Why 2.91 is key number for Seahawks vs. Deshaun Watson, Texans

RENTON, Wash. — The Seattle Seahawks (4-2) host the Houston Texans (3-3) on Sunday with a chance to move into a tie for first place in the NFC West.

Here’s a closer look at the game from Seattle’s perspective, starting with the key matchup:

Seahawks’ pass rush vs. Deshaun Watson

Watson has been beating defenses with his arm and his legs since taking over as the Texans’ starting quarterback in Week 2. He’ll present a challenge in that regard, but he’ll also present an opportunity for a Seattle pass rush that hasn’t produced the expected results over the first six games.

The Seahawks’ 12 sacks are tied for the fourth fewest in the league, and they’ve generated pressure on 21.7 percent of opposing quarterbacks’ dropbacks, which is tied for 30th. It has been one of the few shortcomings with a defense that has been playing at as high a level as it has at any point in recent seasons.

Part of the issue is that Seattle has faced a steady diet of short, quick throws designed to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands before the pass rush can arrive. In the opener against Green Bay, for instance, the Seahawks sacked Aaron Rodgers four times in the first half, when his average pass attempt traveled 8.3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Green Bay went with shorter throws in the second half — 4.8 yards downfield on average — and Rodgers wasn’t sacked.

The same thing has been happening since then, including last week when the Giants went with a conservative game plan that didn’t include many deep throws.

“It’s hard to get the quarterback when they’re throwing that quick,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.

That’s where Watson could present an opportunity for Seattle. He has averaged an NFL-high 2.91 seconds from snap to release this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That helps explain why he has been pressured on 40 percent of his dropbacks, also the highest rate in the league.

“I’m hoping that we can heat it up this weekend and make the plays that come from that,” Carroll said of Seattle’s pass rush.

Veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, who signed with Seattle this week, is expected to be a part of that effort. Carroll said the plan is for Freeney to play Sunday, but Seattle likely will keep his workload to a minimum — 10 to 15 snaps may be realistic — given that he’s had only three practices with the Seahawks and hasn’t played in a game since the Super Bowl in February.

By the numbers

80.8. Watson’s Total QBR. That’s tops in the league and the highest rate through a quarterback’s first six games since 2006, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

202. Watson’s rushing yards, which rank second among quarterbacks. He’s also second in yards per carry at 7.2. His 143 scramble yards are fourth.

4-0. Seattle’s record against rookie quarterbacks at CenturyLink Field since 2011. Those four quarterbacks — Mike Glennon (2013), Derek Carr (2014), Carson Wentz (2016) and Jared Goff (2016) — have averaged only 179 passing yards.

Injury notes: The Seahawks will wait until game time to determine if center Justin Britt can play with a sprained ankle. Britt missed only six plays after suffering the injury last week against the Giants, which is a good sign. But he wasn’t able to practice until Friday, when he was a limited participant. His availability will have a ripple effect on Seattle’s offensive line. Rookie Ethan Pocic is Seattle’s backup center and will start if Britt can’t play. But Pocic also is competing with Mark Glowinski at left guard, where those two rotated last week. Carroll said Pocic will start at left guard if Britt is able to play. Seattle will likely be without running back C.J. Prosise, who is listed as doubtful because of an ankle injury.

Weather check: As of Friday, Weather.com predicts the temperature in Seattle around kickoff at 1 p.m. local time to be 58 degrees with a 5 percent chance of rain.

Prediction: Watson has looked like the real deal, but he faces a tough challenge on the road against a Seattle defense that has hit its stride. That unit has allowed only 33 points during the Seahawks’ three-game winning streak, elevating them back into their familiar place as the NFL’s top scoring defense. And this game is at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks have had their way with rookie quarterbacks. The guess here is that Watson will be the next one on that list. Seahawks 27, Texans 21.

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