Tracing Seahawks' Path to Super Bowl XLVIII

Tyson Langland@TysonNFLNFC West Lead WriterJanuary 24, 2014

Jan 19, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman hoists the George Halas Trophy after the 2013 NFC Championship football game against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

After an 11-5 regular-season finish and a playoff win over the Washington Redskins in 2012, experts from around the league agreed that the Seattle Seahawks would be a force to be reckoned with in 2013. Lo and behold, the experts were right.

Pete Carroll’s club finished the 2013 regular season with the best record (13-3) in the NFC, and it is now embarking on the organization’s first Super Bowl appearance since the 2005 season. Obviously, the Seahawks’ path to Super Bowl XLVIII wasn’t easy based on the fact they played in the NFC West, yet they did what they had to do on a weekly basis to garner as many wins as possible.

In addition to playing great defense and controlling the line of scrimmage with the run game, the Seahawks outscored the opposition at an alarming rate. On average, Seattle scored 26.1 points per game and only allowed 14.4 points per game. Coincidentally, that was the second-best mark in the league behind the Denver Broncos.

By no means is point differential the be-all and end-all, yet more often than not it serves as a good indicator as to which teams have the most success over the course of a season. Nevertheless, the Seahawks wouldn’t have been able to outscore their opponents the way they did in 2013 without upgraded talent on both sides of the ball.

NFL Game Rewind

Even though people like to label wide receiver Percy Harvin as Seattle’s biggest offseason acquisition, I would have to politely disagree. For me, the Seahawks’ biggest offseason acquisitions were defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.

According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Bennett and Avril are viewed as two of the league’s best pass-rushers.

In 617 snaps, Bennett tallied 8.5 quarterback sacks, 17 quarterback hits, 39 quarterback hurries and a pass-rushing grade of plus-20.9. Avril, on the other hand, amassed eight quarterback sacks, 10 quarterback hits, 28 quarterback hurries and a pass-rushing grade of plus-14.4, via PFF.

The crazy thing is neither player garnered starts on a regular basis. Between the two players, Bennett and Avril only recorded three starts. Clearly, being a starter in the NFL isn’t as important as it once was, yet coming off the bench and producing is easier said than done.

Even though Bennett and Avril were the most notable offseason additions, the offensive side of the ball had a key contributor as well. In 599 snaps, offensive lineman Michael Bowie played four different spots on the offensive line, graded out as an above-average run-blocker and held his own in pass protection, via PFF.

Michael Bowie's rating by the week, via PFF

The seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma State wasn’t expected to make an impact during his rookie season, yet Coach Carroll felt he exceeded expectations in practice and continuously improved as the season wore on.

Here’s what Carroll had to say about Bowie after his fine performance against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs, per TJ Cotterill and Don Ruiz of The News Tribune: “We had no idea he would come this far this fast, and we are thrilled about it.”

Carroll should be thrilled: Bowie has the ability to be a long-term starter for the Seahawks. Yes, the 332-pound mauler is still learning the left guard position, but that’s to be expected. Prior to the Saints game, he hadn’t ever played left guard before.

Kudos to offensive line coach Tom Cable; he coached him up to the best of his ability and helped Bowie get ready for the biggest game of his career. Even if we don’t see the rookie offensive lineman in the Super Bowl, he should be considered the clear-cut favorite to be the team’s starting left guard in 2014.

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

As you can see, Carroll and general manager John Schneider have assembled one of the most complete rosters in the NFL, thanks in large part to smart moves in free agency and the draft. Yet, games aren’t won on paper. They are won when teams properly execute, overcome adversity and take care of business on the road.

Those three things proved to be the difference for the Seahawks in 2013. Why? Because in 2012, Seattle struggled to overcome adversity, win on the road and execute at opportune times. There were three regular-season games this season where the ‘Hawks showed the masses that they were a Super Bowl-esque team.

The first game was the Seahawks’ Week 4 contest against the Houston Texans.

Despite falling behind 20-6 after three quarters, the Seahawks never quit. They laid it all on the line in the fourth quarter and mounted an improbable comeback. Quarterback Russell Wilson led a 98-yard scoring drive early on in the fourth quarter, and Dan Quinn’s defense forced Matt Schaub to make a crucial mistake with less than a minute left to play.

The crucial mistake ended in a pick-six for All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, which ultimately sent the game to overtime. In the overtime period, Seattle’s offense put together an eight-play, 42-yard drive. Subsequently, the 42-yard drive ended with a 45-yard field goal from kicker Steven Hauschka.

NFL Game Rewind

The road win was sloppy, but that didn’t matter. The Seahawks used the game as a learning experience. In addition to learning they could win on the road, they learned that no deficit was too large, and adversity shows up at the most obscure times.

The second game-changing contest of the season was their Week 9 contest versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Much like the team’s Week 4 contest, the Seahawks had to dig themselves out of a massive hole. Even though a 17-point deficit wasn’t ideal, Wilson never flinched. He regrouped and led three scoring drives in the second half.

Then, in overtime, the Seahawks defense forced a punt, and Darrell Bevell’s offense capitalized. On the final drive of the game, running back Marshawn Lynch single-handedly willed his way down the field. He carried the ball six times for 44 yards, and Hauschka ended the game with a 27-yard field goal.

Again, the win was sloppy, but the Seahawks took their learning experiences from the Texans game and overcame adversity once again. Trying to mount monumental comebacks on a weekly basis is risky business, yet they did what they had to do and notched a “W” in the win column.

Lastly, the Seahawks’ third game-changing contest of the season took place Week 13 on Monday Night Football. Prior to Seattle’s matchup versus New Orleans, fans and media members alike believed the Saints would take care of the ‘Hawks at CenturyLink Field.

The notion seemed plausible based on the way the Saints had been playing, but it proved to be laughable when the clock struck zero. For 60 minutes, Wilson continuously exploited Rob Ryan’s defense. The second-year signal-caller out of Wisconsin threw for 310 yards, completed 73.3 percent of his passes and scored three touchdowns.

Seattle’s win over New Orleans provided the team the confidence it needed down the stretch. The Seahawks also proved to themselves that they could beat the second-best team (at the time) in the NFC, which ultimately gave them a peace of mind when they met the Saints in the playoffs.

Speaking of the playoffs, the Seahawks have been playing their best football of the season during the playoffs. The offensive side of the ball, especially the run game, has elevated the team's level of play, and the defensive side of the ball has held opposing offenses in check through the air.

This is good news considering the Seahawks’ secondary is set to do battle with one of the most celebrated quarterbacks in NFL history.

At 37 years of age, Peyton Manning’s arm may not be what it once was, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting together one of the most impressive seasons ever. In 16 regular-season games, he completed 68.3 percent of his passes, threw for 5,477 yards and tossed 55 touchdowns.

To no one’s surprise, Manning’s earth-shattering numbers have helped the Broncos open up as three-point Super Bowl favorites, via Bovada. However, it wouldn’t be wise to sleep on the Seahawks and their ability to win next Sunday’s game.

The Seahawks have a formidable pass rush and a vaunted secondary. Both of those areas of strength will prove to be difference-makers against a quarterback who rarely makes mistakes.

Offensively, Seattle will have to pound the rock and control the clock. Harvin’s presence will aid the Seahawks’ running game in a big way. The Broncos won’t be able to stack the box because of his presence, which means Lynch could string together his third straight 100-yard game.

In all reality, the in-game storylines are endless.

This, in turn, means this year’s Super Bowl should end up being one of the more entertaining Super Bowls in recent memory. Really, what more could you ask for? The No. 1 defense in the NFL will be taking on the No. 1 offense in the NFL.

Seattle’s path to New Jersey has been a fairly steady ride with learning experiences along the way, yet it could all be for nothing if the 'Hawks aren’t prepared. Fortunately for Seahawks fans, Coach Carroll’s club is forever relaxed, and his coaching staff is extremely talented. 

Both aspects could end up playing immense roles in the NFL's most important showdown for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.