First, the good news: the Washington Redskins won their last seven games in a row to advance to the NFC Playoffs. Now, the bad news: they advance to face the Seattle Seahawks, the next hottest team in the conference, winners of seven of their last eight games. Add in the fact that the Seahawks knocked the Skins out of the playoffs in both of Washington’s most recent post-season games (2005 & 2007) and that might have some fans of the Burgundy & Gold on edge Sunday evening.
If you’re reading this page, you know all about the Redskins, led by Rookie of the Year candidate Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and veteran linebacker London Fletcher. The Skins lead the NFC in rushing yards per game and are second in the conference in points per game (27.2). But the Seahawks are sixth in the conference at 25.8 points per game, so they’re no slouch either. Their secret weapon is quarterback Russell Wilson, a fellow rookie that will certainly garner his share of ROY votes in the off-season.
Wilson is in the mold of RGIII, a gifted athlete with exceptional presence in the pocket. He’s thrown for 26 touchdowns (against just 10 interceptions), while rushing for 489 yards at a 5.2 per carry clip. Wilson is supported by RB Marshawn Lynch, who carried for 1590 yards and 11 touchdowns. On defense, they led the league in fewest points per game, allowing just 15.3 per contest, and ranked fourth in fewest yards allowed. Formidable, indeed.
The even matchup and relative hotness of both squads has many pundits proclaiming the winner of the 4:30 pm matchup as favorite to advance out of the NFC — if they don’t get beaten up too much by their opponent.
This is pretty heady stuff for a team that was 3-6 heading into their bye week and had their head coach declare that he was in evaluation phase the rest of the season.
Mike Shanahan was asked at practice this week if his young team would be affected by nerves heading into the team’s first playoff game since 2007. “It’s been seven games with a do-or-die situation. So I think our mindset has been the same. Great preparation during the week and you’ve got to go get it done on the weekend.”
He’ll ask his rookie quarterback and rookie running back to shoulder the load on offense, as he and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have all season. “We’ve got a little experience over the last few years with our offense. We’ve been able to put a nucleus of people together and with the addition of [quarterback] Robert [Griffin III] and [running back] Alfred [Morris] who have been able to make some strides.”
While Griffin has received the lion’s share of praise for this offense, Kyle Shanahan has beamed about the production from Morris, especially since the bye week. “For about six weeks in a row, I’ve told him that he needs to have his best game of the year today and I feel that he’s continued to do it. Each game, he’s gotten better. It is rare. It’s a long year, especially for a rookie, and he’s never hit that wall.
“The guy doesn’t seem to get too sore, either. He’s always in practice as soon as we go on Wednesday – takes every rep. We make fun of him because he won’t ever go walk-through tempo either. He’s always full-speed. We can’t get him to slow down. He’s always fresh and he’s very fun to coach.”
Perhaps the biggest matchup on Sunday will be between the Skins receiving corps and the Seahawks big, physical defensive backs. Kyle Shanahan described what made the matchup so difficult. “They’re very good at jamming guys. They’re very physical. They try to beat you up all the way down the field. They compete in the run and the pass game. They have a lot of confidence in them. They play a lot of single safety and they get after it.”
Both Seattle corners, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, had their troubles this season — but not on the field. Browner returns this week after serving a four-game suspension for PED use while Sherman avoided a PED suspension by successfully appealing to the league. Browner had 44 tackles, three picks and three forced fumbles in 12 games. Sherman had a dominant season, even if Pro Bowl voters didn’t see it that way, recording eight interceptions to go along with 64 tackles, one sack and three forced fumbles.
It will be imperative for the Skins wide receivers — especially Pierre Garcon — to give RGIII open targets early to allow Morris the opportunities to find the seams in the Seahawks run defense, which ranked 10th in the league in rushing yards.
The Redskins run to the playoffs — and the play of their two rookies on offense — has re-energized a long-dormant fan base. A playoff win in the duo’s first NFL playoff game might have FedEx in a frenzy Sunday evening. With the Green Bay Packers’ victory over the Minnesota Vikings Saturday, should the Redskins emerge victorious over the Seahawks they’d earn a trip to Atlanta to face a Falcons club that didn’t exactly light the world on fire down the stretch.
Big game, indeed.