Week 12 of the 2021 NFL season has already been pretty wild. We've got one more game to play this week, as the Seattle Seahawks host the Washington Football Team on "Monday Night Football."
The Seahawks have largely struggled since Russell Wilson returned from injury, and this could be their last chance to turn their season around. The Football Team, meanwhile, is coming off back-to-back wins against potential playoff contenders, and has a chance to extend its winning streak to three games.
So, will the Seahawks get back on track, or will Washington keep the good times rolling? We'll find out soon enough. But first, let's break down the matchup.
How to watch
When the Seahawks have the ball
In two games since returning from the first injury-related absence of his NFL career, Russell Wilson has not looked at all like himself. He's completed just 34 of 66 passes (51.5 percent) for 368 yards (5.6 per attempt), zero touchdowns, two interceptions, and a dreadful 55.6 passer rating. He's also taken seven sacks and fumbled twice, though the Seahawks recovered both of those fumbles.
Luckily for Seattle, the team's next opponent is one that has been the elixir for nearly every team's passing game. The Football Team entered Week 12 ranked 31st in opponent's passer rating, 29th in EPA allowed per dropback, 30th in Football Outsiders' pass defense DVOA. The strength of the unit is the front four that is able to get pressure on the quarterback with some regularity -- but with Chase Young and Montez Sweat both out, that will be made much more difficult.
That puts a ton of pressure on Washington's back end, which has not been up to the task this season. The Football Team ranks dead last in DVOA against deep passes, per Football Outsiders, and that's Wilson's bread and butter. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett should be able to find themselves running free down the field, and Wilson should be able to hit them if he's given adequate time.
The only thing holding the Seahawks back from making that happen is the possibility that Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne crash the pocket up the middle. Due to his size, Wilson is more vulnerable to interior pressure than when it comes from the edges. He can't always see the intermediate throws over the middle of the field when the pocket gets pushed back into his lap. Instead, he has to escape, buy time, and attempt a more difficult throw. He's great at those throws -- usually. But he's not full strength at the moment.
Knowing Pete Carroll, he will want to come out with a run-establishing game plan, even against arguably the NFL's worst pass defense. But Seattle doesn't have the offensive line talent to dominate the game in that manner, and neither Alex Collins nor DeeJay Dallas is the kind of runner who can take over a game the way Carroll envisions. Dallas is more of a threat in the pass game, and should be more utilized here as a result.
When the Football Team has the ball
In back-to-back wins over NFC South foes, the Football Team has gotten back to a run-centric game plan with Antonio Gibson at the center of the action. Gibson had seen his snap rate plummet prior to the team's bye as he dealt with a stress fracture in his shin, but he appears to be back at full strength. He's gotten 43 totes of the rock in the last two contests, and Washington seems comfortable letting him grind out yards and then allowing Taylor Heinicke to work play-action passes down the field off of the run game.
This game does not set up particularly well for that style of game plan, though. The Seahawks rank a very respectable ninth in rush defense DVOA this season, while they are 25th against the pass. They don't get much in the way of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and they have a few glaring weaknesses in coverage.
If Washington can do it, isolating Jamal Adams in space on whichever of the tight ends is healthy enough to suit up (Logan Thomas might be back!) should be a consistent source of yardage. Terry McLaurin can beat just about any cornerback you put in front of him, and he can do it at any stage of a route. There are no corners that Washington should be shying away from in this matchup, so the Team should be looking for McLaurin early and often. Attacking the perimeter should help loosen things up for Gibson on the inside.
Seattle's zone defense has been more vulnerable to short passes than deep ones so far this year, so it could be a good week to get Gibson and/or J.D. McKissic involved in the passing game as well. McKissic has just five targets since the team returned from its bye, but he racked up 33 catches for 332 yards from Weeks 2 through 8, working as a solid release valve out of the backfield for Heinicke.
Prediction: Seahawks 23, Football Team 20