Broncos at Seahawks: Key Matchups That'll Dictate the Winner – Sports Illustrated

Kickoff to the 2022 regular season is rapidly approaching for the Denver Broncos. The Broncos are in the middle of their preparations to take on the Seattle Seahawks. This is being touted as a 'revenge' game for Russell Wilson. 
After Wilson was traded from the Seahawks to the Broncos, many in Seattle's organization took shots at the nine-time Pro Bowler with public comments. The relationship between Wilson and the Seahawks was heating for a while and finally boiled over. 
Now Wilson gets to face his former team to kick off the season of Monday Night Football. The Seahawks have talent on their roster and present an interesting matchup for the Broncos. 
What are the key matchups that'll decide this game? Let's dive in. 
The Seahawks attempted to bring in Ed Donatell to help with their defense with the goal of using more two-high looks, which Hurtt picked up working under Vic Fangio in Chicago. 
Why do the Seahawks want more two-high safety looks? To better disguise what Jamal Addams and Quandre Diggs are doing. But, of course, that plays into Wilson's issue, as he has struggled against two-high safety looks. 
If Hurtt can disguise the safeties, it could complicate things for Wilson. However, there is one problem with that for Seattle: Adams. 
Adams is a big box safety that has always had issues working in coverage. The farther away from the line of scrimmage, the worse he looks. So now it makes sense to move him back to disguise it, but doing so drops him farther back from what he does best: defending the run and rushing the quarterback. 
This will only work for Seattle if Adams can take a significant improvement in coverage. 
Advantage: Slightly Denver.
Looking at the Seahawks' defensive line first, they are starting Poona Ford, Al Woods, and former Bronco Shelby Harris. Seattle's edges are Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor. 
There is talent among the group, but it's a little lackluster. Ford and Woods are competent run defenders, but Harris, Taylor, and Nwosu are more concerning.
Their play as pass rushers is even more concerning, with Ford being the highest-graded among the group, which was only the 50th best-grade of 121 pass rushers via Pro Football Focus. The leader of the rest of the group was Nwosu (the 63rd-highest grade), followed by Taylor, Woods, and Harris, all of whom ranked 85th, 86th, and 87th, respectively. 
As for the Broncos' offensive line, they were the ninth-best pass-blocking unit by PFF but the 19th in run-blocking. Seattle's defense in the trenches has the advantage against the run, but Denver does in the passing game. 
Advantage: Denver. 
Out of 221 defensive linemen and edge rushers with at least 300 snaps against the run, the Seahawks' starting group was individually graded by PFF as:
The Seahawks did add some help, with the addition of Boye Mafe as a rookie, but those two edges were rough. Harris has also been an issue as a run defender for most of his career. However, Woods and Ford played great against the run, which saw the Seahawks' defense be graded as the third-best unit. 
However, losing Bobby Wagner and Carlos Dunlap will hurt. So Seattle's play against the run will likely drop some. 
As for the Broncos' O-line, they have their concerns against the run, plus they are installing a new scheme for two of the five starters in C Lloyd Cushenberry III and RG Quinn Meinerz. LT Garett Bolles and LG Dalton Risner have experience, but it has been two seasons since they last played in it. 
The Broncos were the 14th-worst run-blocking unit, according to PFF. However, Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams have shown to be a dynamic duo, and the new scheme should see improvements. 
Advantage: Slightly Denver. 
The Seahawks lost Wagner and are turning to Cody Barton to replace him. They are also betting on Jordyn Brooks to take a step forward with his development. As for the safety position, Diggs is a talented cover guy, but he is coming back from injury, and Adams has his issues in coverage. 
Denver has a concern about their tight-end room. Albert Okwuegbunam is a capable mismatch receiving tight end and could be a difference-maker in this game. But unfortunately, the Seahawks don't have an ideal answer for the combination of athleticism, speed, and size that Okwuegbunam brings to the table. 
The edge here is apparent in concerns about consistent tackling and how good Williams and Gordon can be at making defenders miss or breaking tackles. 
Advantage: Denver. 
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Seattle had significant concerns about their cornerbacks that they drafted two relatively early. Tariq Woolen is talented and has come along, but he is still learning as a rookie. Coby Bryant is another rookie that is talented but still coming along. Michael Jackson and Sidney Jones are fine, but they are more geared towards being backup corners. 
The Seahawks look to have a solid room, but they're lacking experience for the most part. Then with Adams' issues in coverage and Diggs working back from injury, it drags down the secondary as a unit. 
Even with the loss of Tim Patrick, the Broncos still have a talented receiver room led by Courtland Sutton. Sutton can be a problem for any of the corners Seattle has to offer. Jerry Jeudy has had his bright moments and can be hard to stick with because of his route running ability, and Hamler has good speed, though he is working back from a severe injury. 
Advantage: Slightly Denver. 
Evero is new to the defensive coordinator position but was the passing game coordinator. So he has an excellent idea of what Pete Carrol will throw Denver's way in the passing game. Plus, Evero saw Smith firsthand in the game Wilson left with an injury. 
Smith went 10-of-17 for 131 yards and a touchdown and interception. He isn't very good, and the Seahawks had one of the worst quarterback rooms this season. 
Advantage: Denver. 
Both rooms are full of potential. Bradley Chubb and Rangy Gregory are returning from injuries and have struggled to stay on the field. Baron Browning is undergoing a position change. There is a lot of potential for the Broncos here, but there is for Seattle, too. 
The Seahawks have rookie tackles in Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas. In addition, Seattle has a new center in Austin Blythe, who has been average at best during his career. The Seahawks' guards are Gabe Jackson, who was once one of the better guards in the NFL, and Damien Lewis. 
Of 63 qualifying guards, Jackson was the 18th-worst pass blocker, while Lewis was the seventh-worst, according to PFF. However, they improved slightly as run blockers, with Jackson 28th-worst and Lewis 16th-worst. 
The question for the Seahawks unit is how much improvement can the unit see with Cross, Blythe, and Lucas added? Will Jackson and Lewis continue to be a liability? 
Denver added to its run defense by signing D.J. Jones, who had some of his best games against the Seahawks. Dre'Mont Jones should be more dangerous as well. If Chubb and Gregory can stay on the field and show what the Broncos think they have in them, it will be hard on Seattle's offensive line. 
Advantage: Slightly Denver. 
The Broncos' run defense struggled last year, and it was a priority to improve by GM George Paton. That led to the team bringing in D.J. Jones. Adding Jones should help out the others around him. Also helping the Broncos run defense is having more capable linebackers than they had for multiple games last season. 
With two rookie tackles, two guards who struggled as run-blockers, and a new center who isn't a very good run blocker, Denver should be able to control the trenches against the run. 
Advantage: Denver.
Josey Jewell is one starter, but his availability is now in question, and things are looking to have Jonas Griffith start. That would be crucial as it is a significant drop-off to Alex Singleton. 
Justin Simmons is one of the best safeties in the NFL, with Kareem Jackson still capable and Caden Sterns developing. Overall, the Broncos' linebackers and safeties are pretty promising. 
TE Noah Fant can be a problem with his athletic ability as a receiver. However, he can create some mismatches that Seattle can take advantage of. Will Dissly is also a solid tight end. 
RB Rashaad Penny has received a lot of hype for some huge games to close out last season, but they came against some of the worst run defenses. He has also had a limited impact as a receiver. 
We'll see whether Kenneth Walker plays in the game, who was a nice addition and could be more of a threat than Penny. However, Walker had hernia surgery in August and is unlikely to play in the season opener.
Without Walker, Seattle will turn to Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas to back up Penny. 
Advantage: Seattle. 
Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf are two great receivers. Patrick Surtain II and Ronald Darby will have their work cut out for them. It will be a considerable test early on. But, it won't just test those two but the secondary as a whole. 
You can't have miscommunications against those two receivers. If you do, you're giving up a big play.
Dee Eskridge and Marquise Goodwin add more big play potential to test Denver's depth at cornerback. But unfortunately, that depth is a significant concern. So a lot will ride on the ability of Darby and Surtain to shut down Metcalf and Lockett. 
Advantage: Denver. 
Carrol is fine as a head coach, but he is very stubborn in his ways. On the other hand, Hackett is fresh to being a head coach; he brings youth and, hopefully, creativity to the offense he built with his new quarterback. 
Advantage: Slightly Seattle. 
The Broncos are the better team on paper and have more favorable matchups than the Seahawks. There is so much put on the quarterback position, and Denver clearly has the better quarterback. In addition, the Broncos have the right pieces to attack where Seattle has their issues. 
However, with Denver still putting things together, this game could be closer than some expect. Seattle has a few edges in critical areas to keep it close. Then there is the fact anything can happen on game day. 
The Broncos might not be able to capitalize on those advantages, or Seattle may be better prepared. A lot can happen when the clock starts. 
Right now, on paper, the advantage is heavily in Denver's favor and should lead to at least a two-score victory. 
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Erick Trickel is the Senior Draft Analyst for Mile High Huddle. He has covered the Denver Broncos, NFL, and NFL Draft since 2013. 


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