Defense is ready for playoffs; will offense be good enough?

Now that we know the Seahawks’ defense is for real, the big question is whether the offense is going to be able to do enough against any of the top defenses it might encounter in the playoffs.

The 20-9 win over the Rams on Sunday was Seattle’s best win of the season – not just because it clinched the Hawks’ first division title since 2016, but because it proved the defense’s 2020 turnaround was legit.

There certainly are still concerns about Seattle’s offense being able to score against top defenses, but the Hawk defense appears to have found its mojo – now that it has all of its best pieces in place.

The turnaround actually started in the first meeting against the Rams, as the Hawks held Jared Goff and company to 23 points. The Hawks have held Sean McVay’s team to its lowest season point total in the series since he took over as Rams coach in 2017. 

The two games against the Rams have been the bookends to Seattle’s defensive turnaround. Foes averaged 30.4 points in Seattle’s first eight games, but that average has been cut in half over the past seven. Of course, most of those games have been against the NFL Least – both New Yorks, Philly and Washington – which is why this win against the Rams was significant.

The Rams were the best team the Hawks have beaten – No. 6 in total DVOA, No. 7 in offense. So the Seattle defense, while probably not the best unit in the NFL (as Jamal Adams boasted), certainly seems capable of competing with top offenses like the Packers, Bucs and Saints (all top seven in DVOA and top five in scoring).

“Defense wins championships,” said K.J. Wright, the Super Bowl vet who knows what he is talking about. “We know that going down the stretch it’s gonna be some tough, tough battles. Playoff time is around the corner, and defense always wins championships.”

The bigger question is whether Russell Wilson and the offense will be capable of scoring against the Saints or Bucs (both top-four defenses by DVOA, top eight in scoring). Wilson & Co. have managed just 20 points the past two weeks against top-five defenses Washington and L.A.

They likely will be playing top-10 defenses the rest of the way. By DVOA, San Francisco is sixth, Arizona is 10th, L.A. is fifth, Tampa Bay fourth, New Orleans third. The Packers, however, are just 15th.

The offense had its typical bad game against the Rams, managing a season-low 292 yards and only two touchdowns. While that first game against the Rams, in Week 10, was the turning point for the defense, it also marked the downturn for the offense. The Hawks averaged 34.3 points in the first eight games, but they have dropped to 22.7 the past seven games – 19.8 if you remove the 40 points against the Jets.

Sure, they have faced some good defenses: the Rams twice, Washington, Philly’s stout defensive front. But they are going to face good defenses in the playoffs – and probably will need to exceed 20 points in at least one game if they are going to advance to the Super Bowl.

Brian Schottenheimer needs to use more misdirection, move Wilson proactively. Wilson needs to be decisive and assertive while avoiding turnovers. Getting right tackle Brandon Shell back certainly will help.  

The bye would be a big boon, but the only way the Hawks could get it is if the Packers and Saints both were to lose this week (against Chicago and Carolina). It’s not likely, but the Hawks will play as if they have a shot (all of those teams will play at the same time Sunday afternoon). The Saints are rooting for the Seahawks to beat the 49ers, which is the only way the Saints can ace out the Packers for the bye.

The Hawks seem most likely to face the Cardinals in the first round – assuming the Hawks don’t get the bye and the Cardinals beat the Goff-less Rams this week. L.A., Tampa Bay and Chicago also are wild-card possibilities. Then it would be on to New Orleans or Green Bay.

The defense looks ready. Will the offense be?

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