By Chris Cluff
The Seahawks are on a roll that no team in modern NFL history has ever gone on. Their shocking 42-13 wipeout of the San Francisco 49ers gives them 150 points over the last three games — a number surpassed by only one team in NFL history. Everything is clicking as the Hawks prepare for the season finale against St. Louis on Sunday. They have a slim chance of winning the division (if the 49ers lose) and a slimmer chance of getting the No. 2 seed (if the Packers lose as well).
Fans in Seattle rightfully feel like there is no better team in the league and that the Hawks can win the Super Bowl even if they have to win three straight road playoff games to get there. But are the Seahawks really good enough?
On offense, yes. Russell Wilson has not had a bad game since the loss in San Francisco in Week 7. Since then, he has completed 66.8 percent of his passes, with 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. And the running game continues to pound every defense it encounters; it has tallied at least 170 yards in six of the last seven games, with two games of at least 270 yards.
So, yes, the offense is Super Bowl ready, and Wilson certainly seems prepared to become the first rookie QB ever to play in it, let alone win it. But the Hawks certainly must answer a few questions if they are going to win their first NFL championship.
- Did they really solve their road woes with the overtime win in Chicago and the blowout of the Bills in Toronto?
- Is their defense over the two-month stretch of failures that cost Seattle games in San Francisco, Detroit and Miami and nearly cost them the Chicago game?
- Will they be able to withstand the loss of their best defender, cornerback Richard Sherman?
The Hawks are quite obviously a much better team at home than they are on the road. They are 7-0 in Seattle, giving up just 11.7 points per game. But they are just 3-5 on the road, giving up 18.8 ppg. Early in the season, the offense was the problem on the road. Wilson and company tallied just 51 points in the first four road games. But they have come through in the last four, playing well enough to win with an average of 29.5 ppg (22.7 if you take away the 50 points against Buffalo).
The defense has failed in four of the last five away games. It gave up tons of rushing yards at the end of the 13-6 loss in San Francisco, let Matthew Stafford drive to beat it at the end of the game in Detroit, let Ryan Tannehill drive to beat it at the end of the game in Miami and then let Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall force overtime in Chicago.
The major reason for most of those failures has been the inability or unwillingness to get pressure on the quarterback. Coordinator Gus Bradley seems to refuse to blitz on the road. He prefers to play the Tampa 2 zone in most cases or rely purely on coverage and rush just three. And it has hurt the Hawks in Detroit, Miami and Chicago.
The Hawks won in Chicago because of Wilson, who took the offense the length of the field twice in a row to finish the game. They blew out Arizona 58-0 with eight turnovers, and they blasted Buffalo 50-17 because they ran all over the Bills and forced three turnovers.
Seattle’s defense seems to have gained a second wind in the last three games, and special teams have come up big in each contest as well. K.J. Wright, Chris Clemons, Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Red Bryant all have made huge plays. Assuming Sherman is suspended this week, the others will have to keep it going. Brandon Browner will return from his four-game suspension for the playoffs, and Marcus Trufant could return this week as well. As great as Sherman has been, if Bradley turns up the pressure on the road, the Hawks can withstand the loss of the star cornerback.
They certainly can win in Dallas or Washington. The trick will be to win in San Francisco or Green Bay after that — and then in Atlanta, where the Falcons are 7-0. The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2007 New York Giants and 2010 Packers all won three straight road games on the way to Super Bowl wins, so the Hawks know it can be done. Of course, they always could hope the 49ers stumble against Arizona in the finale and hand a home game to Seattle.
Or, if they end up with the No. 5 seed, as expected, the Hawks could hope the No. 6 seed knocks off the Falcons and sets up the NFC title game in Seattle.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.