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Chargers vs. Seahawks Game Preview: Screen game, tight ends could be pivotal in beating Seattle

John Gilbert of Field Gulls helped us preview this week’s matchup.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the Chargers’ final game before the bye week, we got John Gilbert of our Seahawks sister site, Field Gulls, to help us preview this week’s matchup.

Is Geno Smith earned the right as the Seahawks’ quarterback of the future? How should the Chargers exploit the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL? See what Gilbert had to say about that and more in this week’s preview.

Let’s get into it.

1.) The Seahawks are seeing a resurgence of sorts from quarterback Geno Smith. He’s thrown for nine touchdowns to just two interceptions and overall playing very efficient football. How does the fan base currently feel about Smith? Do they see him as the quarterback of the foreseeable future or is he just a bridge quarterback until they draft a rookie?

Smith’s performance obviously far exceeds the expectations of most fans, but most have yet to come around to the point where signing him for the foreseeable future at current market rates is the acceptable option. In addition, Seattle fans have been lucky to be able to have a franchise quarterback for most of the past two decades, with only a single season in between Matt Hasselbeck and Russell Wilson, and many have started to believe that it’s possible it’s Pete Carroll or Shane Waldron’s system and atmosphere that have allowed the team to be successful regardless of who is under center. That has led to at least a portion of the fanbase ready to use one of the two first round picks the team holds in the 2023 draft on a quarterback, and that whoever that rookie is should be able to step in and perform. Others are far more hesitant to hand the reins of the offense to a rookie, but at least at this point the prevailing opinion seems to be to let the season play out and if Smith continues to perform the franchise tag if the two sides can’t reach agreement on a contract.

2.) It looks like the defense is having a rough go this season as it’s currently ranked 30th in total defense. What are the biggest issues that the unit is facing? Do the numbers tell the whole story or is there something that casual fans are missing?

The defense has certainly had a rough go of it this season. The defensive line, which was supposed to be one of the veteran groups that led the defense, was pushed around and bullied for most of the first five weeks of the season. Week 6 saw a better performance, in particular on the scoreboard, but the Cardinals were still able to move the ball up and down the field for much of the day. A good portion of holding the Cardinals to just nine points was Arizona hesitant to use its backup kicker on field goal attempts, and therefore failing on three fourth down attempts inside the Seattle 27 yard line. With that in mind, the defensive front seven was better in slowing down running backs in Week 6, they allowed Kyler Murray to break 100 yards on the ground, the fourth straight week that they have allowed an opponent to run for 100 yards.

There have been complaints from fans about going away from Carroll’s traditional cover-3 heavy scheme and more towards a Fangio-style system that uses two high safeties to slow opposing offenses, but a lot of the complaints have likely been misdirected. In reality the Hawks have been playing a lot of inexperienced players, including at both outside cornerback spots and at nickel, and inexperienced players tend to not perform as well as experienced players. As these youngsters have become more assignment sound and coverage busts in the back end have become less frequent, there have been glimpses of the potential for improvement. This game should shed some light on whether or not the improvement in Week 6 can be expected from the group going forward, or if those improvements were little more than a flash in the pan.

3.) If you were Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, how would you go about game-planning against this Seattle defense? Are there any specific players and/or matchups you’d attempt to exploit?

The defense has been susceptible to screens and opposing tight ends have produced well so far this year, so the fear among some fans is for a potential Gerald Everett revenge game. Whether or not that materializes or not, Austin Ekeler could certainly have a big day if the guys up front are able to open holes for him. In particular, if Lombardi is able to use personnel packages to keep the Seahawks defense base personnel rather than nickel and he is able to get Everett and/Ekeler matched up in coverage against the linebackers, in particular against Cody Barton, that could really be an area the Chargers offense could exploit. Other than that, attack the young corners through the air, though it’s obviously necessary to be careful of the ability of Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant to create turnovers.

4.) Same question but you’re now calling the Chargers defense. How would you attempt to stop the likes of D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett? Are there any other players the Chargers should worry about?

The key to slowing or stopping the Seattle offense through the first six weeks of the season has been slowing down the tight ends. Metcalf and Lockett are talented enough that they are going to get their catches and put their numbers into the box score, and the opponents that have slowed and stopped the offense were those that were able to take Will Dissly, Noah Fant and Colby Parkinson out of the game. This was particularly true during the first three weeks of the season when facing the Broncos, 49ers and Falcons, as the Seahawks were largely unable to score once the tight ends were forced out of the gameplan. In contrast, the Saints and Lions weren’t able to slow down this trio, allowing the Hawks offense to put 73 points on the board in those two games.

5.) The Chargers are currently a five-point favorite over the Seahawks (per DraftKings Sportsbook) with the over/under set at 50.5. Go ahead and give us a few lines on how you see this game shaking out, a final score prediction, and whether or not you’re taking the over or under in this one.

I think I’ve been wrong on every one of my over/under predictions this season, but my guess is these two teams take advantage of playing the dome to put a lot of points on the board Sunday. I expect a game filled with big plays, while the outcome will be determined by how well the young Seattle defense is able to slow down a Chargers offense that certainly has some explosive weapons. At the end of the day, my guess is that the Chargers come away with a 30-24 victory, putting this one above the over.