Washington’s defense has been at its best in the past three games. And it will have an opportunity to build on its recent strong performance against a Seahawks offense that ranks 30th in the NFL.
In the season’s fifth game, after Seattle started 2-2, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson ruptured a tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand. Backup Geno Smith filled in as the starter for three games, and the Seahawks hoped Wilson’s return would spark the offense.
Since Wilson came back, though, he hasn’t looked like himself: In two games, both losses in which the Seahawks averaged 6.5 points, he has completed 51.5 percent of his passes for 368 yards and two interceptions without a touchdown.
But if anyone can turn it around, it’s Wilson, who has the second-most regular season wins (100) since he entered the league in 2012 — trailing only Tom Brady. And he has a pair of Pro Bowl wide receivers in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
That tandem combined for 183 receptions, 2,357 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, and each is on pace for a 1,000-yard season this year. Their skill sets are different — Metcalf is bigger and more physical, while Lockett can beat the defense with his speed downfield, especially when Wilson scrambles.
“Lockett is really [Wilson’s] favorite target. His eyes go to [Lockett] as he extends plays. Both those guys know how to go get open,” Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “They’ve got a veteran quarterback that is really, really good. And they’ve got some real skill out there. So that will be a challenge for us.”
Washington has improved defensively in recent weeks and is limiting the kind of big plays that Wilson can create when he scrambles. The defense gave up just two plays of 20 yards or longer in wins over the Buccaneers and Panthers in the past two weeks — a sign, according to Coach Ron Rivera, that the defenders are getting comfortable with one another.
“It looks like the rush and the coverage is in sync a little bit better,” Rivera said. “You see good communication between the secondary back there. Those guys have a better feel for one another. I really believe that that’s a big part of it: that they’re working together as a group.”
Washington also has done a much better job on third down. In the team’s first eight games, opponents were converting a league-high 56.5 percent of their third downs. Over the past two weeks, it allowed Tampa Bay and Carolina to convert a combined 6 of 19 third downs (31.6 percent).
“No different this week,” Del Rio said of the defense’s approach to third down. “It’s important for us to be able to get off the field on third down. Once we get them there and get them to more third and longs if we can, [it] will certainly help the cause.”
John Bates started for the first time last week and showed his progress. Starting tight end Logan Thomas is expected to return this week, but Rivera said Bates has a knack for positioning himself well as a receiver and blocker.
“He’s one of those guys that’s going to look better, I think, as the action goes,” Rivera said. “You see him think a lot in practice, and he makes mistakes and sometimes his technique isn’t as good as it needs to be, but then you watch it on tape … and you see him excel as a blocker and doing those things.”
Washington has controlled the past two games by holding on to the ball. Rivera said earlier in the season that the defense being on the field so much was taking a toll. But recently, the offense has found a successful formula in running the football and converting on third down, which has kept the defense on the sideline. Washington has produced eight drives of 55 yards or more since its bye week, including a 19-play drive in Week 10.
“It gives our defense a break, [and] their defense starts getting tired,” quarterback Taylor Heinicke said. “We’re running the ball well now, too. So a lot of things are starting to come into place.”
Injury report: Wide receiver Curtis Samuel (groin) is questionable but on track to play Monday, and Thomas (hamstring) probably will be be activated from injured reserve before the game. Wide receiver Adam Humphries (hip) is questionable. Offensive linemen Sam Cosmi (hip) and Tyler Larsen (knee) are out; tight end Ricky Seals-Jones (hip) is doubtful.
For the Seahawks, cornerback Tre Brown (knee), tackle Jamarco Jones (back), starting guard Damien Lewis (elbow) and running backs Rashaad Penny (hamstring) and Travis Homer (calf) are out.