Monday Night Football Preview: A Defensive Battle in Seattle
The Buffalo Bills travel west in Week 9 to take on the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football in what projects to be a low-scoring slugfest between two of the league's better defenses. Both teams enter the week on a bit of a slide with the Bills losers of two straight and the Seahawks coming off a loss and a tie.
The Seahawks are 4-2-1 and looking to remain atop the NFC West standings. They're currently the only team with a winning record in the division and could put some distance between themselves and the 3-4-1 Arizona Cardinals, who had a bye this week.
Meanwhile, the 4-4 Bills are coming off a loss against the division rival New England Patriots and could be getting back the centerpiece of their offense in LeSean McCoy as they head into the second half of their schedule.
After missing last week with a hamstring injury, McCoy is tentatively expected back this week. Before suffering a hamstring injury in the week before the Bills' Week 7 matchup against the Miami Dolphins, McCoy had been one of the league's leading rushers, averaging 97.8 yards per game while scoring 6 touchdowns in as many games.
On the other side, Russell Wilson has been a staple on the Seahawks' injury report this season, as he has played through a myriad of injuries, but he is actually not listed on the Week 9 injury report.
Here are four storylines to watch on Monday Night Football.
How Healthy Is Russell Wilson?
Wilson hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Week 4, when he threw three against the New York Jets, which is actually his only multi-touchdown game on the year.
Wilson has been dealing with a high ankle sprain and sprained MCL since the first few weeks of the season, and earlier this week, head coach Pete Carroll shed some light on the severity of Wilson's injuries, telling reporters that the team considered sitting him down for a few weeks. Adding to Wilson's lower leg injuries, he also suffered a strained pectoral in the Seahawks Week 7 tie in Arizona.
But this week, Wilson is not listed on the Seahawks' injury report, and Carroll said Wilson "was really at his best" in practice as the injury concerns start to fade.
The Seahawks are anxiously waiting for Wilson to get back on track as their offense has been sluggish through the first half of the season -- the Seahawks' offense ranks 24th, according to our schedule-adjusted metrics.
On the season, Wilson has thrown for only five touchdowns and two interceptions. Additionally, known as a dual threat quarterback, Wilson has run for only 44 yards through seven games.
While it may not have shown up in the box score, Wilson has played pretty efficiently, according to our metrics. Our Net Expected Points (NEP) measures how many points a player adds to his team's total based on historical expectation, and Wilson has been pretty efficient while playing through injuries.
Of the 29 quarterbacks to attempt at least 200 drop backs on the year, Wilson ranks 10th in Passing NEP (49.58).
If this is the week Wilson begins to look more like his old self, he'll be doing so against a Bills defense ranks 18th by our schedule-adjusted metrics. The Bills' passing defense is 20th-best in the NFL, per NEP.
More Run for C.J. Prosise?
Coming into the season, C.J. Prosise was expected to step into a third-down, passing-down back role for the Seahawks, but a hamstring injury and a broken bone in his hand have cost him to miss much of the first half of the season. After playing only nine snaps in Week 1, Prosise missed the following five weeks and returned to a limited role in Week 7. Last week, Prosise played a season-high 23 snaps, only five fewer than Christine Michael.
Prosise turned in a productive line, rushing 4 times for 23 yards and catching 4 passes for 80 yards, although one of those receptions was a 43-yard gain on a fake punt.
Michael has been the lead back for the Seahawks this season with Thomas Rawls sidelined and Marshawn Lynch retired. The Seahawks' running game has struggled, averaging only 81.4 yards per game, 28th in the league. Seattle's rushing attack ranks 29th in the league in Adjusted Rushing NEP, and perhaps a healthy Prosise could provide a boost.
The Seahawks' running game faces another tough test this week. The Bills' run defense ranks eighth-toughest by Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP.
Last week, Carroll said Prosise will be more involved for the Seahawks down the stretch. After seeing an increased role last week, maybe we'll see Prosise's role continue to expand in Week 9.
What's Up With LeSean McCoy?
Two weeks ago, the Bills made the head-scratching move of playing McCoy after he had suffered a hamstring injury in practice. McCoy went on to rush 8 times for 11 yards in Week 7 against the Dolphins before exiting with -- you guessed it -- a hamstring injury.
McCoy sat out last week's loss against the New England Patriots, but this week, Bills head coach Rex Ryan said he's "confident" that McCoy will be good to go Monday night after McCoy returned to practice late in the week.
If McCoy does in fact go, he and the Bills' running game have a tall order at hand against a Seahawks run defense that ranks as the second best, according to our schedule-adjusted metrics.
Prior to hurting his hamstring, McCoy had been on a tear. In the four games before the Miami debacle, McCoy had been averaging nearly 6.5 yards a carry en route to 470 total rushing yards and 5 touchdowns over those four games. On the season, McCoy has netted the third best Rushing NEP (15.03) among the 39 running backs with at least 50 carries.
Will Percy Harvin Play?
Surprisingly, the Bills signed Percy Harvin last week after the wide receiver missed most of 2015 with a chronic hip injury and had retired in April after struggling in previous seasons with a variety of issues.
The Bills aren't going to wait long to get Harvin back on the field.
"I think we can play him some, I do," Ryan said of Harvin playing this week against the Seahawks. "He looks good out there."
The Bills could use some help in the passing game as their aerial attack ranks 21st, according to our metrics.
The Bills are hopeful that Harvin, still only 28, can provide a spark to a receiving corps that has been hit hard by injuries. Sammy Watkins and Greg Salas have landed on injured reserve, but Watkins is targeting a late-season return. Both Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin were limited in practice this week, although both are expected to play.
Adding to the intrigue of Harvin's return is the fact that he could make his 2016 debut against a team he played for in 2013 and 2014. But after injuries cost him playing time and a few fights with teammates, including current Seahawk Doug Baldwin, Harvin was traded to the Ryan-coached Jets in 2014.
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