Week Seventeen: End It Right.
The Seahawks closed out the regular season in a dominating fashion. Led by Tyler Lockett and the imploding Cardinals specials teams unit, Russell Wilson and Co found themselves within striking distance of the red zone on many drives. In fact, the field was so short that Wilson’s 3 touchdowns were accompanied by only 197 passing yards (only played 3 quarters). Meanwhile, the defense was feisty and opportunistic. With the pass rush able to put in some early hits on Carson Palmer, the potential NFL MVP began forcing his throws and lost his accuracy. Journeyman cornerback Jeremy Lane snagged himself a solid INT coming off coverage to put the brakes on the Cardinals early momentum.
This is a game whose story is told in the first half. With only the first seed of the playoffs on the line, and requiring a Carolina Panthers loss to accomplish such, the Cardinals had little to hope for coming out of halftime and sat Carson Palmer than risk injury to him. It was a reasonable decision and probably paid off from them. (See: Tom Brady unable to walk off the podium of his postgame conference after Suh swallowed his legs).
The Seattle offense continued steam rolling opponents. Wilson is functioning as a pocket passer, delivering darts to his receivers, who are running several slants, pick plays and outs mixed in with Seattle’s excellent deep passing game to Tyler Lockett. Wilson’s accuracy is incredible, especially on his deep throws. The running game kept things honest and picked up tough yards. Overall, the offense is nothing out of the ordinary in the NFL but represents a total evolution for the Seahawks, who have transformed from having the worst offensive scheme in the NFL to having a high powered, high octane throwing offense.
The defense continued its dominance in the front seven. The lineman and line backers are in their groove and continue to eat running backs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Cardinals lived in 2nd and 9 and 3 and 9 but herein lied the difficult part. Carson Palmer was able to convert three third and longs with quick passes, two of which came when Seattle only rushed three and Palmer went after Lane and Shead. The secondary continues to be the biggest weakness on the Seahawks, and once a quarterback gets in a groove of burning Lane and Shead, picking up 10 yards seems almost too easy. While both snagged an INT and Lane had a pass deflection, the cornerback tandem is not playing at a high enough level. Nothing would make me happier than to say that these guys are what the Hawks need but they are not and they will simply have to play smarter and with greater anticipation.
Next week brings back many injured Seahawks for the playoffs, none more interesting than the return of Marshawn Lynch and Kam Chancellor. In terms of Lynch, the returning tailback will be entering an offense that decided to forget he existed, and will not de-evolve into the painfully inefficient read-option heavy Lynch-heavy running scheme. Still, Seattle lacks depth at running back, having a stable of Michael, Brown and Jackson. Lynch may never be Beast Mode again but he is certainly better than Jackson or Brown, and so it will be interesting to see if Lynch can adjust to a role where he is not an every down, primary option back. Kam Chancellor’s return is problematic for the Seattle Seahawks. While he has missed three consecutive games, the Seahawks haven’t missed him. Kelcie McCray is a great safety who feels born to operate within the defensive scheme. He’s outplayed Chancellor and Chancellor doesn’t deserve to return to the starting line up, and this must be causing some stress as wildcard weekend approaches. Chancellor will want to play, and he is considered a team leader, but the Hawks should sit him.
The Seahawks will play their wildcard game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minnesota at 10AM. (Jesus, I hate the NFL). Great your coffee ready and get a good breakfast in you so you can enjoy the game. As for what to expect, nothing much has changed since the last match-up. The reality is that the Vikings would like to play anyone but the Seahawks. They want to run Adrian Peterson all day and Seattle won’t allow them to do so. It’s on Teddy Bridgewater to break the Seattle secondary and, as we saw earlier this year, he isn’t fluent enough as a passer to do it without a strong play-action game. Still, it is hard to beat the same team twice in one season, and I would be surprised to see a total beatdown like was seen in week 13. The Vikings were down several key defensive guys and the Vikings have a good defense. Still, the Seahawks major weakness is when great quarterbacks get time to throw on them, and so I think the Seahawks will survive wildcard weekend.