Chiefs-Seahawks: Three Key Matchups

Football is the ultimate team game but individual matchups can and do determine winners each week at every level. Which of the one-on-one battles must the Seahawks win against the Chiefs to achieve victory? Slowing down Justin Houston, the NFL's most productive pass rusher, would be a good start. Maintaining gap integrity in the running game and on special teams could prove critical, as well. brought in greater Seattle resident and NFL scout Rob Rang to help determine the individual matchups that will determine whether the Seahawks will win or lose this week.

Here are his thoughts on the three critical one-on-one matchups for this week's game.

Seahawks RT Justin Britt vs. Chiefs OLB Justin Houston

All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles may be Kansas City's most dynamic athlete but the Chiefs' best player is left outside linebacker Justin Houston, who leads the NFL with 12 sacks through just nine games. Perhaps an even better indication of Houston's ability to get after quarterbacks is his Pass Rush Productivity, a signature statistic from the reputable According to PFF, Houston has given quarterbacks a problem on 15.7% of his plays. That means he's either pressured, hit or sacked opposing passers on nearly one out of every six passes.

Russell Wilson, of course, is much more elusive than some of the relatively cement-footed quarterbacks (like Tom Brady and Philip Rivers) the Chiefs have faced this season. The Seahawks would be wise to pay extra attention to Houston this week, however, as has been particularly effective against athletic quarterbacks this season, including Jake Locker (two sacks), Ryan Tannehill, Colin Kaepernick and Michael Vick (two sacks). Further, Houston is particularly effective at Arrowhead, with nine of his sacks coming at home.

Though he's only officially allowed two sacks thus far, Britt ranks among the league leaders in QB Pressures Allowed (27). The rookie enjoyed a strong performance overall last week against the Giants but was beaten by Robert Ayers on one sack. After rushing for a franchise-record 350 yards last week, the Seahawks will be looking to again feature Marshawn Lynch. Allowing Britt and the rest of the offensive line to fire upfield as run-blockers rather than attempt to slow down Kansas City's three-headed monster of pass rushers (Houston, Tamba Hali and first round pick Dee Ford) is critical.

Put simply, if the Seahawks have more rushing attempts than the Chiefs Sunday, they'll almost certainly be celebrating another win.

Seahawks DT Kevin Williams vs. Chiefs C Rodney Hudson

Slowing Kansas City's pass rush is the critical test for Seattle's offense. Stopping Charles and the Chiefs' running game is just as important for the Seahawks defense. The loss of Brandon Mebane to a season-ending hamstring tear cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to Seattle's run defense. While he averaged "just" over two tackles in his nine starts this season (20 tackles), Mebane's ability to clog interior running lanes is one of the reasons the Seahawks are able to get away with smaller, faster linebackers and edge rushers.

Four inches taller than Mebane, the 6-5, 311 pound Williams won't be as stout against the run. His length and strength make him an effective run-stuffing presence, nonetheless but he'll be tested by Hudson, one of the quickest centers in the league.

Williams doesn't have to "win" this key battle for Seattle to be successful. He does, however, need to slow up Hudson and the Chiefs' guards from getting to Seattle's linebackers, especially given that K.J. Wright is expected to once again slide back to middle linebacker as normal starter Bobby Wagner and his primary backup Brock Coyle are sidelined with injury.

While Williams' length may hinder him in run-defending, he is a much more accomplished pass defender than Mebane. Even at 34 years-old, Williams shows uncommon agility and closing speed for a man of his size and enters Sunday's contest with 61 career sacks (compared to Mebane's 14.5). Perhaps even more importantly, Williams is also much better than Mebane at tipping passes at the line of scrimmage.

Given how often Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith attempts short passes (especially screens) in Andy Reid's offense, Williams could make up for whatever losses the Seahawks have in run defense by creating turnover opportunities.

Seahawks Return Coverage vs. Chiefs PR De'Anthony Thomas, KR Knile Davis

The Seahawks know all too well that their special teams coverage this season has hardly been special. Injuries to starters have pushed some of Seattle's best special teams players - like Coyle, Kevin Pierre-Louis, DeShawn Shead and Ricardo Lockette - into more prominent roles in the other two phases of the game. The result has been busts in special teams coverage, including (but not limited to) the meltdowns in the disappointing loss to St. Louis.

As one of the NFL's most innovative special teams coaches, perhaps it wasn't surprising that Jeff Fisher's Rams took full advantage of Seattle's inexperience. Given the playmaking ability of Kansas City's Thomas and Davis, the Seahawks should be on full alert on special teams this week, as well.

Most football fans in the Pacific Northwest know Thomas well. Affectionately known as Black Mamba throughout much of his career at Oregon, Thomas demonstrated a degree of fluidity and acceleration that was almost serpent-like, scoring 46 touchdowns as a running back, receiver, punt returner and kick returner. Thomas is extremely aggressive. In 14 punt return attempts to this point in the season, he's yet to call for a fair-catch.

Davis isn't nearly as elusive as Thomas but he possesses remarkable straight-line speed. He currently ranks 5th in the NFL in kick return average (28.1) and returned a kickoff 99-yards for a touchdown earlier in the year. Ironically enough, it came against St. Louis.

Inclement weather could make it even more difficult to contain Thomas and Davis. The temperature at kickoff is expected to be 26 degrees and snow flurries are possible. Top Stories