To record their first win of the season, the Buccaneers will have to overcome the team with the best record in the NFC and some of the league's most dangerous weapons on both sides of the ball.
HEAD COACH: A decade after ending a three-year run at the helm of the New England Patriots – a decade spent building a powerhouse at USC and winning two national championships – Pete Carroll returned to the NFL with Seattle in 2010. While he led the Patriots to a 27-21 record from 1997-99 (and also spent the 1994 season as the head coach of the 6-10 New York Jets) it is in Seattle that Carroll has truly found a comfort zone. Inheriting a team that won a total of nine games from 2008-09, Carroll has overseen a total culture change in Seattle, not to mention a rise to playoff status last year and an NFC-best 7-1 mark so far in 2013. As chronicled in a preseason piece for ESPN The Magazine by Alyssa Roenigk, Carroll has built his second extended stint in the NFL around the concept that “happy players make for better players.” As Roenigk also points out, it doesn’t hurt that Carroll found (via the ridiculously low price of a third-round draft pick) a quarterback in Russell Wilson who is both supremely talented and a kindred spirit – much like the incredibly successful duo of Sean Payton and Drew Brees in New Orleans. In his first three seasons in Seattle, Carroll’s team produced one first, one second and one third-place finish in the NFC West, making the playoffs in 2010 and 2012 and winning a postseason game each time.
OFFENSE: Seattle is moving the ball very much the way it did a year ago en route to an 11-5 finish: Running with great success, passing efficiently but without big numbers and avoiding mistakes. The Seahawks were 17th overall in offense last year, including a #3 ranking on the ground and a #27 mark through the air. This year, Seattle is 15th, fourth and 28th, respectively, in those three categories. Seattle is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and has only thrown four interceptions (though a surprisingly high 17 fumbles and eight lost fumbles has kept the Seahawks from absolutely dominating in turnover margin).
Second-year QB Russell Wilson is at the center of all of that. He has been efficient with the football (61.% completion rate) while still averaging nearly eight yards per pass attempt and throwing 13 touchdowns against those four picks. That leads to a healthy passer rating of 99.0 that is only enhanced by his ability to run. Wilson ranks second on the team with 339 yards on 61 carries, though his ability to extend plays and a run of injuries to the Seattle offensive line has also led to a whopping 27 sacks. Wilson's strong start to the 2013 campaign is hardly surprising after he led all NFL quarters over the last 10 weeks of last season with a 116.5 passer rating and took home the NFC Offensive Player of the Month award in December. Wilson's cast of pass-catchers suffered a loss this week, however, as wide receiver Sidney Rice was placed on injured reserve; that could be countered quickly if Percy Harvin, the team's prized trade acquisition from Minnesota, returns this week from his hip injury. Harvin was leading the NFL in yards after the catch last season with the Vikings before he suffered a significant ankle injury. Wilson's top two targets so far this season have been Golden Tate (32-439-3) and Doug Baldwin (23-372-1).
Leading the rushing attack is Seattle's "Beast Mode," 2011 and 2012 Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch, whose nickname comes from his relentless and physical style of rushing. Lynch, who has surpassed 100 yards in 17 of his last 33 games and is the league's leading rusher since midway through the 2011 campaign, currently ranks fourth in the NFL with 601 yards in 2013. In that same span – beginning in Week Nine of 2011 – Seattle as a team has the highest rushing-yardage total in the NFL, and this year the Seahawks have run on more than 50% of their snaps (253 of 493). As dangerous as Wilson can be, there's little doubt that the Buccaneers' first goal on Sunday will be to try to slow down Beast Mode and the Seahawks' ground game.
DEFENSE: Thanks to the emergence of such young stars as CB Richard Sherman, S Earl Thomas and linebackers Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin, the Seahawks were expected to field one of the NFL's best defenses in 2013. They haven't disappointed.
Through eight weeks, Seattle ranks second in the NFL in yards allowed per game (289.3) and third in points allowed per game (15.6), and it has been particularly adept at taking the ball away. The Seahawks lead the league with 21 takeaways, including 13 interceptions to tie for the top spot in that category. Sherman and Thomas have four picks apiece already, and safety Kam Chancellor has added two of his own. Thomas has been something of a one-man wrecking crew, leading the team with 57 tackles in addition to those four interceptions, two forced fumbles and six passes defensed.
Equally impressive has been Seattle's ability to get to the quarterback, as the team ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks per pass play. The Seahawks have a total of 26 sacks, or a little more than three per game, and a whopping 13 different players have already gotten in on the sack party. The Seahawks invested widely in pass rushers during the 2013 offseason, bringing in Michael Bennett from the Buccaneers, Cliff Avril from the Detroit Lions and Tony McDaniel from the Miami Dolphins. Bennett leads the team with 4.5 sacks, Avril is next with 4.0 and McDaniel has contributed 2.0. Holdover Chris Clemons, with his 3.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits, has also been an important part of the pass rush. Clemons and Avril are both among the top in the NFL in terms of sacks since the start of the 2010 season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: It's not surprising given their 7-1 record, but the Seahawks have excelled in quite a few areas of the kicking game, as well.
Kicker Steven Hauschka, who earlier this year completed a come-from-behind win for Seattle in Houston by kicking a 45-yard field goal in overtime, has missed only once in 16 tries so far this season. Since the Seahawks claimed Hauschka off waivers early in the 2011 season, he has made 93.8% of his field goal attempts from closer than 50 yards (61 of 65). Punter Jon Ryan, who set a team record last year with a 40.8-yard net average, is on the same pace again, with a net of 40.6 so far this year and 14 kicks downed inside the 20 against just three touchbacks. Ryan's hang time has helped the Seattle coverage teams force 13 fair catches against just 10 returns and restrict opposing returners to 1.5 yards per try, lowest in the NFL.