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Seahawks-Ravens: 3 key matchups to watch in Week 7

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Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Seahawks will round out their schedule against the AFC North and attempt to finish 4-0, having previously defeated the Bengals, Steelers and Browns. Of course, the Ravens’ trip to Seattle is most notable for the return of All-Universe safety Earl Thomas, who signed with Baltimore after nine seasons with the Seahawks. But it’s also a battle of two teams with similar styles, with offenses predicated around the running game and dynamism from their quarterback, and defenses receiving (mostly) lackluster play up front.

Two of the NFL’s premier franchises will come head-to-head in one of the league’s finest venues on Sunday. Here are the matchups to watch in what should be a terrific game.

Mychal Kendricks vs Mark Andrews

From practically the moment Lamar Jackson took over under center for the Ravens, in Week 11 of 2018, Andrews established himself as the dual threat’s favorite target, and that has continued in 2019. Through six weeks, Andrews leads Baltimore in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Andrews’ breakout in 2019 was largely predicted, and it has come to fruition because of Jackson’s unwavering trust in his tight end, and reliance on the underneath part of the field. That will continue in Week 7, with Andrews likely to have a fair bit of joy against Seattle, finding the soft spots of their zone defense over the middle of the field.

Andrews presents the latest in a line of unfavorable matchups for Kendricks, who has been tasked with covering—and burned, repeatedly by—tight ends this season. The nature of the zones the Seahawks’ linebackers are asked to drop into will lead to completions, but Kendricks’ stats in coverage are ghastly even in that context: 21 completions allowed on 24 targets, for 159 yards and two touchdowns. (Making things worse is that the three passes not completed on Kendricks were all drops.) While one can debate who is at fault for the touchdown allowed to Ricky Seals-Jones last week in Cleveland, what’s not up for debate is the common thread between most of Kendricks’ coverage snaps in 2019—how utterly lost, and slow, he looks in space:

It’s fair to wonder if Pete Carroll’s goal to have his 11 best defenders on the field includes Kendricks at this point. He’s a fine player in the box and at the line of scrimmage, but Ugo Amadi, Lano Hill or Jamar Taylor, at this stage, would certainly offer more in coverage. Until a change is made, Seattle’s woes defending tight ends will continue, and certainly on Sunday against a strongly established connection between Jackson and Andrews.

DK Metcalf vs Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters

It seems like just days ago, Metcalf was getting behind Peters in coverage for a 41-yard walk-in touchdown. Oh!

For the second time in three weeks, Peters will be coming to a stadium that’s given him fits over the past couple seasons. There was the Week 5 defeat while he was a member of the Rams, and the season before that, he allowed a 39-yard touchdown to Tyler Lockett and a 31-yard score to David Moore. Luckily (?) for Peters, it’s unlikely he’ll be given a full run on Sunday, having just been acquired. Instead, it’ll be Peters and Jimmy Smith—who is returning from a knee injury—in a platoon on the outside against Metcalf, a week after replacement Maurice Canady was repeatedly posterized by Auden Tate. Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore’s lockdown corner, will likely shadow Tyler Lockett inside and out, as he did last week against Tyler Boyd.

Though the Seahawks are slowly introducing new patterns into Metcalf’s game, he will remain the vertical threat he entered the league as. And that vertical threat is going to torture a secondary with an easy-to-bait Peters, a still-limited Smith, a third-string strong safety and Thomas who, sadly, has looked like a shell of his former self returning from injury. Metcalf is a boom-or-bust playmaker at this current moment; Sunday looks likely for a booming performance from the imposing rookie.

Bobby Wagner vs Lamar Jackson

Though Jackson’s certainly made positive strides this season as a passer—his completion percentage is up nearly seven percentage points from last season, at 65.1—there are times when Baltimore’s offense is stalling and Jackson the runner becomes their best option. This was the case last week, when Jackson became the first quarterback in regular season history to throw for 200+ yards and rush for 150+. After the game, John Harbaugh spoke on the importance of Jackson’s rushing ability, saying it was “What it took to win the game. We needed him to run the ball like that to win the game. That was a necessity in the game, the way they played us.”

Jackson is a rushing threat like never before seen in the NFL, and is on pace to break Michael Vick’s single-season record for carries by a quarterback by almost 40 rushes. As NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal astutely put it during the offseason, “the easiest play in the NFL last year was Jackson beating the defense to the sideline for a 7-yard gain.” That remains the case in 2019, and on Sunday, it’ll be up to Bobby Wagner to stop Jackson from getting to the corner on Seattle’s defense.

Against the Cardinals in Week 4, Wagner would often drop into his zone over the middle of the field, but serve as a spy on Arizona’s Kyler Murray, as well. Murray rushed just four times on that day, but Wagner was tasked with containing Murray, just as he will with Jackson on Sunday—the only difference being, Jackson will rush a helluva lot more often that Murray’s four. To meet Jackson on the outside, and stop him from being able to turn the corner, a defender cannot take any false steps in their read and pursuit. Wagner is ideally suited for this role; the best linebacker in the game sees the field as well as any defender, and when he has to open up and run, he can do so with anyone.

If Wagner’s able to contain Jackson’s day on the ground, he will severely limit the impact Baltimore’s quarterback can make on the game. With the vertical-stretching Marquise Brown looking unlikely to play, Jackson’s excellent downfield passing ability will be hampered, too. The Seahawks will be well positioned to win on Sunday, as long as Wagner remains well positioned against Jackson.

In his first full season as a starter, Jackson is doing things no quarterback has done before, however, he’s still able to be contained if a defense can takeaway certain aspects of his game. Russell Wilson, meanwhile, is playing like the league’s MVP, and heads into Week 7 against a depleted secondary and toothless pass rush. The matchups across positions are favorable for Seattle, and they should be in good position to move to 6-1 on the season.