Chargers (5-2) at Seattle (4-3)
When Chargers have the ball
In their previous game, the Chargers scored on their first play from scrimmage. They ran 43 more plays the rest of the afternoon and scored one other touchdown, and that came on a 55-yard pass from Philip Rivers to Mike Williams. In other words, the offense wasn’t exactly a grinding juggernaut in a 20-19 win over Tennessee. With Melvin Gordon (hamstring) sidelined, this group was not nearly as dangerous. Gordon’s return (he’s officially listed as questionable) would be a major boost. If he doesn’t play, the Chargers could struggle trying to reach the end zone. Even if they have Gordon, the Seahawks will be a formidable test. Most of the names have changed since Seattle reached consecutive Super Bowls in 2014-15, but the scheme and execution remain largely intact. Entering Week 9, the Seahawks’ defense ranks second in turnover differential, third in opponent passer rating, third in points allowed, fourth in yards passing per game, and fifth in total yards per game. In Seattle’s last five games, only the Rams have scored more than 17 points against the Seahawks, and that’s because the Rams score points on everybody. Rivers will be making his 200th consecutive start. He’ll need those first 199 games of experience to solve this defense.
When Seahawks have the ball
During their current 4-1 stretch, the Seahawks have gone so old school that Curt Warner could be activated soon. Since Week 3, they’ve rushed the ball at least 32 times each game and are second to the Rams, averaging 161 yards. The Chargers have had as many as 161 yards rushing only once this season. Chris Carson and Mike Davis are Seattle’s primary ballcarriers, with four 100-yard games this season between them. The Chargers are tied for 15th in yards rushing allowed per game, meaning they will be challenged. That ranking does represent an improvement over last season for a group trending in the right direction. The Chargers have held each of their last three opponents to fewer than 20 points. They also are coming off a dramatic, game-saving defensive stop against Tennessee. Beyond their ground game, the Seahawks have Russell Wilson, their four-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Wilson has the third-best passer rating behind Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees since he came into the league in 2012. Wilson’s ability to extend plays by scrambling could be a problem, especially for a defense that has been the NFL’s fifth worst at third-down stops.
When they kick
Caleb Sturgis is set to return after being out for two games because of a quadriceps injury. He has missed four extra points this season. The Chargers signed rookie Michael Badgley to their practice squad last week after cutting him, suggesting they are still concerned about Sturgis’ recent health history or performance or both. The Seahawks counter with Sebastian Janikowski, who has made 422 career field goals.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
The Chargers are in a stretch in which they will go six weeks between games at StubHub Center. Well, the Seahawks haven’t played at home in a month, and they haven’t lost since that game. So a place that’s normally as amped up as a stadium-sized Frappuccino will be more than ready to break loose Sunday. The road-tested Chargers shouldn’t be terribly affected by the crowd, at least not when compared with how much they could be affected by the Seahawks. A tight game is decided by an old man’s kick.