The Morning After: Seahawks sidestep into the playoffs, sweep 49ers
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The Seahawks offensive slumber continued for much of the game against the 49ers on Sunday. Their brief, but powerful, scoring spree was enough to beat a beleaguered 49ers squad. More importantly, it may have contained some clues about how to ignite a more durable attack heading into the playoffs.
Seattle won 12 games for the just the fifth time in franchise history (they won 13 in two of those seasons). The last three teams to win that many games in Seattle made it to the Super Bowl. For this team to follow in their footsteps, they will need to find some more consistency and confidence on offense. More specifically, Russell Wilson needs a healthy dose of both.
What stood out for me most in this game was the way Wilson looked when the team went to heavy rollout, bootleg, and play action during their fourth quarter comeback. He was decisive. He was accurate. He was quick. It was the most Wilson has looked like Wilson in a while.
I have brought up the concern in past weeks that this team has not found their bread and butter plays that they can return to against any defense. My hope is that this flash in the final quarter of the final game of the season, gave Brian Schottenheimer some inspiration about how to resuscitate the Seahawks fallen angel of a quarterback.
Seattle was moving the pocket and getting Wilson to the edge of the defense. Those are situations he has excelled in throughout his career. This is not to say Wilson cannot pass from the pocket. He’s more than proven he can. But he is more willing to throw the ball out of bounds when the play is not there to be made, more willing to tuck the ball and grab a few yards, and more likely to make a big play when rolling out.
That type of passing game marries well with an outside zone and stretch rushing offense. This is basically the staple of what Sean McVay does down in LA. They get the defense moving one way to seal off the run or jet sweep, and then play action bootleg off of that to get the quarterback in space with receivers working across toward the QB.
Seattle has those plays in their playbook as they showed again Sunday, but Schottenheimer seems to overthink and try to do too many things. This offense cannot be searching for an identity and what is going to work in every game. They need to dictate the terms to the defense. Make them adjust.
It did not help that the Seahawks could not get anything going on the ground in this one. San Francisco played a marvelous game on defense, especially with the players they had available. This offense needs a threatening run game to make Wilson’s job a little easier. He cannot be responsible for gaining every yard.
There should be a good chance Brandon Shell finally returns to the lineup this week as he was held out as a precautionary measure due to close contact with Covid, but he tested negative. Shell was a key part of this offense before he got hurt, and would be a welcome reinforcement.
It is unclear whether Greg Olsen will be back, but indications are that he will be, and that could be of some value as well considering Wilson trusts Olsen.
We can’t really ignore, however, that Wilson has just not been himself for much of this season. The last time he had at least two more touchdown passes than interceptions, and a yards per pass over 7.0 was eight weeks ago against the Cardinals (2 TD, 0 INT, 7.0 YPA). He started the season with three straight games like that, but has only two since.
This team has been built around him. The ceiling is determined by his level of play. They are undefeated (7-0) when he does not throw an interception. That includes three games when he passed for less than 200 yards (@SF, @WAS, vs ARZ).
Turnovers have been the best barometer of Seahawks victories this year. They are 12-0 when turning the ball over 1 or fewer times. They are 0-4 when turning it over 2 times or more.
You can see where Pete Carroll has wanted to circle the wagons more on offense. I think most of us agree you cannot win a Super Bowl by eliminating risk and playing a plodding, turtle offense, incapable of explosive plays.
Wilson had some chances for big throws in this game and last week, and has just been off. Nobody can fix that but him. The reemergence of Tyler Lockett could be a big deal.
Lockett had not had more than six catches in two months, and had six or fewer catches in eight of his past nine games before breaking out for 12 in this one. He had not had a touchdown in five games, and had not scored in eight of nine games before getting two in this one.
Remarkably, more than a quarter of his receptions (27) and half his touchdowns (5) came in two games played down in Arizona. The last time he went off, DK Metcalf had a massive game the following week.
The defense is playing well enough to give the offense a chance to find itself. Benson Mayowa has flashed for three straight weeks and looks like he is going to be peaking heading into the playoffs.
He is the second-ranked edge rusher in the league over the last three weeks of the season. He had two sacks, including a clutch strip sack to seal the win yesterday. Rasheem Green recovered the fumble and had a sack of his own.
Seattle had only 18 pressures a week after generating 32 against the Rams, but 17 of those 18 came from the defensive line. That Seattle went from a no pass rush team that blitzed all the time, to a good pass rush team that blitzed a lot, to a good pass rush team that does not need to blitz is one of the more fascinating evolutions I have witnessed during a Seahawks season.
The injury to Jamal Adams is critically important. He has been the best player on that defense, and his absence would be tough to overcome. His body language was terrible after the injury which is worrisome, but Carroll’s comments afterward seemed to indicate he should be able to play. We now need to learn whether he will play full go, play with one arm, , or not play at all.
The other concern was the play of Shaquill Griffin and Ugo Amadi. Both players turned in stinkers on Sunday. Amadi looked out of position multiple times and was seen talking to teammates after each play as if he, or one of them, had blown an assignment. Griffin gave up a number of plays, including a huge 49 yard pass to wake San Francisco from their slumber.
A big part of the defensive resurgence has been the total absence of blown assignments that dominated the first half of the season. Let’s hope this was a one-game aberration.
Even with those gaffes, the Seahawks contained the 49ers pretty well. If not for some miraculous George Kittle catches, they would have been held down even more.
The Jarran Reed injury is concerning as well. He is said to have an oblique strain, and looked in serious pain in this game. Those types of injuries are tough to play through and can get worse. If Reed cannot go, the Seahawks do not have another defensive tackle on the roster after letting Damon Harrison walk.
We would likely see more of LJ Collier and Green playing inside while Poona Ford and Bryan Mone would getting the starting snaps. Reed is a big part of the run defense and has contributed to the pass rush the second half of the season.
Speaking of the run defense, that has been one of the least appreciated aspects of improvement from last year. This team could not defend the run or the pass last year. They were awful. This year, they have consistently stopped the run except for one glaring quarter against the Giants. That is a big deal heading into the postseason against teams that rely on the ground game in LA, New Orleans and even Green Bay.
Seattle most likely lost their chance at a Super Bowl when they blew that game against the Giants. They would be the top seed, with a bye week, and home field throughout if they had won that game. There is not denying it or changing that now.
They will have to beat the Rams, the Saints, and either the Packers or Bucs to get to the Super Bowl, where they would probably face the Chiefs. It is a tall order.
There is more hope, though, than people might realize. The defense is playing well enough to compete with any team. No team has scored more than 23 points against them in two months. They have made key plays to close out multiple games. The Seahawks offense is getting healthy now, with their starting offensive line returning for the first time in seven weeks. They have three healthy running backs (really four) compared to leaning on Marshawn Lynch, Travis Homer, and Robert Turbin a year ago. Their heartbeat receiver just had a breakout game and might be getting healthy at the right time. And despite their quarterback and offensive struggles, they are 6-1 over their last seven games.
This is the only team to finish with a winning division record in NFC’s toughest division. Their quarterback is one of just two NFC playoff QBs to have played in multiple Super Bowls in the last decade. The style they have been playing has been excruciating at times. but also most closely resembles playoff football. They have the best special teams in the NFL.
If I had told you in any other year that the Seahawks are in good in all phases and just need Russell to play well to win, you would be thrilled. That is where we are. As much as it may be tortuous as Seahawks fans, consider how it must feel for opponents and opposing fans when Wilson and company pull out late game heroics. Aaron Donald and the Rams said this is the opponent they wanted.