Countdown to kickoff

KANSAS CITY – Greetings from renovated Arrowhead Stadium, where the Seahawks will play their third preseason game tonight against the Chiefs.

The competition between Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson to be the starting quarterback for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Cardinals in Arizona gets a needed twist tonight as Wilson will start against the Chiefs after playing the second halves of the first two preseason games.

The question concerning the rookie is obvious: Can the third-round draft choice be as productive playing with the No. 1 offense, and against the Chiefs’ No. 1 defense, as he has been while directing the No. 2 and No. 3 offenses – and dissecting the No. 2 and No. 3 defenses of the Titans and Broncos?

In case you missed these statistics earlier this week, in 11 preseason series, Wilson has produced five touchdowns and a field goal. He has passed for three of those TDs and run for another. By comparison, Flynn, a free-agent acquisition, has produced no TDs and four field goals in 10 series while starting the first two games.

So this is a big night not only for Wilson, but the coaches and other players. Because before a final decision can be made as to which QB it will be, everyone needs to see Wilson in the role he has been competing for.

But there’s more to this game than the obvious.

Another big question for the Seahawks: Who steps up among the 11 wide receivers not named Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin? Rice is scheduled to make his preseason debut tonight, after sitting out the first two games because he had surgery on each of his shoulders during the offseason. Baldwin, who had a procedure late last week to remove fluid from a troublesome hamstring, will not play. But Rice at flanker and Baldwin in the slot are about the only givens as the club prepares to trim its 89-man roster to 75 players on Monday and then to 53 next Friday. Someone needs to show he can be the big target at split end to replace Mike Williams. Terrell Owens needs to show that last week’s oh-fer outing was knocking off the rust for a future Hall of Famer who had last played in 2010, and not an indication that this is what he has left at the age of 38. Everyone needs to show more consistency than they have to this pivotal point in the preseason.

Also keep an eye on rookie J.R. Sweezy, the converted defensive tackle who will make his second start at right guard for John Moffitt, who is sidelined after having a surgical procedure to remove particles from his left elbow. Coach Pete Carroll says Moffitt remains the starter, but can Sweezy continue to show enough that he could alter that situation – or even challenge Paul McQuistan for the starting spot on the left side?

Penalties also are on Carroll’s radar in this one, after the Seahawks were flagged seven times for 75 yards against the Broncos last week, including unnecessary roughness calls on right tackle Breno Giacomini and backup guard Deuce Lutui that really were – unnecessary, that it.

Another area that must improve is special teams. After giving up an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Titans in the opener – where no one had contain on the right side – the Seahawks allowed two of Jon Ryan’s punts to be blocked and deflected against the Broncos last week. And there could have been a third. A lot of that can be traced to so many new players playing in unfamiliar spots. But it’s still a definite area of concern.

Saving the best for last, also keep an eye on the No. 1 defense. These guys have picked up where they left off last season, when the Seahawks ranked among the Top 10 in the league in average points and yards allowed. In 10 series against the Titans and Broncos, the No. 1 unit has produced five turnovers – scoring once on an interception return by cornerback Brandon Browner against the Titans and setting up a trio of field goals in the first half against the Broncos.

Tonight, they’ll face QB Matt Cassel, who has completed 75 percent of his passes in leading the Chiefs to three touchdowns and a field goal in the seven preseason possessions he has directed.

Rookie Bobby Wagner has won the starting job at middle linebacker, but backup Heath Farwell also has shown enough that Barrett Ruud was traded to the Saints this week. Ruud, remember, was signed in free agency to compete with Wagner – which never really happened. With Jason Jones being sidelined in practice this week, rookie Greg Scruggs has been working at the three-technique tackle spot with the No. 1 line. So keep an eye on him, as Scruggs had a second-half sack in each of the first two games.

That’s a lot to watch, but then again this is the third preseason game. The Seahawks will have a short week to prepare for their preseason finale against the Raiders at CenturyLink Field next Thursday night, then it’s time to start focusing on that opener in the desert. So the importance of tonight’s game can’t be overstated – especially for Wilson, but not exclusively for Wilson.

Enjoy the game. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m., PDT, with coverage on KCPQ/13, as well as 710 ESPN and 97.3 FM.


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