Countdown to kickoff

Greetings from a wet Qwest Field, where some of the Seahawks are just taking the field to prepare for today’s game aganst the San Diego Chargers on this first Sunday of fall.

Two of the bigger – and more pivotal – storylines on this soggy afternoon involve Earl Thomas, the Seahawks’ rookie free safety, and the ability of Seattle’s still-developing running game to produce yards against the Chargers’ 3-4 defensive front.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers likes to throw deep, and coach Norv Turner has devised protection schemes that allow him to make seven-step drops, which in turn gives his receivers time to complete their longer routes. Thomas, the second of the Seahawks’ first-round draft choices, will have to be on his game to prevent giving the Chargers any quick scores.

One way to help Thomas is to get pressure on Rivers. The Seahawks did not generate enough on Kyle Orton in Denver last week and the Broncos’ QB made them pay by completing 25 of 35 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked just once, which also was the only time the Seahawks were able to hit him.

The Seahawks can blitz, of course. But that leaves holes in the secondary that other experienced quarterbacks were able to exploit last season.

The plus side is that the Seahawks are playing at home, where the din generated by the 12th Man crowd makes it difficult for opposing linemen to hear the snap count and allows the Seahawks’ pass rushers to get a jump on them.

As for the running game, the Seahawks managed 77 rushing yards while running into the 49ers’ 3-4 front in their opener, but had 109 last week against the Broncos and their 4-3 defense. The Chargers are allowing averages of 103 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry.

Getting the running game going early will take some of the pressure off QB Matt Hasselbeck, who threw three interceptions against the Broncos.

The Chargers, meanwhile, are dealing with a couple of intangibles. First, the rain – which they did not handle well in Kansas City while dropping their season opener to the Chiefs.

As Turner said this week, “We played really a half of the game, in the second and third quarter, in a pretty good, not only rain, but windstorm so it kind of nullified both teams on offense and made the game a much lower scoring game than we had anticipated.  I think we came back and played better the second week.  We still have some areas that concern me.  We turned the football over more than we’re accustomed to doing.”

Then there’s the return of Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill, who signed his tender on Saturday in time to travel with the team to Seattle. McNeill won’t play today, or in the next two games, because he was placed on the roster exempt list on Aug. 20. But Brandyn Dombrowski, who has been subbing for McNeill, knows what’s coming – much like Tyler Polumbus, who is keeping the Seahawks’ left tackle spot warm until first-round draft choice Russell Okung is ready to return from the high ankle sprain that has sidelined him for five weeks.

There’s also the unresolved issue of wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who continues his no-show in an attempt to be traded and secure a long-term deal. Turner and Rivers said this week that the absences of McNeill and Jackson have not been a distraction. But the unofficial word is that they have.

But the true bottom line today is turnovers. The Chargers got six last week in routing the Jaguars 38-13; the Seahawks committed four in their 17-point loss to the Broncos.

As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll will tell you: It’s all about the ball.

We’ll be back later with the lists of inactive players for both teams – which will include Okung and linebacker Leroy Hill for the Seahawks and is expected to include running back Ryan Mathews, the Chargers’ first-round draft choice.

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