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3 Seahawks Questions: Can Seattle’s offense overpower NFL’s top defense?

The Rams enter their playoff game with the Seahawks with the NFL's top-ranked defense. (Getty)

It’s win or go home for the Seahawks.

Hawks Injuries: DT Reed, CB Griffin questionable but expected to play

Their Wild Card weekend matchup against the Los Angeles Rams will give Seattle’s defense yet another opportunity to shine, but this is a game that will be decided when Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense lines up opposite the league’s best defense.

Why? That’s one of this weekend’s Three Questions:

Question 1: Who’s starting at quarterback for the Rams?

It’ll be hard for the Seahawks offense, which has cooled off in the second half of the season, to get into a rhythm against the Rams’ defense (more on that in the second question). Even a pair of touchdowns will be tough going, but that might just be enough. That’s because the Rams’ already inconsistent offense may be forced to roll with backup quarterback John Wolford.

For now, it’s unclear whether Jared Goff, who underwent surgery to repair a broken thumb on Dec. 28, will start. Goff was a limited participant in practice this week and is officially questionable for the game. Head coach Sean McVay has been careful to not commit to any one quarterback starting, facetiously adding that fans would find out at 1:39 p.m. on Saturday (kickoff is at 1:40 p.m.)

Secondary to that question is an even more intriguing debate: are the Rams better with Wolford under center? Goff has been wildly inconsistent this year, at times looking every bit the franchise passer the Rams hoped he would become, and other times making head-scratching decisions (such was the case with a pass in his last meeting with Seattle that was intercepted by safety Quandre Diggs). And even if he can start, Goff won’t be at 100 percent following such a recent procedure.

Wolford, meanwhile, looked to be a more mobile option in his first ever start last week. He was quick enough for the Rams to throw in designed runs. He bounced back after an early interception and finished the game 22-of-38 for 231 yards and added another 56 yards on the ground.

But he didn’t find the end zone. In fact, the Rams’ offense has been held without a touchdown for back-to-back weeks. And while last week’s outing by Wolford was impressive, the Seahawks defense seems primed to take advantage of an inexperienced quarterback. The unit still has some familiar flaws – they allowed two completions of 40 yards or more from the 49ers third-string quarterback last week – but they’ve also turned their pass rush around and finished with 46 sacks. It’s hard not to see either the inexperienced Wolford or the injured Goff as an advantageous matchup for Seattle. For now, Pete Carroll says they’re preparing for both quarterbacks.

Question 2: Can the offense overpower the league’s best defense?

This game will be won or lost by the Seahawks offense – whether they can find the end zone, and whether they can avoid costly turnovers and defensive scores. That means a game plan that focuses on ball control. It also means that once again, Seahawks fans may be left wondering where the explosive plays have gone.

It’s hard to argue Russell Wilson should take many deep shots against Jalen Ramsey, who has held DK Metcalf to just one reception for 11 yards on four targets in one-on-one matchups. But it‘s also hard to see this team getting much further into the playoffs if the offense can’t become a version of what it was earlier this season.

There’s been a couple factors at play there. There were mistakes from Wilson, turnovers, and injuries to the offensive line. There was more development and improvement from defenses around the league. There was also a focus on limiting what premiere defenses could do, which sometimes meant getting rid of the ball quickly or focusing on the run. This was the case in their win over Washington.

“We always want more,” Carroll told reporters Thursday when asked about the drop in explosive plays from Seattle’s offense (defined as a run of 12 yards or more, or a pass of 16 yards or more). “We always want to do better and do more. There’s no question. We’ve played some games kind of the way we wanted to play them, and that wasn’t to just try to stretch the field with the throwing game. We want to win the game, we want to take care of the football and make sure that we’re in control of the rhythm of the game as a team.”

He did add, though, that the team would like to get a few of those explosive plays back. The hope is a return of the starting five offensive linemen this week can keep Wilson upright and buy him a bit more time. Seattle is 5-0 with all five starters in the game. It’s easier said than done against a defense that ranks first overall in yards per game and weighted DVOA, but if there’s one team that has a habit of pulling out fourth quarter wins – much to the frustration of its fans – it’s the Seahawks.

Question 3: What kind of effect can Jamal Adams have?

Since points will be hard to come by, the Seahawks defense will need to be at its best, and the defense is at its best with Jamal Adams on the field. Adams is expected to play this Saturday despite suffering a second shoulder injury in Week 17. But given that the injury kept him out of the game and out of practice Tuesday, the question instead becomes on of overall effectiveness.

It’s hard to overstate the impact Adams has had on Seattle’s defensive turnaround. His 9.5 sacks lead the team and set a new NFL record for defensive backs. In an interview with Dave Wyman on KIRO Radio Friday, Carroll called Adams “the real deal.”

Maybe that’s why even an injured Adams can help lift the Seahawks to a Wild Card victory. In that same interview, Carroll said Adams is a rare talent who manages to will himself to play through injury.

“He was really bummed out that he wasn’t able to finish that game, and then he was concerned would it affect him moving forward,” Carroll said. “We were talking on the plane on the way home and he was really clear that he was going for it and he was not going to let anything get in his way. And it is that mentality that just won’t accept that something’s going to keep him from going. It’s interesting. There’s chemistry in there somewhere, there’s some science in there somewhere, because I’ve seen it too many times, that some guys can just overcome anything.”

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