NFL Team Report - Seattle Seahawks - INSIDE SLANT
The Seattle Seahawks traveled a much different road in the 2014 season than in 2013.
But they ultimately ended up in the same place -- atop the NFC West and holding the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
A 20-6 win over the St. Louis Rams capped a six-game winning streak to end the season and complete a turnaround from a midseason slump that saw Seattle at 6-4 following a loss to Kansas City on Nov. 16.
At that point, the Seahawks were three games behind the Arizona Cardinals and some questioned whether the Seahawks would even make the playoffs.
Instead, the Seahawks are now regarded by many as the favorite to again win it all.
"It's such a big accomplishment," said a beaming Seattle coach Pete Carroll. "There was a time when we were 3-3. Just five weeks ago we were three games out of the lead. So to win the division and be NFC West champs is a really big deal."
Some players said they thought this season's title meant even more given all the ups and downs of the season, which included the shocking Percy Harvin trade after the fifth game.
"What I like about our team this year, it's under different circumstances," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "I think it's a little bit better because you're 3-3 and people are doubting. And there's no doubt in our locker room. We believe in each other. ... I think to come back and show the resilience that we have and the type of players we have, I'm in this year."
Seattle's six-game winning streak was spurred by a defense that ended the season playing at a level that had it being compared to some of the great defensive units in NFL history.
Seattle allowed just 39 points in its final six games, and no touchdowns in the last 10 quarters. Seattle gave up only two field goals against the Rams, one coming on a zero-yard drive following a turnover and the other on a short field following a penalty on a punt.
Seattle ended up leading the NFL in total defense at 267.1 yards per game -- 33.8 yards ahead of second-place Detroit --- and in points per game at 15.9, almost two full points ahead of second-place Kansas City (17.6).
Carroll pointed to a meeting after the Kansas City game as a turning point for the defense.
"It's really been the elevation of the defense, for the most part," he said of the team's second-half surge. "We were lagging behind with our performance level. We're better than that.
"We just kind of got waylaid along the way. We had things going on in this team that we needed to overcome and grow through. And we did."
Now, Seattle is in the same spot it was a year ago -- needing just two home wins to get to the Super Bowl.
It's the third time in franchise history Seattle has been in this position; in 2005 and 2013, the Seahawks made it to the Super Bowl.
"I think the way we're playing right now we're trying to separate ourselves from anybody, really," defensive end Cliff Avril said. "We're just trying to play team ball. If we can do that, the sky is the limit for this team."
Seattle will have to wait to begin that trip to the sky until Jan. 10, though, after getting a bye this weekend. Seattle will host Arizona, Detroit or Carolina in the divisional round.
NFL Team Report - Seattle Seahawks - NOTES, QUOTES
--2015 OPPONENTS: Home: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers. Away: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals.
--The division title was the seventh for Seattle since 2004 and the ninth for the franchise dating to its inception in 1976. It was the third in five years under coach Pete Carroll.
--Seattle's 12-4 record tied with the 1984 team as the third best in franchise history behind 13-3 marks in 2005 and 2013.
--RB Marshawn Lynch finished with 1,306 yards, the second-best of his career, on 280 carries, tying the fourth-most. He had 1,246 yards on 301 carries last season.
--QB Russell Wilson finished with 849 yards rushing, the sixth-most in NFL history for a quarterback, after being held to a season-low seven yards by the Rams.
--Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was linked immediately to three coaching jobs on Black Monday -- the Jets, 49ers and Falcons. The Jets reportedly will interview Quinn on Saturday in Seattle. Coach Pete Carroll said only that teams had been calling about Quinn.
NFL Team Report - Seattle Seahawks - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DT Jordan Hill suffered a sprained knee against the Rams a few minutes after making an interception that turned the game. But coach Pete Carroll said there was no significant damage and that Hill has a chance to play in the first playoff game.
--S Jeron Johnson, a key special teams player, dislocated his elbow late in the game but also may have a chance to return for the playoffs.
--LB K.J. Wright dislocated his finger but will be able to play in the playoffs.
--WR Jermaine Kearse sat out against the Rams after he suffered a hamstring injury while working in kickoff coverage the previous week against Arizona. He is expected to return for the playoffs.
--CB Tharold Simon (shoulder) is also expected back for the playoffs.
--TE Cooper Helfet sat out against the Rams with a rib injury but is expected back for the playoffs.
--C Max Unger missed his sixth straight game against the Rams with a sprained ankle but is expected back for the playoffs.
--DL Demarcus Dobbs who suffered an ankle sprain at Philadelphia, was inactive again against the Rams. But he could be back for the playoffs.
REPORT CARD VS. RAMS
--PASSING OFFENSE: B -- The passing game was erratic early as the Seahawks had trouble protecting quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw just his second interception since Nov. 9 on a hurried throw in the second quarter. Seattle was playing without starting WR Jermaine Kearse, who was out with a hamstring injury, and that put the onus on rookies Kevin Norwood and Paul Richardson to contribute more. Each did specifically in the second half when the offense and the passing game began to click more. Wilson was 7 of 8 in the third quarter as Seattle scored on its first three possessions of the second half. Richardson had a 32-yard catch to set up one score and Norwood a 31-yarder on third down to set up another. The interior of Seattle's offensive line had a particularly tough time with St. Louis' rush. And tight end Luke Willson dropped two catchable passes.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- It's never easy for Seattle to run on the Rams, and it wasn't in this game as St. Louis did a particularly good job of containing Wilson, who was held to a season-low seven yards on six attempts. It took a while for Marshawn Lynch to get going as he sat out one series early in the game. But he eventually turned in a workman-like game with 60 yards on 14 carries. With Lynch out for a while early, third-year back Robert Turbin picked up the slack; he had 53 yards on 11 carries, each season highs.
--PASS DEFENSE: A-minus -- Shaun Hill completed 26 of 37 passes. But none went for more than 20 yards as the Seahawks again expertly executed their plan of keeping everything in front and inside. And the pass rush got better as the game wore on, which helped force one of the interceptions when Hill tried to throw the ball away on an aborted screen pass and instead threw it right to defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who made a diving interception to set up the first Seahawks' touchdown. A few minutes later, linebacker Bobby Wagner tipped a pass out of the hands of Lance Kendricks and into the arms of teammate Bruce Irvin, who returned it 49 yards for a touchdown that made it 20-6. Safety Earl Thomas also had one of his best days of the season, including forcing a fumble for a touchback late in the fourth quarter.
--RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus -- Another solid performance in this area for the Seahawks, who held the Rams to 42 yards on 19 carries, with none longer than 13. The Rams had just 15 yards on 13 carries in the first half, none longer than six. Seattle finished the season with better run defense numbers than last season, allowing just 81.5 yards per game. The run defense stiffened considerably the last six weeks after the return of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who missed five games at midseason with a toe injury. Wagner had another solid day Sunday, with 10 tackles, while Thomas led all players with 12.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Special teams had pretty much been the difference when the Rams beat the Seahawks 28-26 in St. Louis in October, which included a trick 90-yard punt return for a touchdown for the home team. Seattle was determined to not let that happen again and played conservatively early, leaving its defense on the field for the first two punt returns. Ultimately, special teams were not much of a factor in the game. One good sign for Seattle was a return to form by kicker Steven Hauschka, who missed three kicks the previous week against Arizona but made both attempts against the Rams -- each in the third quarter after Seattle trailed 6-0 at halftime.
--COACHING: B-plus -- So, should there be concern that Seattle started slowly in a game in which it had so much riding on the line? Probably not. Seattle dominated the first half statistically but was sloppy on offense with two turnovers -- by two of its most trusted players in Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. Probably just one of those things. But the first quarter ended up being the worst for Seattle this season, the Seahawks outscoring foes just 67-57 (the Seahawks outscored opponents by at least 30 points in each of the three other quarters). The bigger picture is that the Seahawks again made the adjustments they needed to pull away late and get every regular-season goal a team can.
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