When the Detroit Lions come to Seattle on Saturday for the first playoff game between the franchises, they will have the fortune of going against Pete Carroll’s worst team during the Russell Wilson era.
While Carroll’s club is one of three to make the playoffs in each of the past five years, along with Green Bay and New England, this is clearly the weakest Seattle playoff team since the 2010 crew that stunned New Orleans at home in the wild-card round and then lost in Chicago.
The Hawks can’t run the ball, can’t score in the red zone, can’t kick the ball consistently and really can’t sustain the level of play needed to go far in the playoffs. And Russell Wilson is just not as dialed in as he needs to be to go the distance.
This team just doesn’t evoke a sense of Super Bowl destiny like it did in 2013 and 2014. Even in 2015, the Hawks had put together a nice run as the playoffs approached and seemed capable of winning it all — only to freeze in Minnesota and melt down in Carolina.
As poorly as they have played on the road – a 3-4-1 record, averaging 15.9 points — the Seahawks appear to need a lot of luck if they are going to have any chance of reaching the Super Bowl. If they beat Detroit, they will head to Atlanta — the site of Wilson’s first playoff loss — and will have to hope the Packers (or Giants) beat Dallas so the Hawks could host the NFC title game.
It seems almost impossible for them to win two playoff games on the road this season. They have the league’s 25th-ranked running game, averaging 99.4 yards after gaining only 87 against the 49ers’ league-worst run defense on Sunday.
The NFC’s top two seeds, Dallas and Atlanta, are No. 2 and 5 in rushing — Seattle’s usual stratosphere. Not that you have to run the ball well to win the Super Bowl. Denver ranked 17th last year and beat No. 2 Carolina for the Lombardi Trophy. New England was just 18th in 2014, when the Patriots held off the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
The Seahawks just haven’t had the big plays in the running game this year – due to a combination of injuries to Wilson and the backs and poor play by the line. In their Super Bowl seasons, they averaged 77 long runs (10 yards or more). Even last year they had 61. This year, they tallied a mere 37.
It has affected the key metric for the Seahawks: toxic differential, which compares big plays and turnovers. The Seahawks led the NFL in that key margin in 2013 (plus-66) and 2014 (plus-76), which explains why they were a Super Bowl team. Even last year they were second in the league at plus-49. But this year, they are a mere plus-7 (ranking 10th). That’s all you need to know to explain why these Hawks aren’t as good as the last four iterations.
Add to those ailments their ongoing problems in the red zone, where they finished 27th at 46 percent, and they just don’t look capable of a Super Bowl run.
If the offense doesn’t do them in, special teams probably will. They have been horrific recently, with three blocked kicks and a safety in the last two games. And they have no return game with Tyler Lockett gone for the season.
The only way they are going to advance is if Wilson plays his best. That means getting rid of the ball more quickly, hitting receivers in stride, moving out of the pocket as needed, making good decisions on zone reads and – most important — playing with a killer instinct.
Last week, he talked about the need to be more tenacious from the start of games.
“I think you have to have that approach from the first play all the way to the last one. The more that we can tap into that early … the more we can sustain that tenacity. That gives us a chance to accomplish what we want to accomplish.”
But the Seahawks came out flat again vs. the 49ers before rallying to go ahead and then hold on for the win. In some ways, it’s the same MO we have seen from them for years – start slow, finish fast.
But, for all of the reasons listed above, they have not been very consistent in finishing games right this year. And that’s why the Lions will be facing Carroll’s weakest team of the last five years.