My first taste of playoff football came in 1988 when Dave Krieg and the Seahawks traveled to play Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers. There was a fire burning in the fireplace. I was curled up on the couch under a blanket, barely able to contain my excitement. Chuck Knox featured the dynamic combination of Curt Warner and John L. Williams in the backfield. What followed looked very little like games I had seen during the regular season. It felt faster, tougher, harder. The once-powerful Seahawks running game was held to a season-low 29 yards. Krieg found Steve Largent for a late touchdown to send the game to overtime, but the Oilers won on a Tony Zendejas field goal. Seattle won the first road playoff game they played back during the 1983 season. They would go almost 30 years without winning another playoff game on the road until Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch helped make it happen in at Washington in 2012.
The last time the Bills won a road playoff game was 1992. Same with the Cowboys. The last time the Bears did it was 1994. The last time the Browns did it was 1969. Winning playoff games is tough. Doing it on the road is a massive challenge. NFL teams have won 33% of the time when playing on the road in the playoffs. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks have now done it three times in the last eight seasons after knocking off the Philadelphia Eagles 17-9.
There was a lot to like about the Seattle performance despite another tight game on the scoreboard.
Russell Wilson was terrific from the first snap to the last. He made tough throws at big moments throughout the night. His 3rd down passing was off the charts. After converting 8/15 third downs, the Seahawks have now converted 16 of their past 29 third downs against the 2nd (SF) and 4th (PHI) ranked third down defenses in football the past two weeks. Wilson looks as locked in as he was when the season started.
A good chunk of his throws went to wunderkind D.K. Metcalf. The precocious rookie has become a freight train rolling downhill the last third of the season. You could point to a number of games in that span as the best performance of his career to that point. He keeps raising the bar. Neither San Francisco nor Philadelphia had an answer for him in the secondary. He is running past guys, jumping over guys, and steamrolling through guys.
He made a living on comeback routes last week as the 49ers gave him cushion. He sped by defenders this week who were pressing up too close. If they happen to be in the vicinity, he is leaping over them and making the contested catches people criticized him for earlier. There is not really a way to cover him with just one defender at this point.
A new question is rising for defensive coordinators facing the Seahawks: is Tyler Lockett or Metcalf the bigger threat? That is very good news for Seattle. We already know how deadly Wilson-to-Lockett has become. Anything that makes coverage simpler for Lockett is a good thing.
Brian Schottenheimer put together a game plan that showed he is not a pig-headed luddite that so many consider him and Carroll to be. Nobody liked the play calling last year in Dallas. Even Schottenheimer criticized himself in the aftermath. The team ran over and over despite having almost no success and boasting a terrific quarterback.
On first and second down, in the first three quarters of that game, Seattle ran the ball 19 times while passing only 10 times. Analytics folks will tell you that your best chance of pass success comes on early downs when the defense is less likely to be able to predict what you are going to do. Settling into a predictable run, run, pass, rhythm plays very much into the hands of the defense. It is even worse when you stubbornly stick with it in spite of poor results.
Against Philly, those number nearly flopped. Seattle passed 20 times and ran just 14 on early downs in the first three quarters of the game. Three of those passes turned into runs when Wilson scrambled, but the play calling is what matters here.
The hard core Carroll haters will say they should have passed even more and this was just one game. I see evidence of growth and flexibility that is worth recognizing and celebrating.
It was a truly awful day running the football. Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch averaged 1.1 and 1.2 yards per carry, respectively. They totalled less than 20 yards on the ground together. At least we were treated to another Beast Mode run from Lynch at the goal line for one of the two touchdowns by the offense.
The patchwork offensive line played without left tackle Duane Brown for the second straight week and added left guard Mike Iupati to the inactive list. That meant a whole new left side of the line with George Fant and Jamarco Jones. It also meant they did not have the experienced player they like to use as an extra tight end in the run game since those players were now full-time linemen.
There are not many teams that can function with backups at left tackle, left guard, and center. Not to mention, being down two tight ends. Somehow, Seattle managed to thrive in pass protection. They allowed just one sack, and that was to a blitzing safety.
Over the past two weeks, the Seahawks have given up just 2 sacks in 72 dropbacks against two pretty fearsome pass rushes.
There is a chance Brown and Iupati will return this week. It may not be as desperate of a situation as once suspected if they are out another week. I can’t help but think Fant playing at right tackle next year would be a big upgrade for the offense.
Seattle was also down multiple receivers as Jaron Brown and Malik Turner were out. David Moore made the most of his opportunities with two catches, including a dazzling 38-yard run-after-catch that set up the Seahawks first touchdown.
The defense had a difficult game to grade. It is fair to question what might have been different had Carson Wentz not left with a concussion early in the game. He’s been playing wonderfully of late. At the same time, his replacement was far from a disaster. Josh McCown completed 75% of his passes and averaged over 7 yards per throw with a 94.8 passer rating.
I have been very hard on the Seahawks defense this year, so hopefully it is a little more meaningful when I say I was impressed with the way they played, regardless of who played against them.
There was disruption from the defensive line from the first snap to the last. The linebackers were solid in tackling and in coverage. We saw players brought down at, or near, the line of scrimmage instead of four or six yards downfield. Ugo Amadi appeared to do a nice job at nickel corner.
If Tre Flowers had trusted his coverage instead of needlessly interfering with receivers on two different plays, the performance would have been even more notable.
Seattle finished with a franchise playoff record seven sacks. Jadeveon Clowney looked as close to the player we saw in San Francisco as he has since being injured. He was active and disruptive. It was fitting that he recorded the last sack on the Eagles final offensive play.
Even Ziggy Ansah was looking productive before he left with an injury. The team had paired Ansah on the inside next to Clowney on the outside and created pressure early. We should assume Ansah might be done for the season after leaving with another stinger related to his shoulder. The last time this happened, he was out two weeks.
Cody Barton played a nice game. He got outmuscled in the run game some, but was a sure tackler in space, had the only two passes defensed on the night, and recorded a sack. He looked more comfortable than previous stints.
K.J. Wright has looked terrific the last few weeks. He is playing his best football of the season. Bobby Wagner played a good game as well.
Wright mentioned after the game that Quandre Diggs was calling out the Eagles plays before the snap. He should be of use this week as the Seahawks prep for his old NFC North rival, the Packers.
Seattle is set to play the Packers Sunday afternoon in Lambeau Field. Green Bay is favored to win. They have a great pass rush and a strong running game. They are healthy. Seattle will stroll in there like The Dude from The Big Lebowski, completely oblivious to the shit they have gotten themselves into. The Seahawks have so become shaped in the image of Wilson that this season most closely resembles one of his classic scrambles. Nothing is going quite as it was meant to, but great things keep happening. Betting against Wilson when he is playing this well, with an emerging superstar weapon in Metcalf, is about as wise as betting against a short quarterback to succeed in the NFL or a guy who has a poor 3-cone drill at the combine. They can beat anyone, anywhere, and they are coming for you next, Green Bay.