Keys to a Seahawks victory
1. Stop Washington’s ground game.
Washington ranked first in the league in rushing yards during the regular season, a potential problem given Seattle’s defensive performance over the final two-thirds of the season. Seattle went from allowing 70 rushing yards per game over the first six games of the season to 122.9 over the last 10. During the regular season, Seattle faced six of the teams that finished the year among the league’s top 10 in rushing yardage. Seattle was 6-1 in those games, its only loss coming in its first game against San Francisco.
2. Apply some pass pressure, stat!
Seattle totaled eight sacks over its final six games of the regular season, a dip from the first 10 games of the season when the Seahawks averaged 2.8 sacks per game. The Seahawks allowed opponents to convert 38.4 percent of their third-down plays during the regular season (No. 17 in the league), a surprisingly mediocre number when you consider Seattle allowed the fewest points in the league. A big part of that average third-down defense was a decidedly mediocre pass rush.
3. Don’t be afraid to let it fly.
Washington allowed 31 touchdown passes during the regular season, tied for second most in the league. That pass defense did get better over the course of the season, though, as the team went from allowing 314.3 yards through the air in the first eight games to 249.6 over the final eight. Seattle is never going to be mistaken for the league’s most dynamic passing offense, but Russell Wilson’s 16 touchdown passes over the final eight games show how much more effective that element of Seattle’s offense has become.
Keys to Washington victory
1. Force a turnover or three.
Ball control has been a huge part of Washington’s success. The team committed a league-low 14 turnovers in the regular season. Seattle was just as stingy over the second half of the season, committing just five turnovers over the final eight games of the season. Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are 17-4 when they force more turnovers than they commit in all games including the playoffs and 3-14 when they have a negative turnover differential.
2. Be conscious of Russell Wilson’s wheels.
It’s no secret that Seattle’s rookie quarterback has become a bigger part of the Seahawks’ rushing offense, but that hasn’t made opponents any more capable of stopping him. Wilson averaged 45.1 yards rushing over the final eight games of the season, more than Griffin’s average of 42.4 yards. Wilson also ran for four touchdowns in those final four games so while Washingotn’s run defense understandably starts out by focusing on Marshawn Lynch, Wilson can’t be overlooked.
3. Don’t fall behind early.
Anyone who watched Robert Griffin III play the last two regular-season games can tell the man’s not as fast as he was before suffering a sprained knee. Last week, that knee injury seemed to affect his throws as well as he completed just nine of 18 passes, his second-lowest completion percentage this season. Seattle scored first in 13 of its 16 regular-season games, and if the Seahawks get out to a lead, it’s only going to accentuate the pressure on Griffin, who’s unlikely to be at 100 percent.
WR Pierre Garcon vs. CB Marcus Trufant
Trufant is not a starter, but he comes on the field in passing situations, defending the slot receiver as the fifth defensive back in Seattle’s nickel defense. Trufant is the one opponents have targeted, specifically late in losses at Miami and Detroit. Garcon is the most dangerous receiver Washington has, and the team is 9-1 in games he has played compared to 1-5 without him. It will be interesting to see if Washington will use more three-receiver formations in an effort to get Garcon matched up on Trufant.
This is the third time in eight seasons the two teams have met in the playoffs. Seattle won both the prior meetings, defeating Washington 20-10 in the divisional round in January 2006 and winning 35-14 in the wild-card round two years later. Both of those games were played in Seattle. Washington has played in the wild-card round of the playoffs seven times, and that 2008 defeat in Seattle is its only loss. Seattle has lost six consecutive regular-season games to Washington, three of those coming on the road. Seattle has not won a road game against Washington since 1995. Mike Shanahan is 8-5 in playoff games, the third-highest playoff winning percentage of all the coaches in this year’s tournament.