The Seahawks arrived here late Friday night for Sunday’s first road game of the season at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coach Pete Carroll has a long-standing policy on team travel: leave two days before a game played two or three time zones away (Central and Eastern Time) and one day before a game played in the same, Pacific Time Zone.
It’s so long standing it goes back to what a legendary coach did in the 1980s.
“It’s more a San Francisco 49ers thing from Coach (Bill) Walsh way back when,” Carroll said Friday before the Seahawks left Puget Sound. “We did it for years in college (when he led USC), as well, and we’ve just done it forever. We have a real good feel for how that works.
In an NFL where wins on the road are precious, the Seahawks are 28-19-1 away from CenturyLink Field since 2013, their first Super Bowl-winning season. They were a franchise-best 6-2 on the road that year.
More specifically to Sunday’s task at Pittsburgh, Seattle has won 11 of its last 17 games back east that began at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. Those 10 a.m. kickoffs had been a problem for the Seahawks pre-Carroll, and for West Coast teams in general for years.
The 49ers this week stayed back east between games last weekend at Tampa Bay and Sunday at Cincinnati. They practiced all week in Youngstown, Ohio, an hour northwest of Pittsburgh. San Francisco has done that in Youngstown before. It’s the hometown of the DeBartolo family that owned the 49ers in the Walsh era.
Doesn’t seem Carroll will ever do that with the Seahawks. They have five games in the Eastern Time Zone this season, though none consecutively: at Pittsburgh, at Cleveland Oct. 13, at Atlanta Oct. 27, at Philadelphia Nov. 24 and at Carolina Dec. 15.
It’s two days and back for the Seahawks when going way east.
They spend Saturdays on such road trips conducting a walk-through practice, usually at a local high-school field. Defensive end and Pittsburgh native Quinton Jefferson was excited at potentially having his team from his Woodland Hills High School alma mater come to Saturday’s walkthrough.
“It allows us—where some teams go and they stay on the road and all that, we don’t have to do that to get acclimated,” Carroll said. “Our players prefer going on two-day trips. If we had a trip that’s like some of the shorter trips we can take, they’d rather go two days than one day because they like the rhythm of it.
“It’s worked out well.”
The weather in Pittsburgh Sunday is supposed to be perfect: sunny and 83 degrees. It wasn’t as humid here Saturday as it was Friday, the result of a storm blowing through overnight.
Here are my five players to watch in Sunday’s 10 a.m. game at the Steelers:
1. Ziggy Ansah seemed on track to make his Seattle debut as the bookend edge pass rusher with Jadeveon Clowney, who played his first Seahawks game last weekend. But he is listed as questionable. That’s the listing he had for the opener, but he did not play. The team held out Ansah from the opener against Cincinnati because it wants to have the 30-year-old coming off shoulder surgery and a strained groin healthier in December than September. He’s been sore from practicing for the first time in nine months, before he had shoulder surgery with Detroit.
Carroll was somewhat coy talking about Ansah’s status Friday.
“He practiced all week long. He did all right,” the coach said. “He practiced all week. He wasn’t limited at all.
At this point, he’s almost there. He may be there, we’ll find out. See if we can get him to play this week. He’s getting really close. If he doesn’t go this week, he certainly has a great chance for next week.”
If he does play, keep this in mind: The last season in which Ansah has averaged as much as 31 snaps per game was 2015, his Pro Bowl one with the Lions. Twenty snaps Sunday, or whenever his debut ends up being, might be his ceiling.
Ansah worked out on the field with a trainer 2 1/2 hours before the game. I can’t say it looked effortless.
2. Keep an eye on Mychal Kendricks and how much number 56 in white is on the field with fellow linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Last week Seattle was in base 4-3 defense with Kendricks at strongside linebacker instead of taking him out for a fifth defensive back for the vast majority of the game, and the Seahawks did not stop Cincinnati’s rushing offense. But Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 418 yards. And the defense was lucky to get a win.
3. Ben Roethlisberger holds the record for most yards passing in a game against the Seahawks: 456 in a November 2015 shootout Seattle won at home. These Steelers are coming off getting trashed 33-3 at New England, when wide receiver Donte Moncrief dropped four passes, most in key situations. If the Seahawks stay in base 4-3 a lot again, look for Roethlisberger to attack Seattle’s pass defense that was so suspect last week.
4. Also expect the Seahawks to counter by going more nickel defense than the 28 percent of the time they used five defensive backs against the Bengals. Rookie Ugo Amadi was the first nickel back last week, then hurt his shoulder. Seattle brought back veteran nickel man Jamar Taylor this week. He was one of the best cover men in Seahawks’ training camp this summer. And the former Cleveland Browns starter has played Roethlisberger and his old AFC North rivals four times. The Seahawks haven’t played the Steelers four times in the last 15 years.
5. How long will it take the Seahawks and Russell Wilson to target Tyler Lockett this time? Last week it took until the first play of the fourth quarter, what proved to be Seattle’s winning touchdown pass, for Wilson to throw to Lockett. Lockett had back spasms and missed Wednesday’s practice; Carroll said the the veteran slept wrong and woke up in pain. Lockett is the Seahawks’ new number-one wide receiver after Doug Baldwin retired this spring. He needs to get used to the layered, safety-over-the-top attention he got from the Bengals. And the Seahawks need to do more to get their top wide out involved. Look for quick passes early to number 16 on Sunday.