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Clayton: 10-win Seahawks exceed expectations with run game, pass rush

The Seahawks' run game produced over 2,000 yards during the regular season. (AP)

Sunday’s 27-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals wasn’t pretty, but it gave the Seahawks a 10th win as they head into the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the NFC.

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Pass protection was poor. The punt team had an awful day. Still, thanks to the defense and Russell Wilson, the Seahawks escaped with the win.

Let’s look back and see what was learned in this regular-season ending game.

• Tyler Lockett continues to have a remarkable season. His ability to get deep and make big plays has been a big reason for the Seahawks’ success. Lockett was only targeted twice, but both plays were huge.

Lockett took advantage of a major communication blunder in the Cardinals’ secondary and caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. And when Wilson needed a big play in the final two minutes of the game, Lockett went downfield and caught a 37-yard pass to set up the game-winning field goal.

For the season, Lockett averaged a league best 13.79 yards per target. He finished the season with 57 catches for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns.

• The value of guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker on the offensive line were clearly noticeable with their absences Sunday.

Though Fluker was in uniform, he was only going to be used in an emergency situation as he’s nursing a hamstring injury. Sweezy missed the game with a foot injury and will be questionable until Saturday night’s game in Dallas.

To fill in, the Seahawks moved Germain Ifedi to right guard and George Fant at right tackle. They struggled with their communication and the right side was beaten by the aggressive Cardinals defense.

Fluker will be back at right guard and Ifedi will move back to right tackle against the Cowboys, so those problems should be fixed.

• Wilson survived six sacks and eight quarterback hits. He took some pretty good shots yet was able to complete 12 of 21 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown.

Wilson finished the season with a 65.6 completion percentage and 35 touchdown passes. His quarterback rating was 110.9. And while he only threw 427 passes, Wilson finished with 3,448 yards and only seven interceptions.

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• The Cardinals’ defense loaded the box to stop the Seahawks’ run. At halftime, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told the offensive line that there were as many as eight or nine defenders committed at a time to stop the run.

Arizona run-blitzed and were trying to fire through the gaps. Schottenheimer told them that big plays could happen once running backs got through the first wave of defenders.

That certainly was the case when Chris Carson broke a 61-yard run in the third quarter, which sparked one of the key series of the game, a 98-yard drive in five plays that ended with a 17-yard touchdown run by Mike Davis.

Carson had 122 yards on 19 carries, bringing his season rushing total to 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns. For the season, the Seahawks rushed for 2,560 yards on 534 carries.

• Even though the pass rush was a major issue all season, the Seahawks finished strong rushing the quarterback. They have developed two Pro Bowl-caliber defensive linemen – Frank Clark at defensive end and Jarran Reed at defensive tackle. Clark had a 14-sack season, and Reed turned out to be one of the best interior pass-rushers in the game, finishing with 10 1/2 sacks.

The Seahawks’ defense exceeded expectations with its sack total. The thought was they would be in good shape if they had 39 sacks this season, and they ended up with 44. Rookie Jacob Martin, who had his best game Sunday, is developing, too. He finished the year with three sacks, tied with Quinton Jefferson for third on the team.

The future bodes well, too, as you can figure the Seahawks will add another pass rusher at defensive end in the offseason, looking for somebody who could add six to eight sacks.

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John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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