The Seattle Seahawks head to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday. This is a battle of two division leaders, and two teams that are expected to make the playoffs this season.
Statistically, these are two very similar teams. While they are philosophically quite different in what they do, the results on the field have been remarkably similar thus far in the season.
The Seahawks are looking to win their 10th straight regular-season game, dating back to last season, and their 11th game in their last 12, including the playoffs. Seattle is also looking to win its fifth straight regular-season road game and the sixth in its last six on the road, including the playoffs.
The Colts have won two straight games on the road, including a 27-7 victory over the 49ers in Week 3. This will be their first home game since they lost to the Dolphins 24-20 back in Week 2, which is their only loss thus far.
The Competitive Edge
These two teams have surprisingly even passing offenses. The Seahawks average about a yard more per pass attempt, and they throw the ball less often than the Colts do. The results is that the two teams are very close in terms of total passing yards this season.
* This is the conversation rate when the team passes on third down.
As with the passing offenses, the rushing attacks are also very similar. The Seahawks run the ball more often, but average fewer yards per carry. It will be interesting to see if these numbers change for the Colts as they integrate the recently acquired Trent Richardson into their offense.
Many fans might be surprised to see that the Colts defense is not far behind the Seahawks in pass defense. The Seahawks have actually given up more completions than the Colts, but also give up a full yard per attempt less.
Neither of these teams excels in run defense. The Seahawks are just 18th in the league in rushing yards allowed, and the Colts are one spot ahead them in 17th. The numbers are very similar across the board, with the exception of forced fumbles. The Seahawks have forced three, whereas the Colts have only forced one so far this season.
Seattle's special teams units remain among the best, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The Seahawks currently have a cumulative rating of +19.2, which is good for fourth in the NFL. Indianapolis is close behind at +15.5, which is seventh in the league.
Seattle's Offense vs. Indianapolis's Defense
Account for Robert Mathis on Every Play
Robert Mathis is the Colts' best pass-rusher, but as a linebacker he can come from anywhere on the field on any play. The Seahawks can't afford to lose track of where he is lined up on any passing play.
Over the past couple of weeks, teams have had success against Seattle by bringing their speed rushers inside against left guard James Carpenter. Carpenter is a powerful run-blocker, but lacks the lateral quickness to effectively block speed rushers like Mathis one-on-one.
The Seahawks need to account for this and keep a back in to aid pass protection to help ensure that Mathis doesn't get any free shots at quarterback Russell Wilson.
Establish the Run
The Colts are giving up 4.2 yards per carry, which is 22nd in the league. The Colts are vulnerable against the run, and the Seahawks need to take advantage.
Once the Seahawks establish the run, it'll open up much many more options for the Seattle offense. Keep in mind that when using play action, Wilson averages 2.3 yards per passing attempt more than when he doesn't use it.
Get Wilson on the Move
Seattle's pass protection has been poor in each of its games this season. The Seahawks coaches can help out their much-maligned offensive line by moving Wilson around rather than having him set up in the same place on each passing play.
Wilson also appears more likely to scramble for gains on plays when he has already rolled outside of the pocket before setting up to pass.
Anything the Seahawks can do to help them have more success on passing downs, be that getting Wilson better protection or setting him up to get yards with with his legs, must be explored. The Seahawks have to find a way to get more consistent production out the offense.
Seattle's Defense vs. Indianapolis' Offense
Challenge Intermediate Routes
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has completed only six passes of 25 yards or longer so far this season, which has him tied for 19th in the league. The Colts offense hasn't been trying to push the ball deep so far this this season, choosing instead to focus on the intermediate routes that generate a higher completion percentage.
The Seahawks have the personnel to take this away. By using their safeties shallower than usual and trusting their Pro Bowl and All-Pro corners not to get beat over the top, the Seahawks can create some serious problems for the Colts' passing attack.
Get Pressure on Luck
All QBs aren't as good when pressured compared to when they aren't, but Luck's numbers are a bit extreme. Pressure causes his passer rating to drop by 35.5, and his completion percentage to drop by 32.1 percent. That means he completes his passes at roughly half the rate that he does when he's not pressured.
The Seahawks cannot let Luck get comfortable in the pocket. They need to get pressure on him, and it doesn't matter if they have to blitz to do so.
Luck hasn't been particularly adept at beating the blitz. His pass rating and yards per attempt against the blitz are both lower than against base defenses.
Cover the Tight End
The Seahawks have struggled against tight ends so far this season. This week, they face arguably the best TE they've faced all year in Coby Fleener. Fleener isn't much of a blocker, but he is very good as a receiver.
Luckily for the Seahawks, the Colts' running game is unlikely to be as good as some of those they've faced so far this season with running back Ahmad Bradshaw unlikely to play. The Seattle linebackers don't have to be quite as aggressive against the run, so hopefully that means they'll be able to concentrate more on letting the TE find space behind them.
The Seahawks can't let Fleener blow up in the passing game the way they've let other TEs do this season.
Michael Bennett, who was taken to the hospital in last Sunday's game with fears of a potentially serious back injury, was a full participant at practice on Wednesday and is now expected to play this week.
The Seahawks expect to get starting center Max Unger back from his triceps injury this week.
The Colts lead the all-time series 6-4 over the Seahawks.
The last time these teams met was in October of 2009, when the Colts roughed up the Seahawks 34-17.
The last Seahawks victory over the Colts was in 2005, when the Colts travelled to Seattle in December and were handed a 28-13 loss.
The Seahawks have only won in Indianapolis once, and that was a 31-3 blowout win all the way back in 1997.
The Seahawks entered Week 4 as the NFL's top team in a number of defensive categories. They are now third in scoring defense, fifth in passing defense and sixth in total yards against.
With his suspension over, the Seahawks will have LB/DE Bruce Irvin on the field for the first time this season.