Carlin: Seattle one of the few teams that can match the Redskins on the ground
What: Seahawks (11-5) at Redskins (10-6), wild card round
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
When: Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live: Comcast SportsNet, 3 p.m. and immediately following the game.
Outlook: The Redskins’ signature this season has been an innovative offense that has, at times, confounded defenses. Led by Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, the unit leads the NFL in rushing yards, ranks fourth in points per game (27.3) and has hung 31 or more points on seven opponents.
On Sunday, though, they’ll face a Seattle team that’s proven to be as stingy as Washington has been prolific.
The Seahawks have yielded a league low 15.3 points per game (second place San Francisco has allowed 17.1) and ranks in the top-10 in most other statistical categories.
In short, this wild card matchup – the Redskins’ first postseason game since being eliminated by the Seahawks in the same round five seasons ago – figures to be the toughest challenge RG3 and Redskins’ pistol offense has faced.
“They don’t try to fool you,” Coach Mike Shanahan said of the Seahawks’ stout 4-3 scheme. “They know what they’re going to do. That’s usually the sign of a great defense. They come out and play harder and more consistent than the [opposing] offense. …Everybody knows what they’re doing, and that’s dominating the line of scrimmage.”
Led by linebacker Bobby Wagner (140 tackles), end Chris Clemons (11.5 sacks) and an oversized and athletic front four, the Seahawks’ run defense has yielded 103.1 yards per game (10th) and only 80.5 the past two games.
“They have depth on the defensive line,” Shanahan added. “They’re very powerful, very quick. It’s a good challenge.”
The Seahawks also boast arguably the NFL’s hardest-hitting secondary. Bookended by two of the league’s tallest cornerbacks – 6 foot 4 Brandon Browner and 6-3 Richard Sherman – and backed up by safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, the unit is allowing a scant 203 yards through the air per contest (6th-best). Browner will return Sunday from a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs.
“There’s some throws that you throw that maybe a normal, six-foot corner might not get to, but because these guys are so tall, they can get to those balls,” Griffin said. “You just have to be aware of that.”
Kyle Shanahan added: “There’s not really a weak link personnel-wise on their team.”
The Seahawks’ defense has also been outstanding at getting the ball back into the hands of quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, the team's primary threats on offense. In the past four games, in fact, the unit has forced 14 turnovers as Seattle extended its winning streak to five in a row.
As daunting as the Redskins’ task sounds, they do have potentially significant advantage: The Seahawks haven’t faced an offense as sophisticated as Washington’s, nor have they lined up against a one-two punch as lethal as Griffin and Morris.
“It’s going to be a great game,” Wilson said.
Indeed, it should be.
For more on the teams’ top-ranked ground attacks, click here. For a closer look at Griffin and Wilson and how the rookies got to this game, click here. And for three more areas the crew at CSNWashington.com will be monitoring Sunday, keep reading.
- The health of starting left guard Kory Lichtensteiger.
He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday because of the sprained left ankle he suffered against the Cowboys. His status for the Seahawks likely won’t be announced until Sunday morning at the earliest.
If Lichtensteiger doesn’t suit up, he’ll be replaced by rookie Josh LeRibeus. It also would figure to disrupt the chemistry along an offensive line that has been critical to the Redskins’ success on the ground.
- Stopping Marshawn Lynch. He’s helped carry the Seahawks’ offense this season, rushing for 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he’s on a roll, gaining 100 or more yards in each of the past four games.
At 5-11, 215 pounds, Lynch is a load. He’s hard to wrap up and, when he gets into space, he’ll use his elite speed to outrun defenders.
The Redskins rank fifth against the run, yielding only 95.8 yards per game. This, obviously, would be bad time to slip up in that department.
- Solid on special teams. Assistant Coach Danny Smith’s unit had been mostly solid of late – until last week against Dallas, that is. Punter Sav Rocca was flagged for a facemask penalty on a long return in the fourth quarter and kicker Kai Forbath missed his first kick of the season, a 37-yarder early. Forbath also did not put any of his kickoffs into the end zone.
That could be a problem Sunday. Seattle’s Leon Washington ranks second in the NFL with an average of 29 yards per kickoff return and has returned one kick for a touchdown.