By Mike Salk
In the end, it was academic. The back-and-forth effort against the Rams will be remembered for getting the Seahawks their 11th win of the year, for getting Russell Wilson his rookie-record-tying 26th touchdown, and for giving the 2012 Seahawks a perfect 8-0 record at CenturyLink Field.
Personally, I hope to remember it as the game where no one got injured before the real tournament starts next weekend.
Unfortunately, San Francisco took care of business in their finale, whooping the Cardinals and taking the NFC West crown (and a first-round bye) away from the Seahawks. So, the final score affects only the record books.
But what happened along the way wasn’t unimportant.
The Seahawks got a nice wake-up call from a rapidly improving Rams squad that should be taken seriously under Jeff Fisher. Though they may have totaled 150 points in the previous three games, that number belies the truth of what really happened in those games.
Remember, 28 of those 150 points were scored by the defense or special teams, and 44 more points were set up by great starting field position (forced again by turnovers and great special teams). None of those facts should take anything away from what the offense accomplished – far from it. The team concept led to those points and the offense deserves immense credit for its efficiency, especially in the red zone. But this is not, by nature or design, a high-octane unit.
And we were all reminded of that in the final game of the regular season.
The Seahawks scored just 20 points, a mere 30 points off their average for the last three weeks. They also allowed six sacks, and needed Wilson to escape massive pressure way too often. Their number one receiver, Sidney Rice, was held without a catch.
And yet, I feel better about this team today than I did before the game. I liked being reminded that this team can still win games the way it’s supposed to win them: by running and playing great defense. I liked knowing that this defense could still dominate a team that wasn’t forced to throw the ball early because of a large deficit. And I liked seeing Wilson drive 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
These are the type of games you play in the playoffs. They tend to be close and physical. It seems like they constantly come down to a final drive or a key stop late.
We’ll hear a ton of praise for Pete Carroll, Wilson and the rest of the Seahawks this week. They are one of just eight NFL teams playing next weekend and they are arguably the hottest. People will compare Wilson to Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. One has a higher rating, one has more touchdowns, another has more yards. Two have great running games around them, another has a potential Hall of Fame receiver. All three will be in action on Sunday.
But while they are praising the team and saying, “they rely on that great defense” or “the offense took a huge step in that three-game explosion,” try to remember that they are what they have been designed to be: a complete team. The offense and defense have a symbiotic relationship; they work together to win games.
The offense is designed to maintain control of the ball for as long as possible. They run the ball safely and throw primarily off of play action. When Wilson throws, he may be allowed to take a few chances, but he is accurate enough and makes good enough decisions to not throw it to the opponent. The biggest chances he takes are deep down the field, essentially amounting to punts if they are intercepted.
And the defense is still the star of the show. Need proof? How about Carroll twice opting against field goals inside the opposing 40-yard line, choosing instead to pin the Rams deep and rely on his defense to make a play. That is the mark of a team that hasn’t been seduced by its recent flirtation with offensive firepower and gaudy point totals.
It worked primarily because the secondary is excellent. It suffocates opponents. Seriously. To suffocate is to take away someone’s ability to breathe, and that is exactly what they do. With cornerbacks in their grill on nearly every play, opposing wideouts have very little room to breathe. Lack of breath leads offenses to make mistakes of frustration. That’s when we see turnovers, and a short field for that offense.
Now on to Washington.