O’Neil: What We Learned from the Seahawks’ win over Detroit

Jan 9, 2017, 8:19 AM | Updated: 11:47 am
A resurgent running game helped Seattle control time of possession over Detroit, 36:39 to 23:21. (A...
A resurgent running game helped Seattle control time of possession over Detroit, 36:39 to 23:21. (AP)

Was it “Turn Back the Clock” night at CenturyLink Field Saturday?

Because the Seahawks sure looked like the championship version of themselves, from the unflinching ground game to the buttoned-down defense to the offense that doesn’t score quite as often as you’d like early in the game.

And before we turn our attention to the divisional-round matchup with Atlanta, here’s a look at what happened in Seattle’s 26-6 win over Detroit and what it means.

Three things we learned:

The Seahawks can, in fact, run the ball.

That wasn’t an optical illusion. That was an honest-to-goodness ground game you saw on Saturday. Coach Pete Carroll said it was as good as his offensive line has run-blocked this season, and Thomas Rawls looked better than he has all year. Seattle rushed for 177 yards against Detroit, more than they had in all but one game during the regular season. Even that game came with an asterisk, though, because while Seattle rushed for 240 yards against Carolina, 75 of those yards were on a sweep to receiver Tyler Lockett. Well, Rawls was responsible for 161 of the Seahawks’ 177 rushing yards as their game plan was so simple and straight forward that they ran the ball on nine consecutive plays at one point in the first half. The only qualifier hung on the performance was that Detroit ranked No. 18 in the league in rush defense during the regular season and allowed more than 100 yards on the ground in each of the final three regular-season games.

It’s not how you start.

Worried that the Seahawks only scored 10 points in the first half of a game they largely controlled? You shouldn’t be. That’s what we’ve come to expect. The Seahawks have averaged 8.9 points in the first half of the 13 postseason games they’ve played under Carroll. They’ve averaged 17 points in the second half, though. They scored 16 in the second half against Detroit, and the fact that all of those came in the final period shouldn’t be surprising, either. Seattle has averaged 12 points in the fourth quarter of all playoff games under Carroll compared to 4.9 in all other periods.

The best Seattle defense is a good rushing offense.

There have been plenty of games in which Seattle’s defense has been left out on the field too long. In Week 2 at Los Angeles. In Arizona a month later and in Tampa Bay back at the end of November. But on Saturday against Detroit, we saw what Seattle’s defense can do when it’s complemented by a competent rushing offense. The Seahawks held Detroit to 231 yards of total offense, a season-low. The Lions never had the ball inside the Seattle 35, and afterward tight end Luke Willson pointed out that the benefits of a rushing game aren’t just seen in the yards the Seahawks gained. “Getting our defense some rest, you saw what they can do,” Willson said. “They’d be like that every game. And if we’re going to keep them off the field for a little bit, get them rested up, nobody is going to move the ball on them.”

Three things we’re still trying to figure out:

Why do opponents go for it on fourth down against Seattle?

There are no points for bravado in the NFL, and there’s a thin line between having faith in your offense and being foolhardy. The Seahawks had 14 fourth-down stops during the regular season, most of any team. In fact, no other team had more than 11 fourth-down stops. So while Detroit didn’t exactly have a ton of options when facing fourth-and-1 at the Seattle 38 to start the second quarter, the Lions wound up kicking themselves over not attempting a field goal or even punting the ball. Seattle stopped Detroit for a 2-yard loss, giving the Seahawks’ offense a kick start on what turned out to be its first touchdown drive.

How close is Russell Wilson to full speed?

He didn’t ever get out in the open field during Saturday’s game. Wait. That’s not quite right. He didn’t get out into the open field with the ball in his hands. He did scurry downfield to run interference for Rawls, though. Not only that, Wilson looked pretty darn spry doing it. He didn’t wear a knee brace for the first time since suffering the sprained MCL in Week 3. That question about Wilson’s mobility is something to tuck away in the back of your mind as the playoffs progress.

Who had the best catch on Saturday night?

It’s not every game that you see a man catch a ball by bobbling it and then using one hand to pin to his butt cheek like Doug Baldwin did. Then again, it’s not every game that you see a receiver snake one arm around an opponent – in mid-air, no less – and catch the ball in a single hand before falling to the turf. What Paul Richardson did in the first half was incredible, and while, yes, he did grab his opponent’s facemask on the play, I’m going to say that was more about a natural instinct than about gaining a tactical advantage. It was an absolutely incredible play by Richardson.

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O’Neil: What We Learned from the Seahawks’ win over Detroit