8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | FedEx field
??This one might get interesting. Seattle and Washington have been on the same route for most of the season, but are more like two ships passing the night before Monday’s meeting. The Seahawks have been beaten badly over the past two weeks despite the return of their world quarterback. Washington, meanwhile, knocked out the defending champions the Buccaneers and dashing Panthers in consecutive weeks behind stellar play in his backup QB. This left the football team with just two losses from first place in the NFC East. And while the Seahawks have sunk deep into NFC West, everyone but the Lions is in contention for the playoffs in this wacky NFC. So ignore the records in between these two. There is still a lot at stake.
Here are four things to watch for Monday night when Washington hosts Seattle:
1. What is Russell Wilson cooking? The rationale for hiring Shane Waldron as the Rams ‘offensive coordinator was to modernize the Seahawks’ offense with concepts that have been so effective throughout the league. Seattle’s offensive, however, looks a lot more like it was in the second half of 2020 than those of LA, San Francisco, Green Bay, et al. That is to say, it is very conservative. Wilson’s spray chart features some of the downstream fire that Waldron has been brought in to manifest. The lingering effects of Wilson’s finger injury are certainly the cause. He looked little like himself at the Pro Bowl for the past two weeks. But the Seahawks were moving away from the aggressive shots and heading for a more balanced attack before Wilson fell in Week 5. It didn’t work. Seattle ranks 30th in total offense, 24th in scoring, 23rd in running and 28th in assists. Washington, with a defense that was stingy against the run (No.6 in the NFL) but generous against the pass (No.28), could be a good game for the Seahawks.
2. Who is Taylor Heinecke? He has played like a starter for the past two weeks, looking like the player who shone in a competitive loss to the Bucs last season. But that’s not how Heinicke played for most of the season, especially in the weeks leading up to Washington’s two-game winning streak. No player is a more important X factor for the football team. In wins, he completed 74.4% on 8.2 yards per attempt with a TD-INT ratio of 9: 1 and a passer rating of 117.6. All of these brands plunge into losses (60.7%, 6.7, 6: 8, 73.5). The sample size remains relatively small, but so far this suggests that Heinicke will continue to be these two versions. How he wraps up the second half of the season could determine his future role in 2022 and Washington’s fate in 2021.
3. Will Washington’s defense stay warm? A week before Heinicke led an offensive turnaround, the WFT defense finally began to play to its potential. It was cautiously a top-five unit in 2020. It was closer to the bottom five for the first half of the season. The unexpected downfall of 2020 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Chase Young, epitomizes his struggles. The dynamic pass only registered 1.5 sacks before tearing up his ACL in Week 10. In his absence, fellow defensive linemen Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill have provided the kind of push up front that Washington led to an NFC Eastern Title last year. The D line remains the biggest force in this defense and gives Washington a chance to win most weeks.
4. Is this the beginning of the end for the Carroll-Wilson Seahawks? At 3-7, Seattle is at serious risk of not qualifying for the playoffs. This has only happened once since Wilson joined in 2012 (and only twice since Pete Carroll joined in 2010). There could be a major domino effect if that happens again – and it will, barring a dramatic late-season turnaround from the conference’s 14th seed. Wilson was already considering living outside of Seattle last spring after the Seahawks won NFC West, but had another outing early in the season. How much patience will the 10th year veteran have for completely missing the playoffs? If he moves on, what interest will Carroll, 70, have in coaching a rebuilding team? Whether this franchise’s biggest era continues will likely hinge on how the final weeks of 2021 unfold.