In mere hours the Seattle Seahawks will fly out of the state of Washington and into the city of Washington for what many consider to be the most intriguing game of wild-card weekend in the NFL. The Redskins and Seahawks are very similar, and both are riding long winning streaks entering January.
So how does Washington defeat its twin brother? Here are some suggestions for Mike Shanahan and the rest of his coaching staff.
Run it first with Alfred Morris
This is a run-first team, and Morris is the hottest player in this game. They have to continue to feed the rookie running back early and often, especially considering the fact that Robert Griffin III is likely to be slowed again by his braced-up right knee.
The Seahawks' defense deservedly has a great reputation, but this team is vulnerable on the ground. In fact, only two NFL defenses have given up more yards per carry than the Seahawks have since Week 7. And on the flip side, the Redskins finished the regular season ranked first in total rushing yards and second in yards per carry.
"Running the ball off tackle at Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Bruce Irvin would be Washington's best bet. Far too many teams try to pound Seattle right up the middle—their defensive ends are pass rushers, not run defenders."
Running off tackle is something the 'Skins do quite well with the read-option. Plus, Morris is averaging 5.9 yards per carry when running outside the left tackle this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
But don't be afraid to drop back and throw it around
It goes without saying that it's crucial the 'Skins win the turnover battle against Seattle, but what's strange is that in order to do that, they'd actually be better off passing than running. Despite having a rookie quarterback, Washington has proven this year than it is more liable to turn the ball over on running plays than on passing plays.
The Redskins only turned it over 14 times this year, which is the sixth-lowest regular-season total in NFL history. The problem is that Seattle forced 31 turnovers on defense. And when you look more closely, you see why running too much could be dangerous.
The Seahawks forced 20 fumbles during the regular season, ranking fifth in the league. Meanwhile, Morris and Griffin combined to fumble 16 times. They were lucky that all but five of those fumbles were recovered by players wearing burgundy, but that's still a concern. Morris himself lost two fumbles in the month of December, while Griffin tossed only five interceptions all season (good for the lowest interception percentage in the NFL).
This game is expected to be extremely close, so the 'Skins can't afford a bad bounce. And if they completely ditch the passing game because they fear top-notch Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, they could end up paying by giving the tough Seahawks' front seven a chance to key on Griffin (the runner) and Morris and pop a ball or two loose.
Which receiver should the Redskins target most Sunday?
That's why balance is especially important in this game.
Spreading out that physical defense will be important. The great thing about Pierre Garcon's health is he'll be able to stretch one of those corners deep. And since Sherman and Brown play exclusively outside, Morris should have some favorable matchups with Santana Moss against Marcus Trufant or a safety in the slot.
One final reason to keep it in the air is because the Seahawks aren't a big pas-rushing threat either. They had only 36 sacks during the regular season and averaged a so-so 14 pressures per game (per PFF).
Focus on Marshawn Lynch
The Seahawks ran the football more than any other team in the league this season. Considering how dangerous the beastly Lynch can be, the Redskins have to get Seattle out of its offensive element by forcing Russell Wilson to make big throws.
In a moment I'm going to propose that the 'Skins blitz a lot, so I'm not sure how you do that while also making Lynch a priority, but that's on Jim Haslett. The key will be good timing and a few early stuffs, forcing Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to panic a little bit.
I realize Wilson was the league's highest-rated passer during the second half of the season, but the reality is that wouldn't be the case if not for Lynch, who ranked third in the league in rushing and averaged 5.0 yards per carry.
The broad numbers indicate the Redskins should be capable of holding Lynch in check anyway, but there's a little more to the story than what's on paper from the regular season as a whole. Only four teams gave up fewer yards per game than the 'Skins, but they've actually been surrendering 4.5 yards per carry since Week 8, which is the ninth-worst total in the NFL during that stretch.
Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, DeMarco Murray, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and Jonathan Dwyer all fared well against this defense on the ground during the second half of the season. Haslett has to find a way to prevent Lynch from exploding while also continuing to do what has become this defense's bread and butter lately, which is...
Keep on blitzing
That's what got the Redskins here. Few defenses in the league have blitzed as often as Washington during this seven-game winning streak, and it has paid off. Haslett has been gambling like crazy that his secondary and his run defense won't be destroyed with extra defenders being sacrificed, and while there have been some cracks in both areas, the strategy has paid off in the win column.
One big difference between Griffin and Wilson? RG3 has been lights-out versus the blitz this season (which is why it works out nicely for the Seahawks that they rarely send extra rushers), while Wilson has been pedestrian when facing blitzes.
The Seahawks can finally begin to trust their secondary, which has improved over the course of the season. DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are playing their best football all year and No. 3 corner Cedric Griffin is set to return from suspension. Those three should be capable of holding up without a ton of safety support against a mediocre group of Seattle receivers, affording Haslett the opportunity to send some crafty blitzes at Wilson.
That, again, could be quite helpful when it comes to the turnover battle.