By Chris Cluff
If it seems like the Seahawks just played this team a couple of weeks ago, they did. And they won easily.
When they face the Washington Redskins on Sunday, they will be facing a team that is in some ways very similar to the San Francisco club they drubbed 42-13 in Week 16. Not that this game will be as lopsided, being played in Maryland, after all. But the Hawks have experience with this kind of team.
The Redskins feature a run-first offense with a mobile quarterback and hard-nosed defense that is tough against the run. Yeah, just like the 49ers and Seahawks.
Robert Griffin III (aka RG3) and Russell Wilson (aka DangeRuss) have had stellar rookie seasons and will be just the second pair of rookie QBs to face each other in the playoffs — on the heels of Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and Houston’s T.J. Yates last season.
RG3 and DangeRuss are not just two of the best rookie QBs in the league; they are two of the very best QBs in the league — already.
Griffin’s passer rating of 102.4 is third in the league, and Wilson’s team-record 100 is fourth. Griffin has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Wilson has completed 64.1 percent for 3,118 yards, a rookie-record 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions
The teams are ranked first and third in rushing, thanks in part to their reliance on zone read plays that utilize the mobility of their quarterbacks.
While the Seahawks have been running the zone read option only since about midseason, the Redskins have been using it all year.
Coach Mike Shanahan said he and son Kyle, who is Washington’s offensive coordinator, decided to add the read option after they saw Griffin play at Baylor and were able to trade up in the draft to get him with the second overall pick.
“Once we drafted Robert, you could see what he could do in college running the zone read,” Shanahan told reporters. “And we talked about it at the time that we felt that he had the other thing that you look for in a quarterback. He had the arm strength. He had all the intangibles. He could make any throw.”
Add in the fact that the Skins have the league’s No. 2 rusher in rookie Alfred Morris, and the Hawks will have their hands full stopping the run.
Morris overtook Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch for the No. 2 spot behind Adrian Peterson in the final week, when he rushed for 200 yards and three scores on 33 carries against Dallas.
Morris ran for a Redskins-record 1,613 yards this season. Lynch had 1,590, which is third in franchise history behind Shaun Alexander’s totals in 2004 (1,696) and 2005 (1,880).
Suffice it to say that the team that can stop the other’s rushing game is likely to win.
Washington is the No. 5 defense against the run at just 95.8 yards per game, while the Hawks are 10th at 103.1 yards. The Redskins have been gashed before, though: Baltimore ran for 186 yards in Week 14. Meanwhile, the Hawks have tightened up against the run since the Dolphins rolled up 189 yards against them in Week 12.
The Hawks have fared well vs. Washington in the postseason, with Mike Holmgren knocking out Joe Gibbs’ teams twice. They beat Gibbs’ Redskins 20-10 in 2005 as the Hawks marched to the Super Bowl. Then they blew out Washington 35-14 in a wild-card game in 2007, which proved to be Gibbs’ final NFL game.
The Hawks are 1-9 on the road in the postseason over their history. But they have not gone one and done since the Rams bounced them in Seattle in 2004; they have advanced in all four playoff years since then. And they have won their last two road games this season, giving up 17 points in each. Plus, they play at 1:30 PT, which means they do not have to adjust their body clocks. So, the storyline about struggling on the road should not apply in this game.
One storyline that will apply is the “DeAngelo Hall is a chump” plot.
The cornerback has long been one of the league’s biggest punks, and he lived down to that reputation when the teams met last season, nearly inciting a pregame fight by talking trash at the coin toss. He really is one of the most classless players in the NFL — a major head case.
You can bet Wilson will beat Hall deep at least once. In fact, the Redskins give up over 280 passing yards per game. So this would seem to be Wilson’s game to win.
The key will be for Wilson to beat Jim Haslett’s blitzing defense.
The Hawks had issues against the Rams’ pressure (six sacks) and coverages last week, and they will have to be on their game up front this time. They are fortunate they do not have to see Brian Orakpo, who was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle in Week 2.
Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell told reporters pressure can be a problem at times. “It can creep up just like it did last week, and we were able to rectify it and get the communication squared away. And we did much better in the second half,” he said. “Going into this game, it’s the same thing.”
Haslett likes to send everyone at times, and then he uses confusing coverages. Bevell said Washington blitzed everyone nine times vs. Dallas last week.
“That adds a whole new facet to it,” Bevell said. “You have to either be able to get it protected, or get the ball out quick because they’re going to have one more than you have. So that’s something we’ll have to be prepared for. And then there’s some different coverages that they do behind their pressure that we’re going to have to be prepared for as well.”
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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.