RENTON -- The Tennessee Titans bring a pair of unique challenges to the table for the Seahawks to conquer this weekend in Nashville.
The first is Marcus Mariota's remarkable productivity inside the red zone. The second is the challenging nature of Dick LeBeau's defensive scheme.
When the Titans get inside an opponent's 20-yard line, Mariota takes his efficiency to another level. In just over two years as Tennessee's starting quarterback, Mariota has completed 62 percent of his passes inside the 20-yard line with 33 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Just to repeat that, zero interceptions.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll preaches it's "all about the ball" to his own team constantly. It's one of his core coaching tenants and fundamental to his beliefs about football. So it's no surprise that Carroll is a big fan of Mariota's abilities.
"I think one of the things, if you look at his red zone numbers, his red zone numbers are like phenomenal as far as touchdowns and turnovers and all that," Carroll said on Wednesday. "That is a really good sign for what you have. The guy has a great conscience, a great awareness, in the most difficult area to throw the football, he is really good at it. He is really efficient, so I think it bodes really well for him. He is going to have a longtime career, I don’t think there is anything to hold him back."
Linebacker Bobby Wagner believes his ability to run helps give him greater options as well near the goal line.
"I think he's knows when to pass and knows when to run," Wagner said. "He uses his feet really, really well so he probably escapes out of the pocket and people leave their coverage to go get him and then he throws it over and gets touchdowns. He's really good at that, really uses his feet well.
"I think we're pretty fast though," he added.
In addition, Mariota's running ability adds to an already potent running attack with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.
Defensively, LeBeau is one of the great defensive coordinator in league history. The 80-year old coach is in his third year with the Titans after spending much of the previous two decades with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Outside of a three-year run as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals and a year as assistant head coach for the Buffalo Bills, LeBeau was behind the productive Steelers' defenses that featured Kevin Greene, James Harrison, James Farrior, Joey Porter, Chad Brown, Rod Woodson, Troy Polamalu and more.
Where Lebeau's defenses truly cause the most problems is with their pressure packages. LeBeau was one of the pioneers of zone-blitz concepts. In a 3-4 defensive front, exactly which players are rushing the quarterback is less clear as well, which causes more confusion up front.
Guard Oday Aboushi played twice a year against the Titans and LeBeau's defenses while with the Houston Texans.
"I think they do everything, which is challenging," said Aboushi, who may start for the Seahawks on Sunday at right guard."You've really got to prepare for everything, the stunts, the blitzes they bring, the off-levels they try to get you on. The biggest thing, honestly, is playing our game and being in sync with each other. I feel like when you're in sync then you're communicating, you're able to pick up a lot of the stunts and the blitzes they bring.
"It's not your traditional pass rush or your traditional slot pressure or something like that. They're able to do a lot of things and you got to be prepared for pretty much all of it."
The bottom line when it comes to handling the defense is to communicate to everyone up front is seeing things the same way,
"They'll throw a lot at you but they don't do anything crazy," right tackle Germain Ifedi said. "They make you be right. If you're not right versus them they're going to give you a hard time with what you do but if you're on your stuff they're easy to pick up when you're on your stuff, like anybody is. When you're not doing right and you're settling loose and guys aren't communicating, that's when you start having a hard time."
Photo Credit: JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the football during the first half of their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on September 17, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images)