The Seattle Seahawks started off their 2019 campaign exactly the way every team hopes to, winning their season opener in front of their home crowd. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows however, with some quirky weather handed down from above, as well as visiting Cincinnati unleashing a new and aggressive passing attack under first-year head coach and offensive play-caller Zac Taylor that seemed to catch Seattle off guard. The Bengals defense also gave Seattle problems, as Russell Wilson was sacked four times and hit or hurried on the majority of his dropbacks as he passed for 195 yards and two scores on 20 attempts. Running back Chris Carson carried and caught the mail, rushing for 46 yards and a score as well as catching six passes for 34 yards and another score to pace the Seahawks to 14 first-half points.
Seattle trailed by three at halftime, but a well-timed touchdown pass from Wilson to Tyler Lockett (Lockett’s best and only catch of the day) late in the third quarter would prove to be the difference, as the Bengals scored just a field goal in the second half and fumbled on their final possession to seal a 21-20 Seattle victory. It may not have been the game or opponent many were expecting, but it was the outcome the Seahawks needed, and that’s all that counts in week one.
Week two brings another AFC North opponent and Seattle’s first road trip, as they go coast to coast to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at 1pm est/10am pst this Sunday on FOX. This will be the Seahawks’ first game against Pittsburgh since week 12 of the 2015 season, a 39-30 victory for Seattle (also known as the Jimmy Graham knee injury game). This will be Seattle’s first trip to Heinz Field since week 2 of the 2011 season, a brutal 24-0 Steelers shutout victory, which is the last time the Seahawks went scoreless in a regular-season game.
The all-time series is tied 9-9, so whoever wins this one will most likely hold the lead for a couple of seasons based on the recent history of multiple years between their matchups.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who led the NFL in passing in 2018, got off to a rocky start in 2019 as his Steelers were beaten in blow out fashion on the road. The defending champion New England Patriots bullied the Steelers to the tune of 33-3, with Roethlisberger throwing for just 276 yards and an interception in the defeat. The Steelers failed to score more than a field goal for the first time since week 15 of the 2011 season, a 20-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Patriots defense held Pittsburgh’s trio of Roethlisberger, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, and running back James Conner to a combined 304 yards. Due to their inability to create plays on offense and sustain drives, the Steelers were forced to abandon their preferred run-first game plan, which obviously did not garner the desired results. With just six penalties, one turnover, and one sack against them, this wasn’t an issue of Pittsburgh’s sloppy play ruining their chances. Over the course of 10 actual possessions (not counting their one-play, 4-yard drive to end the first half), Pittsburgh averaged just 28 yards per drive, punted five times, turned the ball over once, kicked a field goal, and had two drives end by failing to convert on fourth down. Their only meaningful drive of the night was to open the third quarter while trailing 20-0 and ultimately only kept them from being shut out. Their schedule was released in April, so they had five months to gameplan and this was the best they could do. They can’t explain this one away by saying they played sloppy; this was a perfect example of the Steelers getting outcoached and outplayed by an elite team owning their opponent, plain and simple. The Steelers will just have to move on and use week two as a proving ground that this was not a fair representation of who they are.
With the Seahawks looking to build on a shaky win, and the Steelers hoping to reverse their fortunes after a brutal loss, this game has all the makings of an electric matchup with two proud franchises, two of the best QBs in the business, as well as two of the best head coaches in the league. Both teams feature star players who put up pedestrian numbers in their debut and will hope to create highlight plays this weekend to get back on track. Smith-Schuster has the unenviable task of replacing departed superstar wideout Antonio Brown, while Conner enters year two as the lead back with Le’Veon Bell now with the New York Jets.
Without an established second option in the passing game, expect defenses to focus on stopping Smith-Schuster and Conner in order to force Roethlisberger into long down and distance situations, and creating forced throws and short drives.
For Seattle, not much of their new-look offense shined a week ago. Wilson did not get much help from his offensive line, Carson had limited running lanes, and with the defense shadowing Lockett most of the time, Wilson’s other weapons such as rookie D.K. Metcalf and second-year tight end Will Dissly struggled to make plays consistently. Metcalf did have a couple of nice catches and for the most part it was an applaudable effort for his first game, but Lockett will need more help over the course of an entire game if he is going to force the defense to play him one on one and be the deep threat this team desperately needs. While it was a convincing argument, don’t take the Patriots game at face value; Pittsburgh has a very good pass rush, a very capable offense, and will look to disrupt Seattle on both sides of the ball while going for the win on their home field.
Seattle will need to start strong in their return to Heinz Field and establish the ground game in order to give Wilson the best gift of all: a play-action pass over the top of the defense. If the opposition believes they have to send help to defend the run, it will open up the middle of the field for some big plays. With Metcalf’s size, he can be the possession receiver and help move the chains along with Carson and second-year running back Rashaad Penny. That will shift the defense’s attention away from Lockett and open up the field as well as the playbook. Once Seattle has all of their plays available, it will force Pittsburgh to play keep-up, and that plays right into the hands of Seattle’s young secondary that struggled to contain the Bengals receivers a week ago.
Last week, both Pittsburgh and Seattle allowed at least 300 yards passing and multiple passing touchdowns without forcing an interception, and may have their work cut out for them again this week. Pittsburgh wasn’t down any key players on defense, so their about face will have to come by way of increased determination alone. Seattle on the other hand would love to see three key defensive players return, most importantly defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah and LJ Collier, and defensive tackle Poona Ford, all three of which missed last week’s game and could help explain Seattle’s inconsistent pass rush.
The local weather forecast has the game kicking off under sunny and clear skies, with the temperature expected to peak around 80 degrees during the first half. This sounds like the ideal weather scenario for Seattle’s first road game, as they recently have not fared as well on the road as they do at home and could get an advantage playing in good conditions. Pittsburgh is also a team that plays better at home, so this could be the “get right” game they desperately need.
We won’t know for sure which team is ready to quiet their detractors until the final whistle, but I have my eye on Seattle to collect their second victory of the season before hosting the New Orleans Saints the following week.