ReFo: Seahawks @ Redskins, NFC Wild Card
After a trio of relatively disappointing wildcard playoff games the final game of the weekend delivered in spades. The home team, riding a wave of regular season momentum, roared out to a two touchdown lead before the road favorite fought back, chipping away at the lead before the dam finally burst after many squandered opportunities. There were big plays a plenty and the huge talking point of Robert Griffin’s health and his ability to help the Washington Redskins win this game. If you were left underwhelmed by the action over the first 24 hours of wildcard weekend, the final four will have entertained for sure.
In their seven game win streak the Redskins have done an excellent job of overcoming the weaknesses exposed during the first half of the season and they almost pulled off here as well. Coming out with more energy and physicality than their opponents, they stunned the Seahawks with 14 first quarter points. Although momentum turned against them, timely turnovers and key stops (thanks in no small part to liberal usage of the blitz) meant they were able to hold their lead until midway through the fourth quarter. For a team that did nothing on offense from the start of the second quarter and looked vulnerable on defense for much of the game, that is a testament to both a smart defensive strategy and the inefficiency of the Seahawks in taking the opportunities they were given.
In the end the Redskins could not hold out and it was Seattle who comfortably won through to a divisional game against Atlanta. The Seahawks won’t be able to afford such a slow start next week against the Falcons, but here is a look at some of the performances that put them in that hole and also the displays that eventually got them out.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
Redemption thy name is Lynch
One of the great causes for concerns among fans during playoff games is when they are dominating the game but the scoreboard isn’t reflecting that fact. After the Redskins got out to a fast start that is exactly how Seahawks fans must have been starting to feel when Marshawn Lynch (+3.3) fumbled at the goal-line on the Seahawks’ opening drive of the third quarter. Seattle had wrested momentum from the Redskins but this blown opportunity meant that they were still trailing in the game. Could they maintain their resurgence and continue to stifle the Washington offense?
Well the answer to that question was of course yes and it was Marshawn Lynch who came up with the decisive score midway through the final stanza giving us a glimpse of his rare blend of speed, power and agility. To be able to combine a jump cut with a forced missed tackle and the power to finish that run was exceptional and it was a great highlight for a back who ran hard all day; collecting 5.0 yards per carry after contact and breaking six tackles. As a team, Atlanta missed 53 tackles against the run this season and Seahawks fans will be hoping that Lynch can get into space against some of the Falcons lightweight defensive backs.
The one thing Seattle’s defense did not get in this game was a great test of their secondary. Thanks to Robert Griffin’s decidedly wayward passing there were relatively few opportunities for the Seahawks’ defensive backs to make a play on the football with Earl Thomas capitalizing on the best opportunity to grab an underthrown and forced deep ball for the game’s only interception. Brandon Browner (+0.7 coverage) collected the Seahawks’ only pass defense and outside a penalty and an early missed tackle which allowed Pierre Garcon a 30 yard gain, Browner wasn’t tested to prove whether he was ring rusty after a 4 week lay off due to suspension. With the Falcons twin terrors of Julio Jones and Roddy White awaiting them next week the Seahawks’ defensive backs had best get into the mindset that the majority of passes won’t be flying over their heads next week.
Seattle outmatched on physicality?
One thing you wouldn’t have expected to see after the way Seattle ended the regular season was for their defense, in particular in the running game, to be outmatched physically by the opposition. However with the Redskins explosion of energy and emotion to start the game that is exactly what happened as their defensive front was initially bossed. For the game the Redskins averaged a somewhat alarming 2.6 yards per carry before a Seattle defender touched the ball carrier. Players like Red Bryant (-2.6) and Leroy Hill (-1.9) struggled to make an impact as the Redskins found big gains off of the edge of the Seattle defense. As impressive as the Seattle defense has been overall this is not the first time we have seen them get shoved around by an opposing running game. Way back in Week 7 the 49ers did just that on a Thursday night game for which the Seahawks extracted their revenge in the penultimate week of the regular season. For all of the aggression and toughness that this Seattle defense shows there are flaws that opponents can exploit.
Washington – Three Performances of Note
Morris rolls along
With the injury troubles for Robert Griffin, the Redskins’ most dependable offensive player has been Alfred Morris (+1.1) and once again he proved that he can carry the load for the Redskins. Considering their lack of spark last night and that they were playing with a lead you could easily say Morris was short changed by the Redskins’ coaching staff in only getting 16 carries. Including this playoff defeat Morris has a combined rushing grade of +11.0 since Thanksgiving and he took full advantage of some good work by the likes of Chris Chester (+3.7) and Trent Williams (+2.8). With three more forced missed tackles Morris finished his rookie season with 60 total and multiple forced missed tackles in every game bar two this season. For such an unheralded rookie Morris was not only a revelation but also defied the theory of the rookie wall, if anything getting stronger at the end of the season.
Big plays masking bigger concerns
The play of the Redskins defense down the stretch has been a study in timely plays and turnovers ahead of consistent dominance of opposing offenses and once again that was the case. However, what these performances simply cannot hide is that they do need a serious injection of talent in the back eight of their 3-4 defense. Up front the likes of Jarvis Jenkins (+1.5 run defense), Barry Cofield (+0.6 run defense) and Stephen Bowen did a solid job at the line of scrimmage but the play behind them was severely lacking. The return of Brian Orakpo will be much welcomed but Rob Jackson (-2.3) was a non-factor this week and Ryan Kerrigan (-4.4) struggled and was close to invisible. After showing early signs he may be able to step up by the end there was little evidence he is an elite OLB. Combined with weak run defense from the likes of DeAngelo Hall (-1.8 run grade) and a trio of missed tackles from aging inside linebacker London Fletcher (-1.6) the Redskins couldn’t come up with enough big plays (despite the persistent blitzing) to stop the Seahawks from braeking through. Although the effort down the stretch was admirable, changes need to be made.
Chief playmaker Doughty
The principal player to contribute to the Redskins’ defense’s big plays was safety Reed Doughty (-0.2) who recorded a season high with five defensive stops and his first sack (two of them in fact) since the Washington’s Week 15 defeat in Dallas back in 2010. On that day Doughty played only 17 of the Redskins’ 75 defense snaps but in this game he almost tripled that snap count recording a defensive stop on better than one in ten times that he set foot on the field. However to highlight the paradox of the Redskins’ defensive performance he also missed a pair of tackles and was found wanting in the open field on a couple of occasions to boot.
This game marked the fifth time this season the Redskins missed at least ten tackles; though they fell well short of their season high of 18 against the Vikings.
Proving that he also isn’t hitting the rookie wall Bobby Wagner (+0.6) again got through a tremendous amount of work and his seven defensive stops were the most by any defender on wildcard weekend.
In spite of yielding a sack for the second straight week Russell Okung (+3.1) registered his 14th consecutive positively graded game of the season.
PFF Game Ball
Two years on from entering “Beast Mode” against the New Orleans Saints, Marshawn Lynch delivered another playoff special, rebounding from a potentially costly turnover to make the killer play which saw the Seahawks into the divisional playoffs for the fifth time in the last eight seasons.