The Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) defeated the San Francisco 49ers (2-14). The Arizona Cardinals (7-8-1) took down the Los Angeles Rams (4-12).
The Seahawks will play the Detroit Lions during the wildcard round of the playoffs.
Seahawks Give Glimpse Into Playoff Plans
Needing a victory and an Atlanta Falcons loss to secure the two-seed and a bye week in the playoffs, the Seahawks entered Sunday with a lot to play for but soon saw their opportunity wane, as the Falcons broke open a commanding lead on the New Orleans Saints. Regardless, the final victory of the year provided hints into what identity the Seahawks plan to take into the playoffs, and how they will attempt to polish up their game for a loser-goes-home tournament that is unlikely to forgive even the tiniest of mental errors.
The Seahawks offensive difficulties have been dictated as much by injury as they have by poor offensive line play. Entering 2016, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell anticipated running the same offense he ran at the conclusion of 2015, which was one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. However, injuries to quarterback Russell Wilson in weeks 1 and 3 rendered much of the playbook unusable since so much of the offense is dependent on Wilson’s mobility. After Wilson’s injuries was the beginning of the season-long woes at the running back position. Thomas Rawls was injured in week two and missed significant time. When CJ Prosise returned from injury, he was productive for a few weeks before missing the rest of the regular season. (He may return if the Hawks can reach the NFC Championship game). To find a spark, Bevell promoted wide receiver Tyler Lockett to the second receiver spot. Lockett responded by having the best game of his career. The next week Lockett’s season ended with a broken leg. During this, backup tight end Luke Willson missed five games to injury and starter Jimmy Graham was progressively reintroduced to the offense after a serious knee injury prematurely ended his 2015 season.
Several times this season the offense has been forced to shift its identity to whatever facet of the unit was the least injured.
With Jimmy Graham firing on all cylinders and Luke Willson fully returned from injury, the 49ers gave the Seahawks an opportunity to test dual tight end passing looks.
In this play, both Graham (88) and Willson (82) are lined up as receivers on the high-side of the field, with Willson being closest to the sideline. Cornerback Rashard Robinson (33) is playing five yards off Willson while linebacker Gerald Hodges (51) and safety Jaquiski Tartt (29) are set to handle Graham. Willson comes in motion, settling between Graham and offensive tackle George Fant (74). The movement elicits confusion in the 49ers coverage, which Robinson resolves by communicating to Tartt with both words and a hand signal that he intends to switch his coverage onto Graham. In doing so, Robinson gives himself a few more yards of cushion. At the snap, Willson heads up the field, interrupting Hodges from moving laterally to Graham. With Robinson protecting himself against a longer completion, a window opens for Graham toward the sideline. Graham is Russell Wilson’s (3) primary read and Wilson sticks with Graham, earning a 7-yard completion.
Graham and Willson have lined up either side of quarterback Russell Wilson (3), with Willson being high and Graham being low. Since wide receivers Doug Baldwin (89) and Jermaine Kearse (15) are packed in tight and running back Thomas Rawls (34) is seven yards deep, the defense is scrunched together between the two markers for the twenty-yard line. At the snap, Baldwin, Willson, and Kearse head upfield, taking the linebackers and defensive backs with them. Wilson fakes the handoff to Rawls, and as he does so, the linebackers and defensive backs drop back, none of them moving toward the sidelines. Graham does not head upfield. He goes across the formation, heading toward linebacker Aaron Lynch (59). Lynch cannot get up to speed to trail Graham, and the rest of the defense is trapped between the twenty-yard line markers. Graham attacks the space outside the twenty-yard marker, making a completion and getting ten yards before Lynch catches up. He puts hands on Graham, pushing Graham out of bounds (and consequently making one cameraman’s life flash before his eyes).
Assuming Graham and Willson can stay healthy for the postseason, expect to see more of these plays where both tight ends are lined up as receivers or are standing up in the backfield.
Who Are The Detroit Lions?
Like the Seahawks, the Lions offensive unit lacks a true number-one receiver, is utilizing an undrafted free agent running back, and is entirely too dependent on the production of its quarterback. Like the Seahawks, Detroit plays close games. Out of sixteen contests, nine Seahawks games were decided by seven or fewer points. For Detroit, all but three of their games were, with eight victories being the result of fourth quarter comebacks. The Seahawks averaged 22.1 points per game while the Lions averaged 21.6. The Seahawks are +1 in turnovers. The Lions are -1. The Seahawks possessed the ball an average of 33:03 minutes per game. The Lions averaged 33:01. These units about mirror each other, with the Seahawks being slightly superior.
Defensively, it’s a different story. The Seahawks sent four defensive players to the Pro Bowl while the Lions sent none. The Seahawks surrendered only 292 points this season. Detroit surrendered 358. The Seahawks gave up only 318 yards per game. Detroit gave up 355. Out of the Lions’ nine victories, six were against opponents whose offenses finished worse than the Seahawks (who were ranked 12th).
The Seahawks are 7-1 at Century Link this year. The Lions are 3-5 on the road.
A lot of data suggests the Seahawks will win by one score.
Running back DuJuan Harris (32) almost gets away from Ahtyba Rubin (77), but when he is wrapped up by Kam Chancellor (31), Rubin gets his hands on the ball, pulling it away. Frank Clark (55) picks it up and almost escapes for a touchdown. Three players do a great job during one play. That’s how big plays happen.
Can The Lions Win?
Maybe. But they would have to…
Make Fewer Errors Than The Seahawks The Pete Carroll-era Seahawks are prone to penalties and this season was no different. The Seahawks received 117 flags for 970 yards. The Lions received only 100 flags for 861 yards. Detroit has thrown two fewer interceptions and given up one less fumble. While Seahawks’ kicker Steven Hauschka was slightly better than the Lions’ Matt Prater, Hauschka missed two field goals and an extra point in two games against the Cardinals, with those seven total points being enough to secure victories. Last week, the Seahawks gave up a safety from a bad snap on a punt. Overall, the best plan for the Lions is to play as clean a game as possible, defensively try to keep Wilson contained and stuff the run, and then hope they can benefit from special teams errors on the Seahawks part.
Matt Stafford Gets In A Rhythm As long as passes are thrown in front of the Hawks’ cornerbacks, this defense usually contains big plays and forces opposing offenses into the long drives that end up in punts or mere field goals. However, these guys can get into trouble when quarterbacks squeeze passes into tight coverage down the sidelines. Once receivers get behind the coverage, cornerbacks DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane have a tendency to lose composure. Lions’ quarterback Matt Stafford is as good at sneaking in these throws as Carson Palmer, and the Lions should make an effort to get former-Seahawk wide receiver Golden Tate on cornerback Jeremy Lane.
Golden Tate (15) is lined up on the bottom side of the screen with cornerback LaDarius Gunter (36) playing five yards off of him. In the Seahawks system, either Shead or Lane will likely be in press coverage, which is usually only a yard or two off of the receiver. If they are unable to jam Tate, a lot of mid-range, sub-twenty yard throws open up on these two. In this instance, once Gunter is beaten, Tate breaks toward the sideline, receiving a throw in a tight window that only Tate can catch.
Score First The Seahawks have lost or tied every game this season where they did not score first. The best way to beat the Hawks is to get on the board early.
So The Lions Can Win, But Do They?
The Seahawks have a better offense, a far better defense, great home field advantage and greater playoff experience. The Lions struggle on the road and are currently riding a three-game losing streak. The roar left the Lions long ago and the Seahawks should secure a first round victory at Century Link.
In case you missed it…
Week 1, On One Leg | Week 2, The Spread Will Save the Seahawks, Exactly Like It Did Last Year | Week 3, Could Trevone Boykin Be The Future? With Doug Baldwin, He Might. | Week 4, Kam Chancellor’s Modified Role Improves Entire LoB, Takes Defense to New Level | Discombobulated But Still Dangerous, The Cardinals Lie Ahead – Seahawks Bye Week Special | Week 6, Seahawks Defense Comes Up Strong, Team Passes First Test | Week 7, Defense Wins Championships But This Vanilla Offense Needs An Attitude | Week 8, As Injuries Mount, Seahawks Still Poised For A Super Bowl Run | Week 9, The Hawks Deal Blows To The AFC East, Real Test Comes This Sunday | Week 10, Bam Bam Kam Is Prosise-ly What The Hawks Need, Finally Time To Put The Hurt On The NFC | Week 11, Seahawks Dash Eagles Playoff Aspirations, Red Hot November Continues | Week 12, Seahawks’ Offense Was Outgunned and Outcoached, Did Buccaneers Call Psychic Hotline? | Week 13, Redemption Win Against Panthers Proves Bittersweet; Minus Thomas, Team Must Overcome Greatest Challenge Yet | Week 14, The Seahawks Are A Dark Horse To Win The Super Bowl. They Probably Like It That Way. | Week 15, Seahawks’ Defense Does It Again. Curse Against Rams Finally Broken. | Week 16, Loss To Cardinals Full Of Silver Linings, Still Hope For Our Seahawks.