When Seattle travels to Washington DC for Sunday’s NFC Wild Card match up, much of the pre-game hype will be focused on the rookie quarterbacks. Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson each had sensational regular seasons and immediately earned the trust of teammates and adoration of fans. Both were dynamic with their feet, dangerous with their arms and reliable with their brains. But only Wilson has to play his first career post season game on the road.
It’s clear to me the Seahawks have a better team and if this game were played on a neutral field, Seattle would win most of the time. Unfortunately the Hawks must travel to a city, much like their own, that has embraced a new star. Redskins fans will be ready and the playoff environment will be electric. Earlier in the week Wilson credited his experience playing in the Rose Bowl for preparing him for this moment. Well, I’m sorry, this will be nothing like the Rose Bowl. Washington is 5-3 at home, with key wins over Minnesota, Baltimore and Dallas to their credit. DC is starving for a winner and this will be the most hostile environment he has ever seen.
We know Seattle’s defense will be stingy, we know Marshawn Lynch will give a workmanlike effort, but can Wilson continue his improved road play and not look like a rookie? He’s red hot in November and December, completing 123 of 183 passes (a 67.2 completion percentage) for 1,652 yards, 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He’s also added 361 yards on the ground and four rushing touchdowns. In his last two road games against Chicago and Buffalo, he completed 37 of 60 passes (a 61.2 completion percentage) for three touchdowns and no interceptions, with 163 yards rushing and three more scores.
If Seattle leaves Washington DC with a win, Wilson must replicate that production. The Redskins are most vulnerable through the air and opponents know it. They have faced the most passing attempts in the NFL and given up the third most yards. Their biggest problem is an inability to pressure the quarterback. The Redskins are tied for 23rd in the NFL with 32 sacks on the season and 28th with only a 4.78% sack percentage.
To compensate Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett has been more aggressive in the second half of the season. Last week in their division winning game against Dallas, Washington brought pressure from every angle. Inside linebacker blitzes, outside linebacker blitzes, zone blitzes, delayed blitzes, safety blitzes from the slot, corner blitzes from the slot. You name it and Washington probably tried it against the Cowboys. Their favorite blitz of the night was the double-A-gap pressure with linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley. They attempted that blitz 10 times and Romo was 3 of 10 for 26 yards and two interceptions.
Wilson is going to see that same kind of pressure on Sunday and he needs to step up. He also needs help from an offensive line that struggled in week 17. Last week Seattle failed to pick up the Ram’s pressure and Wilson was sacked a season high six times. St. Louis is a much better pass rushing team than Washington, but J.R. Sweezy and Breno Giacomini must play better.
Because Washington’s defense is so aggressive, Seattle will have plenty one-on-one matchups. Wilson’s ability to either stand strong in the pocket or avoid pressure and find those matchups will decide the game. Zack Miller and Sidney Rice need to play big. The Redskins allow opposing tight ends 68.3 yards per game, second worst in the NFL, and 9.6 yards per completion, the worst in the NFL. They also allow opponents number one receiving option 96.3 yards per game and 11.3 per catch, both worst in the NFL.
Seattle doesn’t have many flaws and can make a deep playoff run if they continue to get elite quarterback play. The playoff spotlight is bright, can Wilson shine brighter?
By Travis Loucks
1. Defensive Discipline. The Redskins are the number one rushing team in the NFL. They average 169.3 yards per game and are led by 6th round draft pick Alfred Morris (second most rushing yards this season) and Robert Griffin III (he led all QBs in rushing yards this season). Washington utilizes RGIII’s speed and decision making skills by running the read option offense. This system can make elite players look lost. In week 17, Dallas Cowboy’s linebacker Demarcus Ware was a prime example. Ware was out of position all game against the read option and RGIII used War’s aggressiveness against him. The Seahawks have been susceptible to cutback running in the past due to their overaggressiveness, but on Sunday they must remain disciplined. They can’t over pursue Morris and get burned by RGIII cutting against the grain. The defenders in charge of setting the edge must be stubborn and methodical. The defensive lineman must keep gap control and trust their teammates will be in position. The Hawks defense needs to be DISCIPLINED and I trust they will be.
2. Enough with the Penalties. The Hawks are 27th in the league in penalties, averaging 6.9 a game (surprisingly down from 8.6 in 2011). Seattle had 10 penalties against the Rams for 80 yards. None bigger than an offensive pass interference call that took a touchdown off the scoreboard. Nothing kills a drive quicker than an offensive penalty. On the flip side; against an explosive offense like Washington, you can’t afford to give up second chances with silly mistakes. Penalties can change a game’s tempo, alter momentum and ultimately cost you in big games when the margin for error is small. Remember Miami? Seattle promptly gave up a touchdown to the Dolphins after a Bobby Wagner interception was wiped out due to Earl Thomas’ “roughing the passer” penalty. One penalty at the wrong time can cost you the game.
3. Russell Wilson. I believe the Defense will continue their dominant play, and Marshawn Lynch will rush for 90+ yards and a touchdown. That’s why this game is going to come down to Russell Wilson’s play. Will he be able to handle the playoff stage? Will he make the right pre-snap adjustments? Will he be able to take advantage of the Redskins’ blitz? Can he capitalize on favorable matchups downfield? Wilson has shown the ability, but he’s never played in the NFL playoffs. This is stage where legends are made and Sunday in Washington DC Russell Wilson’s playoff legacy begins.
My Prediction: Seahawks: 26 Redskins: 20