The Seattle Seahawks arrive in Baltimore this Sunday as overwhelming favorites against the injury-plagued Ravens.
The Seahawks (7-5) have won three straight to get back into contention in the NFC playoff race. Currently with a one-game lead for the sixth and final seed, Seattle can ill-afford a loss to the 4-8 Ravens. Quarterback Russell Wilson is playing his best football of the season with 12 total touchdowns and zero interceptions during the streak, including a five-touchdown performance against Pittsburgh. Wilson appears laser focused on getting the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl.
The disappointing Ravens have been decimated by injuries this season. Playing in place of Joe Flacco the last two games, quarterback Matt Schaub has tossed four interceptions, but now he's banged up as well. Schaub may end up giving way to Jimmy Clausen, who was signed two weeks ago. Clausen started one game earlier this season for the Bears, a 26-0 loss in Seattle back in Week 3. Clausen gave a dreadful performance with all 10 offensive drives resulting in punts.
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Here are three keys to the game for both the Seahawks and Ravens.
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1. Pound away with Thomas Rawls
It's no coincidence that the Seahawks' best three-game run of the season has come with Rawls playing an integral role. Seattle's formula for success the past few seasons has featured Marshawn Lynch and the running game, and Rawls is continuing that trend. He has received 70 carries in the past three games and turned them into tons of production, rushing for 391 yards and three TDs.
2. Shadow Kamar Aiken with Richard Sherman
Aiken is the one constant left in an offense shredded by injuries. Aiken has seen a staggering 43 targets over the past four games and is averaging six catches in that span, so he can expect to see plenty of Sherman. Neither quarterback will be eager to test Sherman, who had a pick-six that started Matt Schaub's downward trajectory in 2013 and helped limit Jimmy Clausen to 63 yards in Week 3 while he was with Chicago.
3. Continue to incorporate Tyler Lockett into the offense
Russell Wilson has been spectacular during Seattle's three-game winning streak, with five of his 11 touchdown passes in that stretch going to Doug Baldwin. Someone unnoticed was the effort of rookie Tyler Lockett, who establish season highs with seven catches and 90 yards last week. The Seahawks are devoid of speed at wideout and Lockett offers the ability to stretch defenses.
1. Keep passing to Buck
Rookie running back Javorius Allen has been one of the few bright spots for the Ravens since assuming the starting role for Justin Forsett, especially in the passing game. Allen has 254 total yards from scrimmage the last two games with a pair of receiving touchdowns, including an impressive 41-yard jaunt last week in Miami. With the strong Seahawks secondary taking away what's left of the Ravens receiving corps, Allen is the best way for Baltimore to get in the end zone.
2. Spy Wilson with Mosley
Wilson is at his best when he is outside of the pocket making plays and finding receivers. The Ravens should use middle linebacker C.J. Mosley to key on Wilson and try to keep him in the pocket so they can prevent him from breaking off big runs.
3. Make something happen on special teams
The Ravens just finished off a string of five straight games with a blocked kick or punt. Seattle's Steven Hauschka has had three kicks or extra points blocked in the last five games. Overmatched on both sides of the balls, the Ravens need to create points, or at the very least, short fields, with their special teams.