by Casey Mabbott, via Oregon Sports News
The last time Seattle hosted a playoff game, it was January of 2017, when they faced the Detroit Lions on Wild Card weekend. Seattle won the game 26-6, advancing to the divisional round and losing 20-36 to the eventual NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons. Seattle missed the playoffs the following season, and lost to the Cowboys in the 2018 playoffs 22-24. Last year, they won in Philadelphia in the wild card round 17-9, before losing at Green Bay in the divisional round 23-28.
Which brings us to the present, and their first playoff game of the 2020 season, which just so happens to take place in Seattle. I’ll give you two guesses how many playoff games Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson have lost in Seattle. Actually I’ll just tell you – zero. They have lost on the road occasionally, but you will not find a single home playoff loss in five home games dating back to the 2013 postseason. Sure it’s a small sample size, but undefeated at home is the same regardless if it’s one game or five or one hundred. Seattle plays better in Seattle, period.
You have to go all the way back to the 2004 postseason to find the last time the Seahawks lost a playoff game at home, and the somewhat unsettling part is that it was to the (then) St Louis Rams. Seattle’s opponent this week? The (now) LA Rams. The main difference (other than where the teams are located) back then was that Seattle went 0-3 against the Rams that year, and they are an even 1-1 this year and have beaten the Rams in Seattle in the last two installments in the series, after a brutal stretch where the Rams won a seemingly endless amount of games whether they were hosting or visiting the Seahawks. If this game were taking place in LA, you would have plenty of cause for alarm. It’s happening in Seattle though, so you should have some level of confidence that the Seahwks will protect their home turf.
You’ll hear and see a lot this week (or already have) about how good these two defenses are, and they are that good. Don’t fret over comparing the season long stats, the last month of the season is the most telling, and these were two of the most brutal defenses the NFL had to offer in December and the first weekend of January. They can shutdown the run, they can rush the passer, they can cover receivers and force them off their routes, they can keep you out of the endzone, they can rob you of the ball, they can keep you very, very far out of your comfort zone.
In short, these two defenses can and usually do make life a nightmare for opposing offenses. The offenses, while talented and extremely capable, are just not on the same level as their defenses and will need to find success this week if they want to survive. You can bet that no matter who wins, it’s going to be a brutal battle.
These two teams played to a 6-6 stalemate in the first half in their recent game in Seattle, before the Seahawks scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half to win 20-9 and lock up the division title. Rams QB Jared Goff injured his thumb on his throwing hand in the loss, the injury forced Goff to miss last week’s season finale as he was getting the thumb surgically repaired, and it’s up in the air if he will be playing this week. Rams head coach Sean McVay has stated he will not name a starter ahead of the game, so the Seahawks won’t know until game time which QB they are preparing for – Goff, or backup John Wolford who has just one NFL game of film to study.
I know what you’re thinking, we’ve seen this movie before. In week 13, backup QB Colt McCoy led the New York Giants into Seattle and left with a shocking 17-12 upset victory. But that’s not going to happen again even if Wolford does start, regardless of how similar the matchup might appear on paper. That game helped Seattle turn the corner, as stunning losses often do for good teams. It’s the wake up call good players need, to remind them of how hard they have to play every single week to be on the level of the best of the best in this league. That kind of loss isn’t going to happen again, not this season at least, this team is too proud and battle tested to allow it. Seattle knows they are not talented enough to win on talent alone. If they want to win as many as four more games before calling it a season, they’ll need to be the team that executes the best every single week, no excuses.
That’s not to say they don’t have a chance to be on the losing end of a close game in these playoffs, every team’s season could end at the drop of a hat every week. It’s the drama that single elimination tournaments create, we all know our team can be sent home until next season with each game. While Seattle has had good luck in the wild card round, they have not advanced to the NFC Championship game since 2014, so while they have good odds to advance to the divisional round, there’s an argument to be made for either side as to whether they can pass that test when the time comes. In Russell Wilson’s career, he’s only been one and done in the playoffs one time, losing at Dallas in 2017, so it would be a huge letdown for Seattle to get just one shot in the playoffs. But as discussed previously, that’s always a potential possibility regardless of the hopes and dreams of the teams playing the game.
Aside from Goff’s status, the biggest looming question for this matchup is if we will see Seattle safety Jamal Adams make his postseason debut. Adams left last week’s tilt with San Francisco with an injured shoulder, and while his chances to play this week looked grim, he has stated he intends to play no matter what. We’ll see if he gets clearance from the medical staff, but it wouldn’t be the first time a star player played through an injury to keep his team’s season alive. You can bet Carroll wants Adams out there just as much as McVay wants Goff leading the offense. Both of these coaches are some of the ultimate strategists, so you can’t take anything for granted, especially if it’s with the season on the line. Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth is looking like he might be playing this week, after spending the last several weeks recovering from tearing the MCL and PCL in his knee. I’m not sure how great a blindside blocker with a bad knee and a QB with a bad thumb will look, but if they are in the game they must be able to play through the pain or are at least marginally better than their backups even at less than 100%.
The best one on one matchup to watch this week is Jalen Ramsey against DK Metcalf, and in two matchups this season Ramsey has sent Metcalf to the Phantom Zone – and nothing the game film has shown suggests that round three will be any different. Ramsey is the closest thing to Revis Island we have seen in recent years, and the dude just doesn’t get beat often. He gets in your head and stays on your hip, and contests nearly any pass thrown your way. It has rendered Metcalf to a non-factor in their two matchups this season, which has made Wilson look to other receivers for help, and they have not been overly successful in doing so, but a win is a win no matter how it happens. If the offense doesn’t score at all and the defense wins the game 2-0 on a safety to close it out, that’s just fine.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will need to stay balanced in his play calls and avoid going for the kill too early. You need to stretch the defense and throw deep occasionally if nothing other than to get the opposing side to hold their breath for a play or two, but you don’t want to take shots at plays that just aren’t there. We’ve seen this Seattle team maddeningly drag out a first half full of head scratching plays only to come out swinging in the third quarter. Here’s a thought, why don’t they play balanced in the first half and not have to make up for lost time in the second half? Sure it could be that they just aren’t adjusting to what the defense is showing, but it could also be that they aren’t playing to their strengths early enough. Granted it’s never that simple in the playoffs and definitely not against your division rival that knows every little secret you think no one else knows. Seattle can only claw their way out of so many early deficits, the playoffs are not the time to lean on your ability to make comebacks.
Play to your strengths, sustain long drives, and end them with points. That’s the best way to put pressure on your opponent, and pressure often leads to mistakes and extra possessions. That’s how Seattle closed out their last game against LA, and it’s exactly how they should start this one. The Rams know what Seattle can do, the best thing that Seattle can do this weekend is prove it.
And most importantly? Win. As the number three seed, barring a loss by the Saints to the Beats, this is the last game Seattle will host this season. Might as well make it count by sending your bitter rival home early and surviving to see another game next week.
You can catch the game this Saturday afternoon on Fox, kickoff is scheduled for 1:40pm but the playoffs are a little different, they usually don’t start the afternoon game until the morning game is over. So if Buffalo hosting Indianapolis runs a little long, don’t be surprised if they push this game back a bit.