First Impressions: The Redskins Face A Tough Task

50 yard line on an american football field
There is something about the Redskins and Seahawks that seems to cause a sort of playoff magnetism. Maybe it is that they represent Washington from different coasts. Maybe it is the Native American-inspired mascot. Whatever it is, the Redskins have made the playoffs three times in the past seven years, and have drawn the Seahawks each time. This will be the first time the Seahawks have traveled out to Washington D.C., as the other two games in 2007 and 2005 were at CenturyLink Field. The teams do not resemble the product put on the field in 2005. There may not be a farther distance a franchise can travel at quarterback than Todd Collins to Robert Griffin III. These are two hot teams that have both won seven of their past eight games heading into the post-season. There are some clear similarities, whether it is the phenom quarterbacks or the relentless rushing attack. However, there are some key differences as well. I have been researching the Redskins for a while, and have some initial observations that could play a role in the outcome of Sunday’s game.

Redskins Will Struggle To Reach Their Typical Scoring Output
The Redskins have scored 27+ points in 10 of their 16 games. They are 2-4 when scoring less than 27 points. The Seahawks have allowed one team all season to score more than 24 points, a 28-24 loss to the Detroit Lions. Washington has faced three defenses that ranked in the Top 10 in opponent scoring this year. In those three games against Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, they were 1-2 and averaged 20 ppg, more than seven below their season average. The combined opponent average of those three defenses was 19.4 ppg, so those defenses appear to have performed about as well against Washington as they do against other offenses. Two of those games were played in Washington. None of the games took place in the last half of the season. That could mean the Redskins are better now, or it could mean they have had an easy schedule. One additional bit of evidence is that they played the #12 and #13 scoring defenses (NYG, BAL) at home in the last eight games and averaged 24 ppg against those teams that allow an average of 21.5 ppg. My early take is the Redskins offense has not been challenged in a long time.

The Redskins are ranked fourth in scoring in the NFL. Seattle has faced three of the Top 11 scoring offenses in the NFL (GB, NE, SF). Those three teams average a combined 28.9 ppg. In the four games (GB, NE, @SF, SF) versus Seattle, those offenses averaged 15.3 ppg. That number may sound familiar as it is the Seahawks season average for points allowed per game. That would seem to indicate the Seahawks defense has a track record of holding down elite offenses. The odds are not high that the Redskins will have the luxury of scoring the amount of points they are accustomed to.

Redskins Defense Will Face Stiff Test
Washington has allowed opponents to score 21+ points in twelve games, and are 6-6 in those contests. They have allowed four of their last eight opponents to reach that mark, and are 3-1 in those games, including wins when Baltimore scored 28 points and Dallas scored 31. There is some evidence that the Redskins defense has made some real strides, holding opponents to 20.1 ppg in the last eight, compared to 28.4 ppg in the first eight. The problem, again, is level of competition. The combined average of the Redskins last eight opponents is 22.3 ppg. Included in that stretch were two games against the 29th ranked scoring offense, as well as games against the 24th and 18th ranked offenses. The last time they faced a Top 10 scoring offense against Baltimore, they allowed 28 points.

The Redksins defense is not quite as hot as some may think

There is no doubt the Redskins defense has improved since the first four games of the season, but it is highly debatable whether they are really improving in the last half of the season, or just playing inferior offenses.

Seattle has faced three of the Top 10 scoring defenses in the last eight games (@MIA, @CHI, SF). Those teams allow an average of 18.1 ppg, and Seattle scored an average of 28.7 ppg against them, and no lower than 21 points. The average points allowed by all eight second-half opponents was 21.3, and Seattle scored an average of 34.0 ppg in those games. Again, the evidence heavily slants toward the Redskins defense having little influence on their opponents scoring and Seattle’s offense giving opposing defenses far more than they can handle.

Turnovers Paramount
The Redskins have turned the ball over more than once in just two games this season. They are 0-2 in those games. Both the Seahawks and the Redskins have turned the ball over just five times in their last eight games.  Take a look at the trends for both teams:

Redskins Turnover Trends

Seahawks Turnover Trends

The Seahawks have a better turnover differential in the last eight games, but the Redskins have had a positive differential in every quarter of the season. Seattle can attest most of the improvement on their side to the growth of Russell Wilson. Washington has a huge reliance on pass pressure to cause their turnovers. The correlation between sacks and turnovers for their squad is an astounding 0.59. For those that don’t want to dust off the math books, a 1.0 correlation would mean that the team got one takeaway for every one sack. In the games when the Redskins had one sack or fewer, they averaged just 0.8 takeaways per game. In the games where they get 2 or more sacks, they average 2.6 takeaways.  The trends for sacking the quarterback favor Washington.

The Seahawks have allowed an increasing number of sacks per game in the last eight games as they have passed more often. Washington has been raising their sack total as well. Anyone that watched Sunday’s game against Dallas saw how often blitzes were employed by Jim Haslett’s defense. Pass pressure for Washington and pass protection for Seattle could be a leading indicator of who will come out on top. The Redskins have had three opponents go without a turnover, and are 1-2 in those games. A Seattle team that protects the ball will make things very difficult for Washington.

Alfred Morris Is A Nice Story, Washington Goes As Robert Griffin III Goes
Washington is the number one rushing team in football. Alfred Morris is a huge reason why. It would be easy to focus on the rush defense as the key to victory for Seattle, but the numbers do not necessarily support that. The Redskins averaged 171.7 yards rushing in victories and a nearly identical 165.3 in losses. They actually had a higher yards per carry in losses (5.6) than in wins (5.0). Only one team held them under 100 yards rushing as a team, and that was their worse loss of the season, 27-12 versus the Steelers. It would obviously be a major coup for the Seahawks to slow that rushing attack, but it may not matter.

RG3 has played six games when his passer rating was under 95.0. The Redskins are 1-5 in those games. When he struggles, it is with yards per attempt. He averaged 6.6 YPA in losses and 9.5 YPA in wins. That’s a massive difference. Seattle sports the best secondary in football. They are 3rd in the NFL in opponent YPA and opponent passer rating. The Seahawks have allowed three starting quarterbacks to go over an 85.0 passer rating. They were 1-2 in those games. They have held Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Colin Kapernick, and Alex Smith (among others) below that number. RG3 would appear to need a special day through the air to give the Redskins a good chance.

Seattle Is The Better Team
I am all for respecting opponents, and the Redskins have had an admirable season, but they do not appear to be in the same class as Seattle. That does not mean a win for the Seahawks is assured. Playing on the road, in front of a wild and hostile crowd, against a team with a dynamic talent at quarterback and a good coach is chore no matter who is on your side. You would, however, struggle to find a credible case for where the Redskins have a significant advantage on the field. Seattle’s defense has held down more powerful offenses and Seattle’s offense has throttled far better defenses. Washington has been slowed by good defenses and exposed by good offenses. Worse, they have not played many of either.

Even in the coaching department, Seattle may have an advantage. Pete Carroll has been watching the Redskins offense since week two or three of the season. He was interested in implementing parts of it for the Seahawks, which he did, but you can be certain his defensive mind has been devising strategies to slow it as well. The Seahawks overwhelmed Cam Newton in Carolina earlier this season. No coach in the NFL has faced this offense more often than Carroll, the former college coach. He also benefits from players like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright that had a lot of college experience against it.

Special teams can sometimes be the difference in these playoff games, but the Redskins appear outclassed there as well with Football Outsiders ranking them #27 in the NFL versus #3 for the Seahawks.

Again, there is a reason the Seahawks have not won on the road in the playoffs since 1983. It is hard. They are clearly the better team in this match, and should win if they prepare well and bring the execution we have seen the past couple of months.

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