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O’Neil: Seahawks’ top offseason need was glaring in playoff loss to Packers

The Seahawks' defense struggled on third down against the Packers. (Getty)

The Seahawks came close.

Again.

Packers 28, Seahawks 23: Recap | Instant reaction | 3 key moments

It came down to a matter of inches. Or better eyesight from the side judge. Or a clearer view from the television cameras. Or maybe it was decided by that pass that Malik Turner dropped on first-and-10 on what turned out to be Seattle’s final drive or the pass-blocking assist that Germain Ifedi couldn’t quite provide on third down during that same series. Any one of those plays could have been the difference, and each one helped explain in its own way why Seattle lost 28-23 to the Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs.

But before we wade into what went wrong, let’s pause to survey the circumstances of this playoff loss. The Seahawks were down to a back-up center, their third-string left guard as rookie Phil Haynes replaced second-year player Jamarco Jones (concussion), and their starting left tackle Duane Brown was playing less than three weeks after undergoing knee surgery. None of the tight ends who suited up for Seattle on Sunday were on the team’s 53-man roster when the season began nor was running back Marshawn Lynch, who started.

And with all that, Seattle went and scored three touchdowns on its first three possessions of the second half for the second time in three games, both coming against the two teams that will play next week for the NFC championship. I don’t point that out as some sort of consolation praise, but to make sure everyone realizes just how ridiculous it was to think that Seattle remained as competitive as it did.

That’s a compliment to Russell Wilson, who was absolutely outstanding. Again.

It’s also a criticism of Seattle’s defense, which was much healthier than the Seahawks’ offense and much less effective. Green Bay converted nine of its 14 third downs in the game, including third-and-8 and third-and-9 on the final possession. The third-down defense was so bad that after it was over, you could actually argue that perhaps Seattle should have gone for it on fourth-and-11 from its own 36 instead of punting the ball back with just under 3 minutes left in the game.

As for the red-zone defense that was so stout in Philadelphia? Well, the Packers scored a touchdown each of the three times they drove the ball inside the Seattle 20. So much for bending without breaking, which brings us to what Seattle must do entering this offseason: address the defense.

That starts with an honest assessment of what happened in a season where the Seahawks were decidedly below average. Only six teams allowed more yards than Seattle did during the regular season. Only six teams allowed more points. About the only category where the Seahawks could be considered good: turnovers. They forced 32 of them, which was tied for third-most in the league, but they also didn’t have a single takeaway over the final three games of the season, including the playoffs.

The defense was so flimsy that it made Pete Carroll’s preferred game plan a liability. See, he likes to run the ball, and one of the effects this has is that it shortens the game by curbing the number of possessions that both teams get.

This fact actually hurt the Seahawks on Sunday night. That drive when they handed off to Marshawn Lynch on three straight plays, gaining 8 yards and then 1 and then seeing him stopped for no gain and being forced to punt? That was one of five first-half possessions Seattle had, one of which resulted in a missed field goal and another that ended with a desperation heave into the end zone.

After three quarters, the Packers had gained 284 yards while the Seahawks had 283, but the Seahawks trailed by eight points and were going to need to be pretty close to perfect in the final 15 minutes if they were going to come back and win at a stadium where they haven’t won in 20 years.

And Seattle wasn’t perfect. There were a couple of mistakes and a very debatable spot that resulted in the game-clinching first down, and it ended year in which Seattle came way closer than it probably should have to playing for the conference title despite a defense that needs to improve for Seattle to get to that stage.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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