Seahawks vs. Redskins: 5 Keys to Sunday's Wild Card Showdown
Quite possibly the most intriguing matchup of the NFL's Wild Card Weekend will be played in the nation's capital.
Two of the most impressive rookie quarterbacks in the game will take center stage, but running games and vastly improved defenses also shape the matchup between the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks Sunday in Washington.
In the following slides, we'll take a look at some of the key factors in Sunday's wild-card matchup.
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The NFL has clearly trended towards passing offenses, but don't tell that to these two teams.
Seattle and Washington both finished in the top three in both rushing attempts and yards this season. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Seahawks led the NFL in designed rush percentage (49.8); the Redskins were second at 47.8.
Both running games are led by elite running backs. Redskins rookie Alfred Morris was second in rushing yards at 1,613 yards, while Seahawks veteran Marshawn Lynch was third with 1,590.
The passing game is still a major part of winning football, especially in the postseason. But the team that runs the football better Sunday is going to be a heavy favorite to advance.
Winning from the Pistol
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While no offense in the NFL employs the "Pistol" formation more often than the Redskins, don't think that the Seahawks are completely foreign to the look.
In Week 16, Seattle spent all week preparing to take on Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' version of the pistol. While facing a young, inexperienced quarterback in Seattle played a large part in the eventual 42-13 win, the Seahawks' top-ranked scoring defense mostly dismantled the 49ers offense.
How will the Seahawks fare against a more explosive version from Washington? If Seattle's first run-through was any indication, the Redskins have their work cut out from them Sunday.
To Blitz or Not to Blitz
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Sunday's matchup may feature two sides of the coin in terms of blitzing frequency.
On one side, the Redskins blitzed Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo every chance they got in Week 17. Seattle's Russell Wilson has handled pressure better in the second half, but Washington is more likely to bring extra defenders on obvious passing downs.
For the Seahawks defense, expect the opposite. Few quarterbacks have made blitzing defensive coordinators pay more than Robert Griffin III, a dynamic athlete despite his recent knee injury.
The Seahawks know that beating the Redskins in the passing game will likely have to come with a standard four-man pressure. Washington is the team that will likely come after the young opposing quarterback.
RG3 Protecting RG3
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Since returning from a knee injury that kept him out a week, Robert Griffin III has been able to stay as effective running the football while still protecting his sometimes fragile body.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Griffin III is absorbing less hits (17 percent less in last two weeks than first 15,) but still averaging nearly 10 yards a carry on option runs since Week 16.
Expect that trend to continue Sunday. The Redskins need Griffin III to be explosive running the read option, but losing him for any period would likely stamp their exit out of the postseason. As he's proved the last two weeks, a safe Griffin III can still be an effective one.
Washington Must Find Passing Lanes
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The Seahawks may be taking the NFL's best secondary with them on the road to Washington. Richard Sherman was probably the league's best cover man after Darrelle Revis went out, and Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are each above-average players.
Do the Redskins have enough passing weapons to compete against that group? Eventually, Griffin III will need to make a big conversion through the air, and without the aid of play-action. The one-on-one matchups in the passing game certainly don't favor Washington.
Expect Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahn to get clever in his play-calling. Rubs and picks over the middle can help loosen up a secondary that might be the most physical in the NFL.