The Washington Commanders will look to get back up to .500 with a Week 10 road trip to take on the Seattle Seahawks. Here are three keys to victory, presented by KIA.
1. Manage the crowd.
Here's one thing we know about the Commanders' game this weekend: it's going to be loud.
Lumen Field is known for being one of the most difficult places to play because of the crowd noise. The stadium itself has been engineered to focus all of the cheers and music down to the field, and as a result, it can be almost impossible for opponents to hear each other, even when they're just inches away.
It's easy to see how that could cause some problems for the Commanders and Sam Howell, who will play the Seahawks on the road for the first time in his career. Howell has been in loud environments before dating back to his time at North Carolina, but he admitted during his Wednesday press conference that he doesn't know what to expect this weekend.
"It can definitely be a problem as far as checking out the line of scrimmage," Howell said. "You got to have more signals than normal just because you can't verbally communicate. We'll be ready to go for whatever we need."
Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has experience being in loud stadiums himself. Arrowhead Stadium is also known for its crowd noise, and it's routinely placed at the top of lists of loudest stadiums in the NFL. Granted, it's different when that crowd is determined to get you off your rhythm, so Bieniemy's biggest advice to Howell is to remain calm.
"I want him to remain poised under pressure, as he always does," Bieniemy said. "But the biggest thing is it's a part of being a professional player. He has to learn to handle the environment and it will be a loud and hostile environment, but we're looking forward to that challenge."
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders preparing for their Week 10 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
2. Prevent explosive plays.
The Seahawks' offense doesn't look that spectacular on the surface. They've put up middling numbers on the ground (97.3, 26th) as well as through the air (214.5, 19th), and their third-down conversion rate is one of the worst in the league (36%, 24th).
But the one area that has continued to keep the Seahawks in games has been their tendency to hit explosive plays.
Through eight games, the Seahawks have 30 plays resulting in gains of at least 20 yards. They are led by DK Metcalf with one-quarter of his 28 receptions being explosive plays. He only had one catch on four targets in the Seahawks' 37-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but it was also a 50-yard bomb. He also had a 43-yard reception in the team's 24-20 win over the Cleveland Browns the previous week.
Right behind him is Kenneth Walker III, who is seventh in the NFL with 532 yards. He's hit on a run of at least 20 yards in five of the last six games, including a 45-yarder against the Browns. Nearly 30% of his production on the ground has come from those five plays.
The Commanders have notoriously struggled to contain explosive plays. They allowed a 64-yard rushing touchdown last week against the Patriots, but there was also the 38-yard catch by DeVonta Smith in Week 8; the 58-yard touchdown by DJ Moore; the 59-yard score by A.J. Brown; and several more that have resulted in Washington being down double digits at the start of games.
Therefore, it will be imperative for Washington to figure something out against the Seahawks and prevent them from moving down the field in chunks. If the Commanders can solve that problem, then it could severely hamstring Seattle and keep the crowd out of it. If not, it could be a long day.
3. Force Geno Smith to turn over the ball.
Another way to take the Seattle crowd out of the game is to force some momentum-swinging turnovers and provide more opportunities for the offense. Fortunately for the Commanders, Geno Smith has done that a lot this season.
For the past four weeks, Smith has had a problem with throwing interceptions. Six of his seven interceptions have come in the last four games, and he's also been sacked 11 times in that span.
Granted, Seattle has been able to bounce back from those turnovers at times; after all, they are 2-2 in their last four games. There have also been times where Smith's turnovers have cost games. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, for example, Smith threw two picks in the second half in a game that was decided by four points.
That's not even addressing Smith's recent struggles with holding onto the ball. He has fumbled three times in the last three games and lost two of them.
The Commanders have been one of the most opportunistic teams in the league when it comes to fumble recoveries with seven this season, and while they only have six interceptions, they've had several passes slip through their grasp. Sunday's game should provide them with more chances if they can capitalize on them.