The Washington Football Team will look to extend its winning streak to five games when it hosts the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday (Check out a comprehensive preview of the game, HERE.) Here are three keys to the Week 15 matchup.
1. Contain Russell Wilson
Washington's defense has played well in the past month against the likes of Joe Burrow, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger and Nick Mullens, but that does not mean Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio are going to underestimate Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who has completed 70.4% of his passes for 3,685 yards (T-4th) and 36 touchdowns (2nd).
"Now we're going against...probably in my opinion one of the premier escape artists in this league who has his eyes downfield," Rivera said, "whose receivers understand that when he breaks the pocket, this is the area I have to get to, and these are the areas we have to cover."
Washington has faced mobile quarterbacks earlier this season in Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson, both of whom delivered strong performances and led their respective teams to wins. Murray accounted for 353 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns in Week 2, while Jackson amassed 246 yards and three scores two weeks later.
Wilson is a more accomplished passer than Murray and Jackson, but he has shown that he can be rattled at times. He was sacked five times against the New York Giants, which contributed to a 17-12 loss. Wilson has been sacked at least five times in three games, all of which resulted in losses for the Seahawks.
Seattle has given up 41 sacks this season, which is tied for third-most in the NFL. That should give Washington's pass rush, which is tied four fourth with 40.0 sacks, confidence that it can get to Wilson and hamper his production.
Rivera said the team was not disciplined and did not stick to its responsibilities against Murray and Jackson, and he hopes it has learned from those experiences. The challenge, Del Rio said Thursday, is formulating an aggressive strategy against Wilson.
"How well we do at getting him trapped and down and rushed will help us in the back end. We've got to be good at it. In the back end, we've got to be able to take away throws and have some tight coverage so that the quarterback doesn't have what he wants and he has to hold it. All those things work hand in hand. Rush and coverage work hand in hand. We're playing a quarterback that has great mobility. It's a challenge."
2. Get Terry McLaurin Involved
Terry McLaurin has been one of the league's best receivers all season, but he has been quiet the past two weeks with just four receptions for 38 yards in that span.
In fairness to McLaurin, who eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season against the San Francisco 49ers last week, his lack of production has not entirely been his fault. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the NFL's best secondaries in terms of yards allowed, and Alex Smith dealing with a calf injury led to limited success from Washington's offense.
That should change against the Seahawks, who allow a league-worst 294.8 passing yards per game. Their struggles began in Week 1 when they allowed Julio Jones to make nine receptions for 157 yards. It's a problem that has continued throughout the season, as they have allowed a receiver to finish with at least 100 yards in seven out of 13 games.
McLaurin has finished a game with fewer than 61 yards only three times this season. He will also have Dwayne Haskins Jr. as his starting quarterback this week, which could bode well for him; two of his best statistical performances (125 yards against the Arizona Cardinals and 118 yards against the Baltimore Ravens) came with Haskins under center.
McLaurin is not concerned with his individual stats as long as Washington wins, but Seattle's offense scores a third-best 30.2 points per game. If Washington's wants to keep up with the Seahawks on the scoreboard, it will need to get its best playmaker involved as much as possible.
3. Win The Turnover Battle
The Seahawks do not have many weaknesses, but turnovers are certainly one of them; they are 0-4 when they lose the turnover battle.
Most of those giveaways have come from Wilson. Eight of his 12 interceptions have come in losses, including three in a 37-34 loss to the Cardinals in Week 7. He's also fumbled the ball seven times this season and lost four, all of which were during Seattle's losses.
Washington does not have many turnovers -- it's tied for 20th with 17 -- but it has done well in the past month by recording a takeaway in each of the past four games. The best example came against the 49ers when the defense forced three turnovers, the most since Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, and returned two fumbles for Washington's only touchdowns in a 23-15 win.
Chase Young, who recorded his first career touchdown against the 49ers, has recorded two of his three fumbles during Washington's four-game winning streak, and Rivera believes Young is starting to have "aha" moments as he continues to develop in his rookie season.
"You're starting to see him really get more and more comfortable in our share and just how important it is to do things within the framework of the defense," Rivera said after Washington's 23-15 win over the 49ers. "Things that these guys do impact the players next to them and that's one of the big things they have to understand as they're growing and developing in this defense."
Young and Washington's defense will need to continue their turnover streak if they want to upset the Seahawks. If they can force Wilson to make decisions under duress, there is a good chance that will happen.