3TFO: Seahawks @ Redskins, NFC Wild Card
A year ago Seattle and Washington combined for 12 wins and the playoffs appeared years away. Then the fate of these two franchises took a drastic turn at the 2012 NFL Draft when they both successfully selected their franchise quarterback. From there the journeys that these two players and teams have been on were quite different, but both ultimately rewarding. They navigated the ups and downs of an NFL season and find themselves playing in Washington this weekend for the right to continue their 2012 quest.
Seattle came just one win short of being NFC West champions, but 11 wins is still their highest total in seven years and marks their first season with a winning record since 2007. One concern for the Seahawks is that just three of those victories came on the road, and they will have to endure a cross-country flight to the nation’s capital this week. Seattle has overcome larger obstacles this season, but there have been times they have played like a different team on the road than in front of the ’12th man’ this season. Many believe Seattle could be this year’s Cinderella story and they have the talent to make a run. However, they will have to start that run against the other team vying with them for the title ‘hottest team in the NFC’.
The last time the Redskins hosted a playoff game the world had just survived the Armageddon scare of Y2K, following the 1999 season. With Mayans predicting the end of the world for 2012, it makes sense that this was the season for Washington’s return to the postseason. It figures to be a very lively, raucous crowd and the Redskins need to get off to a good start to keep the atmosphere energized. Washington has battled through crippling injuries to some of their defensive stars, and a 3-6 start that had even their head coach thinking about next season. However, the Redskins persevered and rattled off seven consecutive victories to become NFC East champions, and they hope the streak won’t stop for another month.
Two teams with a hungry fan base, a veteran coach and a rookie quarterback, but what are the matchups that will determine whose 2012 season continues?
Robert Griffin III vs. Russell Wilson
Although they won’t be on the field at the same time, the winner of this clash will largely be determined by which rookie quarterback has the better game and leads their team more efficiently. Both have had dream rookie seasons and both deserve all of the accolades that have been given to them, but this is the postseason and defenses ratchet it up a notch in the playoffs. The data comparing Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III is very fair because of the similarities in the sample size. Both are rookies and they threw the exact same number of passes this season.
Wilson finished fourth in PFF QB rating just behind Griffin, completing 64.1% of his throws for 3,128 yards. He hasn’t had a negative graded game since Week 4 and has had his two highest grades in the past two weeks. Wilson is getting more comfortable each game and is making plays on a regular basis with both his arm and legs. Griffin went the entire season without a negative grade until week 17, ironically the game that clinched the division title. How much is the knee injury/brace hampering the star rookie?
Wilson and Griffin both rely heavily on passing after play action, finishing first and second in the league in the quantity of their drop-backs that utilize it. However, Griffin is more successful after play action and Wilson’s stats decline. Griffin has a QB rating of 117.7 after play action and 92.6 without play action. Wilson has a QB rating of 95.0 with play action and 102.8 without.
Wilson and Griffin III have both had their most success on intermediate throws, passes traveling 10-19 yards in the air. Griffin is 60 of 89 with five touchdowns on intermediate throws, and Wilson is 53 of 84 with nine touchdowns .
Another area that both have excelled in is throwing under pressure, a trait that usually hampers rookie quarterbacks. Griffin was the most accurate quarterback in the NFL on throws under pressure and Wilson was fifth. Griffin completed 75.8% of his passes while being pressured, and Wilson completed 66.0%, both had five touchdowns.
The bottom line is both have been a spectacular success in their rookie year, but whichever player can continue that success this weekend will most likely continue their dream season.
Seahawks Cornerbacks vs. Redskins Wide Receivers
A month ago it seemed very unlikely that both Seattle starting cornerbacks would be available for the playoffs. However, with Richard Sherman avoiding suspension by winning his appeal, and Brandon Browner completing his suspension for PED’s last week, they are both ready to go. They have the task of stopping a Redskins’ passing game that features Pierre Garcon and Joshua Morgan. With Griffin still not appearing all the way back from his knee injury, the Redskins might be inclined to have him rely on his passing more than running. Garcon has been busy since missing most of the season with an injury. He is already second on the team in targets and had more yards than any other Redskins receiver. Griffin has a comfort with Garcon, and he should as his QB rating when throwing to him is 116.7. That rating will get a huge test this week though. Sherman finished second in the entire NFL in QB rating on passes into his coverage. Quarterbacks targeted Sherman 86 times, completing 40 passes with two touchdowns and eight interceptions on the 591 snaps, equating to a QB rating of 40.5. He was so stellar in coverage that we voted him our first team All-Pro. His counterpart, Browner, was almost as good and had even fewer yards per coverage snap, allowing just 34 receptions in 447 coverage snaps. They are without doubt one of the best cornerback duos in the league. Last time these teams met, in week 12 of last season, both players had an interception, but it won’t be Rex Grossman playing quarterback this time.
A matchup that the Redskins might have the opportunity to feature would be in the slot. Veteran Santana Moss has been a weapon from the slot all year and has made numerous big plays. Moss lines up in the slot 82.1% of the time, and has 32 receptions including seven touchdowns on 47 targets from that position. Griffin has a QB rating of 131.5 when throwing to Moss and the rookie might lean heavily on him to avoid throwing at Seattle’s two elite corners. Seattle will count on Marcus Trufant to handle most of the slot duties, and he is no slouch. Trufant has been in coverage from the slot on 179 plays and allowed only 21 receptions and one touchdown. Trufant against Moss could dictate how successful the Redskins are in moving the chains.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Redskins Inside Linebackers
The last time the Seahawks won a playoff game it was because running back Marshawn Lynch went into full beast mode over the Saints. They might need another big performance from him to win in Washington, and the opportunity will be there. The onus to stop Lynch will be on Washington’s two inside linebackers, London Fletcher and Perry Riley. Fletcher has suffered a dip in his play this year and the veteran’s best days are clearly behind him. On 334 runs plays Fletcher has made just 44 tackles, while missing 10. His 5.1 Run Stop Percentage is last among qualifying inside linebackers. Riley hasn’t fared much better against the run, and his run stop percentage of 7.4 is 26th in the league. Fletcher and Riley will need to be much better this week against a Seahawks team that likes to run up the middle. Seattle wisely ran 169 times between either of the center/guard gaps and behind PFF second team All-Pro center, Max Unger. Unger finished the year with the third-highest run block grade among centers (+18.1) and he will be trying to create large running lanes for Lynch this week.
With Russell Wilson getting most of the attention, Lynch (almost quietly) had a very good season. He finished fourth in our Elusive Rating and caused the second-most missed tackles on running plays, behind only Adrian Peterson. Lynch might be the catalyst to a big running attack against an apparently inferior run defense.
Follow John on Twitter: @PFF_Castellane