When the Bills run
Yes, RB Willis McGahee has four 100-yard games -- all at home, all wins -- but he was held to 37 yards in New England two weeks ago. In fact, the Bills are averaging a mere 41 yards rushing on the road this season. Bills must establish run early to give offense some balance and allow offense to dictate pace of game.
Seahawks have NFL's eighth-ranked rush defense, but are vulnerable on the edges with starting OLBs Chad Brown (knee) and Anthony Simmons (wrist, IR) out with injuries. Solomon Bates and Isaiah Kacyvenski are former middle linebackers adjusting to playing in space. Bills OTs Jonas Jennings and Mike Williams have huge size advantage on Seahawks DEs Grant Wistrom and Chike Okeafor. Physical SS Terreal Bierria will be needed in run support if front seven can't get job done. Advantage: Bills.
When the Seahawks run
RB Shaun Alexander leads NFL with 1,151 yards (5.1 per carry) and has 10 rushing touchdowns (13 overall). Blessed with size, quickness and vision, he is deadly on stretch plays, where his linemen zone block and allow him to cut back when he finds a crease. Alexander runs mostly behind a pair of All-Pros, LT Walter Jones and LG Steve Hutchinson. There's no better tackle-guard combo in the NFL.
Bills' defense is predicated on DTs Sam Adams and Pat Williams controlling inside gaps. But Seahawks will likely follow New England's plan two weeks ago and attack Bills on edges. Bills DEs Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney have to be stout against Jones and RT Chris Terry. Bills LBs London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes have to be disciplined and not overrun plays, while Adams and Williams must get penetration and shut off cutback lanes.
When the Bills pass
QB Drew Bledsoe has struggled on road, completing just 49 percent of passes for 674 yards, three touchdowns and nine interceptions while being sacked 17 times (26 overall) in four losses. Bills won't win if this continues. Six different receivers caught passes last week. Spreading ball around takes some defensive attention off WR Eric Moulds. TE Mark Campbell will be key target in red zone again. Screens and dump-offs to McGahee could exploit Seahawks' weakened linebacker corps.
Seahawks are 21st in NFL against pass, but lead league with 14 interceptions. Okeafor (five sacks) and DTs Antonio Cochran and Rocky Bernard (combined seven sacks) are best pass rushers. Seahawks aren't afraid to blitz because CBs Marcus Trufant (three INTs) and Ken Lucas (four INTs) can play man coverage. FS Ken Hamlin is nicknamed "The Hammer" for a reason. Rookie SS Michael Boulware (four INTs) is special athlete making transition from college linebacker.
When the Seahawks pass
With Bills focusing on stopping Alexander, Seahawks' ability to pass effectively is key to game. QB Matt Hasselbeck (thigh) is questionable, but is expected to play. Koren Robinson's NFL-mandated suspension hurts receiving corps. Top WR Darrell Jackson is a playmaker, but drops too many passes. Possession WRs Bobby Engram and Jerry Rice, TEs Itula Mili and Jerramy Stevens and Alexander will have larger roles in Robinson's absence.
Bills got five sacks from defensive backs last Sunday, while still being able to handle Rams' multiple-receiver sets. Well-timed blitzes might pressure Hasselbeck or Trent Dilfer into mistakes. Seahawks will test rookie FS Rashad Baker more than Rams did. Bills' Schobel, who has been quiet in recent weeks, faces tough assignment trying to beat Jones, a better pass protector than run blocker.
Led by three-headed monster of Terrence McGee, Nate Clements and Jonathan Smith, Bills may have NFL's best return game. Seahawks' coverage teams are just slightly above average, so Bills could find more big-play opportunities. Look for Seahawks to use directional punts and get kickoffs high enough for coverage to get downfield. Seahawks return specialist Maurice Morris doesn't scare Bills very much.
Bills P Brian Moorman continues to post steady numbers. K Rian Lindell has made last 10 field goal attempts and is heading back to city where he began career. Punting has been inconsistent for Seahawks, who will use their third punter -- newly signed journeyman Ken Walter -- of the season today. Seahawks have outstanding place-kicker in Josh Brown, who is 18 of 19 on field goals, including 5 for 5 beyond 45 yards.
Coach Mike Mularkey is searching for any solution to snap Bills out of road funk, even serving cheeseburgers on team plane. But only way Bills will win on road is converting scoring opportunities (averaging nine points in four road games) and eliminating mistakes on both sides of ball. Like Patriots and Jets, Seahawks have balanced offensive attack that has given Bills trouble. Seahawks passing game becomes more dangerous if Alexander runs well, which is why stopping him is Priority One for Bills.
Seahawks are not a great team. In fact, they've underachieved this season. But forcing turnovers has allowed them to win games. They are tied for lead in NFL with 25 takeaways (14 INTs, 11 fumbles). They needed a fourth-quarter interception return for touchdown to beat hapless Dolphins last week. Seahawks are tough at home, winning 11 of last 12 and 14 of 19 overall since Qwest Field opened in 2002.
Opportunistic Seahawks convert turnovers into a 23-16 victory.