The Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks have been two of the most exciting teams in the NFL this year, and their similar styles of play mean there are a few crucial battles to be won across the 60 minutes.
Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson are both in the running for Rookie of the Year, but the quarterback battle is never a one-on-one type of affair, so it doesn’t make the list here.
Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll is another interesting battle that will take place off the field, as the two will look to outsmart each other via their respective teams.
Carroll had the opportunity to join Shanahan’s Denver Broncos in 1995, but instead opted for San Francisco and the defensive coordinator job at the 49ers. Carroll’s difficult road back to relevance in the NFL started with that decision, and the zone-blocking run game that he runs in Seattle shows why Shanahan was interested in him.
Leaving the coaches and quarterbacks aside, below are three of the biggest battles that will decide who progresses in the postseason.
Lorenzo Alexander vs. Leon Washington
Two Pro Bowl players face off here, with Alexander leading the special teams charge for the NFL, having built on his impressive season last year to finally get the recognition he deserves.
Alexander is captain of a Redskins unit that has limited its opponents to 23.4 yards on kickoff returns while making 19 special teams tackles of his own.
Leon Washington made the Pro Bowl for his performances on the other side of the ball, with eight touchdowns from kickoff returns and an average of 30.1 yards.
Redskins kicker Kai Forbath has been exceptional on field goals, but his kickoffs have sometimes fallen short. With a return man like Washington, Seattle has a real threat, so unless Forbath suddenly puts every kick out the back of the end zone, it’s down to Alexander to stop Washington.
The Redskins’ One-Man Gang has delivered some big hits on kickoff returners this year, and another solid performance would go a long way toward silencing the Seattle return game.
Alfred Morris vs. Seattle’s Defense
The Dallas Cowboys had no answer to Alfred Morris last week, and the rookie made them pay for it. Morris amassed 200 yards on the ground, along with three touchdowns. If Seattle is to keep Washington’s offense from getting into a groove, it has to stop Morris first.
Griffin’s knee remains a question going into the game, and he hasn’t been the same quarterback that we saw before the injury. The brace limits his mobility, which takes away his rushing threat, which, in turn, removes a key element of the Redskins running game.
The threat of Griffin taking off forces defenses to allow for him, so without that, the team loses a weapon. Even without Griffin’s legs, however, stopping Morris isn’t automatically easy.
Of Morris’ 1,613 rushing yards for this year, 643 of them have come after contact. Getting a tackle on him is one thing, but bringing him down is another matter entirely.
Look for Washington to give Morris the ball early and often, with the results being crucial to the outcome of the game.
Who will advance this weekend?
Russell Wilson vs. Washington’s Defense
To start the season, the Redskins had a defense that seemed determined to grant the opposition points. Any team that played the Redskins knew that it was never out of the game as long as its offense had the ball.
After fans started calling for Jim Haslett to be run out of town, the bye week brought with it a change in fortunes. It could be attributed to the offense finding its feet again with the return of Pierre Garcon, but the defense was the deciding factor.
Where the Redskins would previously lose close games, now they were winning them.
Late-game goal-line stands became the norm, as the team fought off all opposition to close out games and reel off seven games in a row, clinching the NFC East in the process.
In order to make it eight in a row, the defense needs to continue its ascent. Russell Wilson has gotten better and better as the season goes on, so there can be no mistakes.
Wilson has become much better at looking after the ball, and the Redskins defense has forced a lot of turnovers. The Washington defense isn’t as good as the Seattle defense, so this will be the battle that ultimately determines the result.