For this week’s Getting to Know the Seahawks (again) segment, we went back to Seattle Times beat writer Bob Condotta for his strong insight on the team. Let’s roll …
MC: This sounds like a dumb question considering who he is and his level of success, particularly in the playoffs, but could Marshawn Lynch disrupt the Seahawks’ rhythm and momentum offensively when he returns on Sunday? Lynch hasn’t played in nearly two months, the team is 6-1 in that stretch, Russell Wilson is playing the best football of his life without Lynch. What kind of effect do you see Lynch having, not only on the Vikings’ defense but Seattle’s offensive rhythm and momentum?
BC: “It has certainly been an interesting phenomenon that the Seattle offense seemed to only get better when it lost not only Lynch but also tight end Jimmy Graham, who was lost for the season with a knee injury in the fourth quarter of the win over the Steelers on Nov. 29. It’s worth remembering, though, that Lynch’s initial replacement was rookie Thomas Rawls, who in the first game without Lynch rushed for 209 yards, and then also had a big game in the win at Minnesota. Rawls was lost for the season with a broken ankle against the Ravens on Dec. 13, and that has added some urgency to getting Lynch back. Without both Rawls and Lynch Seattle, has largely gone with Christine Michael, Seattle’s first pick in the 2013 draft who was then traded to Dallas and released and on Washington’s practice squad when the Seahawks brought him back prior to the Dec. 20 game against Cleveland. Michael has had the two best games of this career since then, leading some to wonder if the Seahawks have really gotten to the point where they can plug anyone into the backfield and make it work. But the Seahawks also know they have to win three road games in 15 days to try to get to another Super Bowl. In that regard, they also know they need all the running back depth they can get, especially when you can add someone like Marshawn Lynch to the equation. So I think they will take the advantage of getting Lynch back versus any concern over disrupting the flow of the current offense.”
MC: Speaking of Wilson, I noticed that his passer rating the past seven weeks is 132.8 overall and 118.6 while in the pocket, which is basically unfair for a guy who’s that elusive when he gets outside the pocket. He also has that 24-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. What has impressed you most about Wilson’s stretch run without some key pieces to the offense?
BC: “There is no doubt that he has really taken ownership of the offense the last two months. He seemed to realize that without guys like Lynch and Graham that the offense was now his and he has really thrived in that role. That’s what’s been most impressive, the way he rose to that challenge. Schematically, the team changed a few things to go with a few more quick-hitting passes, and Wilson has appeared much more decisive as a result, getting rid of the ball fast and accurately to guys like Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse. That style also better fits the offensive line. It’s all worked together to create the best stretch of passing offense the Seahawks have ever seen.”
MC: Defensively, the back end of the defense’s ability to cover is well-documented. But who and what are the keys to this team’s 25-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher, and how do you think this team will react to another challenge of stopping Peterson?
BC: “The defensive line here has probably always been underrated because of the strength and notoriety of the Legion of Boom. Michael Bennett may be as underrated a player as there is in the NFL for what he does. Bennett plays end in the base defense and then typically moves inside in the nickel and has been Seattle’s best defensive lineman the last two years (though end Cliff Avril hasn’t been far off). Tackles Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin have also had good years. And Seattle’s linebackers are also really good. Weakside linebacker K.J. Wright has had maybe his best season — he was a real key to shutting down Peterson the first time. Wright is really long and moves well laterally and the Seahawks generally do a great job of keeping contain with the play of Wright, their ends and strong safety Kam Chancellor. And middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is also really good cleaning up everything between the hashmarks. The Seahawks play a fairly simple scheme designed typically to funnel things to the inside and Seattle has the players who can pull it off physically.”
MC: “The Seahawks didn’t have to leave CenturyLink Field to reach the past two Super Bowls. Now, they’re the No. 6 seed and will have to win three road games to reach a third straight Super Bowl. How will they respond and do you think Sunday’s forecast for 3 degrees with a wind chill of minus-6 will affect the Seahawks?
BC: “That’s probably two separate issues. As far as the road, the Seahawks have probably been a better road team than those who just look at their great home-field advantage would think. They were actually 5-3 at both home and on the road this year — and two of the road losses were in overtime at St. Louis (a team that always gives the Seahawks fits) and Cincinnati. The other was at Green Bay, a game in which Seattle had the lead in the fourth quarter. This is now a pretty veteran team and the trappings of the road don’t seem to impact them much. Defensive players actually often say they prefer going on the road because they can hear the calls better since the crowd is quiet when the home offense is on the field.
As for the weather, that’s the great unknown of this game. I don’t think it’s possible for the Seahawks to replicate those conditions in practice so they’ll just have to do what they can and adjust on Sunday as needed. The good news from the Seattle standpoint is that the Seahawks’ style — defense, good running game — would appear to be one that would travel well in those kinds of conditions.”
MC: The Seahawks have the experience, the shut-down defense and the red-hot quarterback to win a second Super Bowl in three seasons. What is their Achilles’ heel? Based on what you’ve seen this season, what would be the one thing above all else that would most likely be the cause of their downfall if they were to stumble and lose?
BC: “The biggest question mark for this team all season has been its offensive line. It played really well down the stretch, but the St. Louis game seemed to again expose that it is still a young , emerging group prone to some bad moments. Seattle will probably play nothing but really good defenses the rest of the way, so the line will have to hold up three straight weeks. It’s also worth wondering exactly how stout the running game will be — it’s simply hard to know until we see it exactly how back Marshawn Lynch is to his usual self. The secondary also was more vulnerable this season than in past years to really good quarterbacks, and it will be interesting to see how it responds.”