Wildcard Playoff: The Big Chill.
The Wilson-era Seahawks built on their illustrious history with a nail-biter victory over a tough, smart Vikings team who wanted a low scoring contest where they would have the final drive. Unfortunately for the Vikings, irony was abound and they got exactly as they wished. Field goal kicker Blair Walsh–who was the sole reason the Vikings had a chance to win at all–sent a chip shot wide left during the closing seconds of the game, dealing the Vikings a stomach churning loss.
The major factor in this game was weather. A high-flying, free-wheeling Seattle offense fought an ineffective passing game as Russell Wilson struggled with accuracy. This was the third coldest playoff game ever. It is a rare expierence for a quarterback to throw in such temperatures and Wilson seemed unsure of how much velocity to use. Some passes sailed on him, some ran out of gas, some seemed dead the moment they left his hand. The Vikings pass rush capitalized on these miscues by sending exotic blitzes that confused both Wilson and the offensive line.
Par for the course, Wilson never gave up, and he ended up making the defining play of the game. Snatching up a bad snap, Wilson beat the pass rush and, while on the run, delivered a bullet to Tyler Lockett, who ran down the side line, setting up the go-ahead touchdown for Doug Baldwin. If one had to pick a single play that best defined Wilson’s career, this play would be in the top five. It illustrates all of Wilson’s strengths, his mental toughness, his grace under pressure, his ability to turn nothing into greatness. If such a thing as an “it” factor exists, Russell Wilson personifies it, and the Vikings were his most recent victim.
Also, it is worth noting how luck can play a factor in games. It wasn’t three weeks ago that the Seahawks lost to the Rams when poor snaps could not be turned into big gains.
From an offensive perspective, there are many takeaways that the Carolina Panthers can learn from his game. For one, the Seahawks went another week without Luke Willson. Short him and Graham, the Hawks lack a receiving target who can attack the middle of the field. (Third string tight end Cooper Helfet was ineffective). Knowing this, the Vikings chose to play up and to get physical with Seattle’s undersized receivers. The tough news for the Hawks is that it worked, disrupting the timed routes and making the throwing windows far tighter. Once the Vikings had the outside passing game contained, and with Christine Michael’s lack of production, it was time to send guys after Wilson and the blitzers got home. The lesson here is that, while the Hawks are playing much better offensively, they are not invulnerable and every week they continue to tip their hand.
If any factor caught this offense by surprise, it was Marshawn Lynch’s short reintroduction to the team. Arriving on Monday and participating in full practices, coach Pete Carroll indicated that Lynch would play but Carroll quickly backpedalled. Soon the story was how Lynch would not only sit, he would not even travel with the team. It is hard to read the tea leaves here. Is Lynch still injured? Has age beaten him? Did his famously offish personality have an incident? Is he too unfamiliar with this new offense? (Lynch rehabbed away from the team. He missed all team meetings and practices during the mid-season transformation). Regardless, the Seahawks need help at the running back position, where they lack depth and production. While it feels like Lynch’s time in Seattle is done, the Hawks need a second runner, if only to give Michael some time to catch his breath.
No offense can survive long without a tight end and a good stable of running backs. Here’s hoping the Hawks can get healthy for their toughest game of the season, a rematch against the Carolina Panthers.
It’s hard to describe how awesome the Seahawks defense is because I’ve run out of words to depict the utter, total, complete domination we’re seeing week in/week out. They don’t call Adrian Peterson “All Day” for nothing, but in two consecutive games, the Hawks defensive turned All Day into Far From. One of the best tailbacks of all time, a sure fire Hall of Famer, Peterson was held to only 18 yards on 8 attempts in week 13, and to 45 yards on 23 attempts and one devastating fumble for wildcard weekend. Keep in mind, AP won the rushing crown this year. For all purposes, he is the beginning, middle and end for running excellence and the Hawks ate him for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The defensive MVP for this game is Michael Bennett. He was all over the field today, making plays, swatting balls, breaking the Vikings o-line. It was a near disaster when Bennet left the game for one play after grabbing his knee but he returned as if nothing had happened. Michael Bennett is known for being a loose cannon at times, including his penchant for heart breaking penalties, but the Vikings met a dominant, cool, smart Bennett today.
It’s hard to look at a performance where the defense held a team to 9 total points, especially when three of those points were on a short field, and try to find something to improve upon, but you guys know me, and I’m going to take an opportunity to key in on some points that may be exploited by the Carolina Panthers.
For one, the Seahawks have a Kam Chancellor problem. As great as Kam is against the run, creating a critical fumble in this game, the man has totally regressed in pass coverage. He is making practice squad, Shead-esque levels of mistakes. The pass interference call on the Vikings final drive is unforgivable. How could he obstruct Kyle Rudolph like that? How could he blow the out coverage on the very next play? When you look at the fourth quarter collapses the Seahawks have suffered–beginning in Super Bowl XLIX–Kam Chancellor is too often the catalyst for the meltdowns. It feels great that Walsh shanked the final field goal, gift wrapping the game for the Seahawks, but how great would you feel about Bam Bam if the kick went through the uprights?
I had a half hour argument about this at the bar, and I have this argument every time I say this, but Kelcie McCray is the better, more reliable safety. You’ll never see McCray swallow Peterson whole and produce a fumble from it, but McCray is actually above average at what the Hawks are worst at–pass coverage. McCray knows where to stand. He knows the breaks and handoffs. He knows how to play a zone. He is a bread and butter, no show, do your work and go home type of player. He will never get the big plays like Kam does, but Kam almost lost this game all by himself.
When the Hawks start Chancellor next week, it’s akin to gambling. Cam Newton will find a way to burn Chancellor, and the Seahawks are betting it won’t be in the fourth quarter.
Teddy Bridgewater plus the weather kept things easy for the Seattle secondary but this week represented the first time since Cary Williams’s departure that the worst player in the secondary wasn’t Shead or Lane. With that distinction going to the off-confused Chancellor, it was a fair game by the new corner tandem. For another week, neither played a particularly great game, but Lane was the better of the two, snagging himself his second pass deflection in two weeks, this time on a deep pass that would’ve put the Vikings in good position to score. Lane has won the competition between the two and, unlike Shead, the Hawks are seeing Lane’s play improve on a week-to-week basis.
In many ways, as far as The Legion of Boom is concerned, the playoffs begin next week. With the Vikings eliminated, it is going to be Newton, Rodgers or Palmer on the path to the Super Bowl with a Super Bowl match-up of Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning or Smith. For Seattle’s purposes, they would love to bump into the Chiefs or the Broncos in the Super Bowl but it’s a long, hard road to get there.
The Seattle Seahawks scored a hard fought victory to keep their Super Bowl dreams alive. As an unlikely playoff participant, the Seahawks have recovered from a 2-4 start to sit at 11-6 for an incredible 9-2 run. No matter how one dissects it, the Hawks have put up an incredible season, but of course, NOW WE WANT MORE!!! Next week against the Panthers will be the hardest game during the mission to a Super Bowl championship. At 10am, on the road, the Hawks face the 15-1 Carolina Panthers, led by the most-likely NFL MVP Cam Newton. It will take a victory in all three phases of the game to take down this 2015 NFL powerhouse, but the Hawks have proven themselves capable of not just outplaying opponents, but conjuring that playoff magic.