A solid start by the Cincinnati rookie may have Seattle's front office second- guessing itself.
The Seahawks will get a look at what they missed out on this Sunday, when the Bengals pay a visit to CenturyLink Field, while hoping the player Carroll did decide to go with under center can suit up and get his club on track.
After winning the NFC West last season, the Seahawks selected 25th overall in the 2011 draft and were in need of a quarterback for the future with incumbent Matt Hasselbeck having reached the age of 35. Seattle instead opted to take Alabama offensive tackle James Carpenter, and Dalton went to the Bengals 10 picks later as the third overall choice of the second round.
Seattle, meanwhile, opted to not re-sign Hasselbeck and instead brought in former Viking Tarvaris Jackson.
Carroll remains committed to Jackson, saying he believes he can be the club's quarterback of the future, but did say that Dalton was a player the Seahawks looked at in the draft.
"He's a great player. We really liked him," said Carroll. "We went into tremendous depth [about taking him] and had no question that he was going to play and be good. I'm not surprised at all [by his early success]. I'm excited for him."
As far as Jackson goes, he was forced to sit out last weekend's 6-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns because of a pectoral injury. Backup Charlie Whitehurst struggled in his place but may get the nod again, as Jackson is questionable for this game.
"We won't know," Carroll said of Jackson's status. "We're going to go through the week, and he'll get practice time. We have to prepare Charlie first. But during the course of the week we'll find out more, and we'll probably take the decision up to game time."
The Seahawks were also without running back Marshawn Lynch after he hurt his back during pregame warmups against the Browns. Lynch could return this weekend and was limited in practice on Wednesday, as was tight end Zach Miller (sore neck) and center Max Unger (sore foot).
Without top of their top offensive players, the Seahawks dropped a close and ugly game to the Browns despite blocking two field goals. Whitehurst threw for only 97 yards in his third NFL start as Seattle failed to keep momentum out of its bye week following a big road victory over the New York Giants on Oct. 9.
At 2-4, the Seahawks are second in the NFC West but three games behind the first-place San Francisco 49ers.
Though the Bengals will have Dalton and rookie wide receiver A.J. Green this Sunday, running back Cedric Benson will sit out to serve a one-game suspension. His ban was originally set to be three games, but was since reduced, and Bernard Scott will start in his place.
"There's no change this week," said Scott. "I prepare myself each week like I'm going to get the most carries. I'm excited any time I get a chance to show the coaches when my number's called. I'm ready to step up to the challenge."
The Bengals are coming off their third straight victory, a 27-17 triumph over Indianapolis on Oct. 16 that came before their bye week. Cincinnati, which is a half-game behind Pittsburgh for first place in the AFC North, is on its first three-game win streak since Oct. 25-Nov. 15, 2009 and also won four in a row from Sept. 20-Oct. 11 earlier that season.
Dalton posted one of his best games, notching career highs with a 78.1 completion percentage and 111.5 passer rating. He joins Greg Cook (1969) as the only Bengals rookie quarterbacks to win three straight starts.
The win was also a milestone for head coach Marvin Lewis, who tied Sam Wyche for the most victories as a Cincinnati head coach with 64. Lewis, though, isn't focused on passing the former coach and is keeping his eye on a bigger prize.
"I want one thing that Sam and those [other] guys don't have, and that's all I want," Lewis said in referring to a Super Bowl victory. "That's all that matters."
Lewis will need to get his club ready, as Cincinnati has lost four straight and 11 of its last 12 road games on the West Coast.
The Seahawks hold a 9-8 edge in their all-time series with Cincinnati, snapping the deadlock with a 24-21 home victory in 2007. The Bengals have lost three straight times in Seattle since a 20-17 overtime win at the Kingdome on Nov. 6, 1994, and last defeated the Seahawks via a 27-24 triumph in Cincinnati during the 2003 campaign.
Lewis has gone 1-1 against the Seahawks during his tenure as the Bengals' head coach, while Carroll will be taking on both Cincinnati and Lewis for the first time in his career.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
The Cincinnati offense continues to be led by the rookies in Dalton and Green, who hooked up for a touchdown for the fourth time this season last time out, an 11-yard pass in the first quarter. Green (29 receptions), the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft, leads all rookies in receptions, receiving yards (453) and touchdown catches and finished with five grabs for 51 yards versus the Colts. Dalton (1311 passing yards, 7 TD, 5 INT) also gave some looks to No.2 wideout Jerome Simpson (22 receptions), who pulled in six passes for 101 yards. In all, Dalton threw for 264 yards on 25-of-32 passing without a pick or a sack and completed passes to nine different players, with wide receiver Andre Caldwell (17 receptions, 1 TD) and tight end Jermaine Gresham (25 receptions, 3 TD) having four catches each. Benson (458 rushing yards, 2 TD) rushed for just 57 yards and scored once versus the Colts, with Lewis opting to give Scott (85 rushing yards, 1 TD) a season-high 11 carries, perhaps to get him ready for extended work in this game.
Seattle leads the league with just 3.2 yards allowed per rushing attempt, so Cincinnati may opt to test the Seahawks' banged-up secondary. Having already lost cornerback Marcus Trufant (23 tackles, 1 INT) to a season-ending injury, his replacement in the starting lineup, Walter Thurmond (12 tackles), was also lost for the rest of 2011 because of an ankle injury suffered versus the Browns that required surgery. That moves rookie Richard Sherman (10 tackles) into the starting role alongside Brandon Browner (29 tackles, 1 INT). With a another pair of rookies and seldom-used special-teamer Kennard Cox filling out the rest of the depth chart at corner, safeties Kam Chancellor (38 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) and Earl Thomas (37 tackles, 1 INT) will be on high alert. An increased pass rush would also help, and that is defensive end Chris Clemons' speciality. Clemons (20 tackles, 5 sacks) has six sacks in his past five games, logging two versus the Browns. Seattle ended that game with five quarterback takedowns, getting one each from Chancellor and linebacker David Hawthorne (40 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), who led the club with 11 tackles. Massive stopper Red Bryant (14 tackles) was credited with half a sack in the loss, while rookie linebacker K.J. Wright (20 tackles) finished with seven tackles.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Seattle's offense was struggling even before posting just 137 yards of offense versus the Browns, as it ranks 31st overall at 262.8 yards per game allowed. The Seahawks' 16.2 points per game is also tied for 27th in the league. Whitehurst completed 12 of his 30 pass attempts and was sacked three times. He was also picked off once without a touchdown pass. Jackson (1012 passing yards, 6 TD passes) has also struggled with ball control, getting picked off five times while being sacked 18 times in his five starts. Undrafted rookie receiver Doug Baldwin leads the club and is second among NFC rookies with 20 catches and 330 yards to go along with a pair of touchdown catches, but did not grab a reception versus the Browns. Seattle will also need more than the two catches wide receiver Sidney Rice (17 receptions, 1 TD) managed, as running back Leon Washington led the club with four receptions. With Lynch (239 rushing yards, 2 TD) out, Washington got seven carries for 39 yards and Justin Forsett added another 23 on eight rush attempts. Wide receiver Ben Obomanu (17 receptions, 2 TD) is tied for second on the club in catches, while counterpart Mike Williams has been held to just nine on the season.
Cincinnati comes into this game ranked second in the NFL with 278.5 yards allowed per game. The club ranks fifth against both the pass and the run and is giving up just 18.5 points per game as well, good for fourth in the league. The Bengals have held their opponent under 300 yards in five of their last six games, including 273 surrendered to the Colts. Cincinnati also has a plus-3 turnover differential and has the second-most forced fumbles this season with seven. They forced a pair versus Indianapolis, with end Carlos Dunlap (8 tackles) taking one 35 yards for a game-icing score. Cornerback Nate Clements (24 tackles) had six tackles and a forced fumble in the win, while fellow starter Leon Hall (19 tackles) had an interception, just the team's second of the season. Those two are backed up by former Seahawk Kelly Jennings, and the Bengals could also have Adam Jones active for this game. The oft-troubled corner has yet to play this year due to a herniated disc in his neck, but is eligible to be activated from the physically unable to perform list. Cincinnati will be without linebacker Rey Maualuga (38 tackles) due to a sprained ankle, however. Safety Reggie Nelson (40 tackles, 1 sack) had a team-high seven tackles versus the Colts and end Michael Johnson (16 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) came away with a sack.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Moving the ball against the Bengals' defense is a tough task, so the Seahawks have to take advantage when they get deep into Cincinnati territory. Getting there might be the harder part, as the Bengals have allowed opposing teams to score all 13 times they have reached the red zone, giving up seven touchdowns and six field goals.
Dalton and Green have an opportunity to put up some big numbers in this game given the injury problems the Seahawks' secondary is battling. Green has shown an ability to make big plays despite his inexperience and Dalton has been playing safe with the ball for most of the season. This could be the duo's big coming out party.
Whoever gets the start under center for the Seahawks needs to be protected. Seattle is tied for the league lead with 23 sacks allowed, while its quarterbacks have been hit 50 times, second-most in the NFL. That constant pressure has limited the team's ability to put up points.
Carroll may be wishing his club had indeed drafted Dalton by game's end. This contest has blowout written all over it given Cincinnati's excellent play on defense and Seattle's struggles on offense, particularly its young offensive line. Though the overall numbers aren't great, the Bengals' offense does a good job at limiting mistakes and should have no problem racking up yardage even without Benson. Carroll's team is still trying to find its identity and should struggle again versus the rested Bengals.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bengals 27, Seahawks 9