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Seahawks-Titans preview: Seattle will be tasked with shutting down a familiar formula

Tennessee Titans v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Fresh off their first win of the 2017 season, the 1-1 Seattle Seahawks head to Nashville to take on the 1-1 Tennessee Titans. Both team’s offenses are heavily predicated around the running game, but neither team was able to run the ball consistently through two weeks until last Sunday. For Seattle, the breakthrough came late last week after finally wearing down the San Francisco 49ers defense. For the Titans, they got back to the exotic smash-mouth we’re now accustomed to against the Jacksonville Jaguars, after spending week one looking far from a Mike Mularkey-led Tennessee team.

One of the AFC’s up and coming teams, the Titans are loaded with exciting young weapons on offense and are always entertaining viewing. To the debrief:

Last week Tennessee looked like…

The Tennessee Titans of last year. They spent week one against the Oakland Raiders entirely off schedule and without an identity on offense, but got back to what they know in week two.

In week one, Marcus Mariota threw the ball 41 times while they ran the ball just 21 times. Down just three at halftime, it wasn’t even a case of chasing the game. In a head-scratching move, the Titans simply went away from what works to begin the season. And it cost them the game as neither the running or passing games got in sync and the Oakland Raiders pulled away.

In week two, Tennessee resembled 2016’s version of the team again. Mariota threw the ball 27 times, while seven different players registered at least a carry as they ran the ball 36 times. Going into halftime up 6-3, the Titans came out in the second half and ran the ball 24 times, wearing the Jaguars out and pulling away. Tennessee and Derrick Henry in the second half resembled Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks in 2012-14, punishing Jacksonville’s defense and putting the game away in emphatic and physical fashion.

In this game, Seattle should…

Keep the football away from Adoree Jackson. On Sunday, both teams are going to have success running the ball. The Titans’ offensive line is too good to be overwhelmed by even the Seahawks’ run defense, and they will grind out yardage over the course of the game.

The game is going to be tight, and one splash play could be the difference. Jackson is a splash play waiting to happen. Each time he’s gotten the ball on a return through two weeks, he looks exactly as dynamic as he looked in college. I have no doubt he’s going to become one of the league’s most electric players with the ball in his hands. With Neiko Thorpe possibly out with an injury, the opportunity is there for Jackson to turn the game in Tennessee's favor on any given return. Seattle would be smart to not even give him the chance.

A critical factor for the Titans will be…

To out-Seahawk the Seahawks. What that means is Tennessee is going to have to beat up Seattle’s defense and control the game at home. With Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray both capable of churning out yardage, and Mariota as intelligent of a passer as there is in the league, the onus is on the Titans’ offense to win this game for them. Seattle coming to town is a huge litmus test for an exciting young team, and they can make a statement by doing what the Seahawks themselves do best, and hitting Seattle in the mouth.

A critical factor for the Seahawks will be…

Forcing Mariota to win the game for Tennessee. Last week, Seattle’s three starting linebackers had an absolutely incredible game. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright continue to be criminally underrated, but they were the Seahawks’ best players in week two. If they can match their performance this week, Seattle could get a huge away win.

Jacksonville’s linebackers - Myles Jack and Telvin Smith - were their best defenders as the Jaguars hung tough in the first half against Tennessee. Eventually, the entire defense wore down and the Titans ran away. There’s little doubt in my mind that Tennessee is again going to win up front on offense on a large number of plays and entire drives. If Wagner, Wright and Michael Wilhoite can consistently find the ball and stop the ball carrier close to the line of scrimmage, it’ll force Mariota to put the ball in the air and help to save a defense’s legs that could otherwise be utterly worn down by the fourth quarter.

Players who have stood out for the Titans through two weeks…

The aforementioned Adoree Jackson and Derrick Henry.

Jackson is a rookie starter at one of the positions it’s hardest to be a rookie starter at; cornerback. He was tested immediately in week one, being lined up across from Amari Cooper, and passed the test. Though he was beaten a couple times, he competed really well and had a PBU on a deep shot, as well as a really impressive breakup in the endzone when Cooper had all-but secured the catch and Jackson managed to knock it loose at the last second. He wasn’t tested much in week two against Jacksonville, but will have the chance to impact the game against the Seahawks on both defense and special teams.

I figured Murray would make it until at least November before he slowed down and gave way to Henry. Instead, he made it a week. Henry is the more talented ‘back in Tennessee right now, and the Titans’ coaching staff deserve credit for recognizing that and not wasting any time getting him more involved. He out-touched Murray last week 14-11, and might start the game this week. Even if he doesn’t, I would imagine he’ll end with more carries again, and will be the one that Seattle absolutely has to stop if they’re going to win on the road in an ugly game.

A reason for optimism…

Despite the talent level the Seahawks are facing, it’s another good chance to get on track offensively. Although the Jaguars ended with just 95 yards rushing against Tennessee, they had a lot of success running inside - often clearing the line of scrimmage before contact came. Sunday will give Seattle another chance to get into a groove on offense running the ball, and hopefully spark Russell Wilson and the passing game.

And a prediction…

At home against a team that’s nowhere close to playing its best football yet, I think the Titans can get a statement win against the Seahawks. Both teams go over 150 yards on the ground but Tennessee sneaks out with a 20-13 win.

This is a new pre-game column I’m trying out for 2017, focusing on the week’s opponent and their season so far. They’ll become more in-depth as the season goes along. Any suggestions or things you would like to see highlighted in the future are greatly appreciated, either in the comments or on Twitter.