So what were the surprises of the Wildcard round?
That the Steelers so completely extinguished the Miami running game? That was unexpected. That the Packer-Giant game wasn’t closer? I admit, that surprised me.
But the biggest surprise was the number that the Seattle running attack did on the Detroit run defense. They racked up 111 rushing yards by halftime (in the second quarter alone they bludgeoned the Lions for 84 rushing yards) – on their way to a 177-yard explosion, paving the way to the 26-6 victory.
Several weeks ago (here) I wrote disparagingly of Seattle’s offensive line. That was the end of October. Last Saturday evening, they entirely over-matched the Lions.
Seattle entered the playoffs after finishing twenty-fifth in rushing yardage during the regular season, averaging just 99.4 rushing yards a game and getting just 3.9 yards per carry. They ended the season looking even worse. Over the course of their final three regular season games, the Seattle running attack managed 72 yards against the 4-12 Rams, 78 yards in an important loss to the 7-8-1 Cardinals, and 87 yards against the 2-14 49ers. That’s 237 yards in three games and 82 rushes (2.9 yards per) against three sub-.500 teams. Thomas Rawls – who racked up 161 yards on 27 carries (6.0 yards per) against Detroit last Saturday – managed only 56 yards on 37 carries (1.5 yards per) combined in those three games.
So this bounty was unexpected to say the least.
In the post-game interview, Pete Carroll said they had done some growing up since the beginning of the season, and they certainly resembled the Dallas Cowboys that night. First round draft pick Germain Ifedi was an absolute force at right guard. Center Justin Britt sometimes helped with double-teams on standout defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but frequently Ifedi handled him alone. Britt also frequently took him one-on-one. Left guard Mark Glowinski was singled out for praise many times by ESPN announcer Chris Collinsworth – and rightfully so. He made short work of A’Shawn Robinson, Devin Taylor, and anyone else Detroit lined up against him. Even the tackles (George Fant and Garry Gilliam) – heretofore the weakest links on a weak unit – had stellar games.
Repeatedly, Seahawk linemen came bursting unabated into the second level of the Detroit defense and bullied the Lion linebackers. My favorite of these moments came on a first-and-ten play from Seattle’s 13-yard line. The game was still scoreless with 8:59 to play in the first quarter when Rawls burst up the middle for 14 yards. On the play, Seattle pulled their right tackle Gilliam. It’s very rare in any level of football to see a team pull their tackle. It’s even rarer to see anything good come out of it. But on this play, Gilliam pulled to his left, cut back up the middle of the field and collapsed the surprised linebacker.
From beginning to end, it was a dominant performance. But what do we make of it? Does this mean that the Seattle running attack is suddenly “fixed?” Will this patchwork offensive line go out this Saturday and dominate against Atlanta? It’s a little hard for me to buy into that.
For one thing, this was a vastly different Seattle team all year when it played at home. They were 7-1 there during the regular season. In those 8 games, they scored 26 touchdowns – scoring at least three in seven of the eight games; the Seattle running attack accounted for 883 yards (110.8 per game and 4.05 per rush); and they scored 227 points (28.4 per game). Quarterback Russell Wilson established a 103.4 passer rating in his home games (he was 119.3 last Saturday against the Lions).
On the road – where they will be on Saturday – they managed 10 touchdowns – scoring more than two just twice in the eight games; ran for just 705 yards (an average of only 88.1 per game and 3.8 per rush); and scored 127 points (15.9 per game). They went 3-4-1 on the road, with Wilson turning in an 81.8 passer rating. More than in previous years, this edition of the Seahawks is very dependent on their raucous home crowd.
Taking this one step farther, I’m also not entirely sure that the result of this game wasn’t more reflective of the defensive struggles the Detroit team has suffered through of late. While never a terrific defensive team, the Lions had gone into a pretty total collapse in the last two games of the regular season. It was one thing when the Cowboys rang up 164 rushing yards against them. But when Green Bay pinned 153 rushing yards on them the next week (the Pack ranked twentieth out of 32 teams in rushing yards), that has to raise eyebrows. In surrendering 73 points over those two games, the Lions were sliced for 321 rushing yards on 58 attempts (5.5 yards per carry). Quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers also combined to complete 44 of 61 passes for 522 yards, 8 touchdowns and no interceptions (a 137.4 passer rating).
In addition to the Lion’s defensive line, their weakness at linebacker was also exposed. Over the course of the season, only middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead started more than half of the games. Of Saturday’s other linebackers, DeAndre Levy missed most of the season with a knee injury and Josh Bynes is primarily a backup pushed into regular duty by the season-long turnover at the position. Many of Rawls’ long runs benefitted from over-pursuit by these linebackers, leaving him clear cut-back lanes.
So the prospects for the Seattle running attack in Atlanta remain a bit murky. The Falcons closed out the regular season allowing their last five opponents to rush for over 100 yards.