.

With Carson and Davis both healthy, the offensive line playing as well as any group during the Carroll era, and quarterback Russell Wilson coming off a three-touchdown game, Seattle plans to keep the train rolling and take advantage of the Raiders defensive woes stopping the run and rushing the passer.

“We made a big turn. It’s taken us longer than I would’ve wanted to get to this point, but we feel like we can play the game that we want to play and the style we want to play it regardless of where we’re going.” Carroll said when asked about Seattle’s reestablished identity. “We’ll find out, let’s go see if we can take it across the ocean and do it as well, but that’s really important to us.”

Calling Sunday’s game important for each team would be an understatement. Though it’s only Week 6, a loss would drop the Seahawks to 2-4 on the season and greatly diminish chances of earning a playoff bid. Oakland finds itself in an even more dire situation, needing the victory at Wembley to avoid a dreaded 1-5 start in Gruden’s return season.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Rashaad Penny: The first-round pick out of San Diego State has grown “frustrated” by lack of playing time, as he didn’t log a single offensive snap against the Rams with Carson and Davis running so effectively. Carroll said he’s handled the situation with class and he’s excited for Penny to “get in there and get going too.” Look for him to be in the mix against Oakland.

--WR Doug Baldwin: When questioned about Baldwin’s health coming off an MCL sprain, Carroll said his one-catch performance last Sunday wasn’t impacted by lingering injuries and the ball “just didn’t go to him.” The Seahawks only threw 21 passes against the Rams, thus limiting his opportunities, and the veteran receiver finished with one catch for one yard. Playing a shaky Raiders secondary, Baldwin will have a great chance to bust out in his fourth game of the year.

--LB K.J. Wright: Seattle will have to go without the Pro Bowl linebacker for at least one more week, as the Seahawks don’t want to rush him back into the lineup with the bye week coming after Sunday’s game in London. Carroll said he’ll be “running hard this week,” but it’d be too much to ask him to return this weekend and he’ll miss his sixth consecutive game recovering from knee surgery.

--CB Tre Flowers: The fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma State continues to impress, as he deflected a pass at the goal line in the first quarter against the Rams and defensive end Frank Clark eventually hauled in the interception. He also recovered a fumble, but the play didn’t count due to a defensive penalty. He'll draw a tough assignment today trying to defend Cooper, Nelson, and Bryant.

--FS Tedric Thompson: In his first NFL start filling in for injured star Earl Thomas, Thompson recorded seven tackles and an interception. But he also missed several tackles and dropped a potential interception in the second quarter, leaving plenty of room for improvement heading into his next start versus the Raiders.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT

--LB Barkevious Mingo. While his performance went largely unnoticed in last week’s loss to the Rams, Mingo played admirably after receiving crash course training on playing weakside linebacker with Wright still sidelined and Mychal Kendricks suspended indefinitely. Previously, the former first-round pick had been seeing snaps at the SAM linebacker spot while also rushing the passer at defensive end on passing downs in Seattle’s nickel package and serving as a core special teams player. Learning a new position on the fly, Mingo registered a season-best seven combined tackles and recorded a quarterback hit against Jared Goff that prevented an explosive pass play. With the Seahawks struggling to rush the passer, he will need to bring some heat off the edge to put similar pressure on Derek Carr this weekend.

GAME PLAN

With the running game operating beautifully in recent weeks, the Seahawks can’t take the foot off the pedal facing a Raiders team that ranks near the bottom of the NFL in rushing yards surrendered per game and yards per carry average. As offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did masterfully last week against the Rams, building off the run game with explosive play action passes will be pivotal, as the Raiders secondary has been in flux rotating players in and out of the lineup searching for answers. With the Raiders tied for last in the league in sacks following the decision to trade linebacker Khalil Mack to the Bears, Wilson should have ample time to throw and allow receivers to execute downfield routes behind a rapidly improving offensive line.

The Raiders have been a bit of a mystery offensively, as they sit sixth in the NFL in total yardage but rank only 22nd overall in scoring per game. Carr leads the league with a 71.3 percent completion percentage, but he’s also been turnover prone, throwing a league-worst eight interceptions in five games, including three interceptions in the end zone to squelch scoring drives. Even with Thomas out and lacking much of a consistent pass rush, Seattle intercepted Goff twice last week and sits second in the NFL in turnovers nearing the midway point of the season. The Raiders offensive line has been banged up and the Seahawks will need to exploit playing against rookie tackles Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker by hitting Carr early to force him into bad throws. If he’s comfortable in the pocket, he can still torch opposing secondaries with receiving threats Cooper, Nelson, Bryant, and Cook at his disposal and Lynch available to hand off to.

PREDICTION

Don't let the Raiders record fool you- this is a quality football team that hasn't been able to put everything together yet this season. Seattle won't walk into Wembley and easily beat Gruden's squad.

However, Oakland has a bevy of key injuries that will make it tough for his team to squeak out a closely-contested battle in London. With the offensive line likely missing Osemele and the defense chronically struggling to rush the passer, Seattle should be able to manufacture enough pressure on Carr to force a turnover or two while also protecting Wilson well enough for the passing game to find a rhythm.

Seattle could easily experience a post-Rams game lull, but I'm not seeing it with the team desperate for a win. Expect a tight game throughout with the Seahawks pulling away late in the fourth quarter.

Seahawks 34, Raiders 21

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