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I would hope that every Seattle fan who lived through or saw Beast Quake is smart enough to recognize that either of these teams is capable of playing well above or below its norm. Take nothing for granted and just enjoy the game.
I believe Seattle is the better team. If that makes me a homer, so be it. Homer or not, I'm definitely not dumb. It's a difficult enough matchup and a path to a Redskin victory is obvious. It involves Robert Griffin making everyone else around him better.
1. The task facing Seattle's defense is making RGIII take the checkdown. Much easier blogged than done, certainly. Defending RGIII is about keeping him in jail, limiting his ability to create opportunities for others. RGIII first took my breath away as a freshman at Baylor, when his unknown Bears nearly defeated my ranked, Chase Daniel-led 2008-09 Mizzou Tigers in what was supposed to be a cakewalk. His ability to get to the edge and make plays from there was special then, and that was before he really developed into the kind of pocket passer he is now. He is one of a handful of NFL players who can get hot and there is nothing a defense can do. He's also in the perfect offense to curb his excesses and shield him from big negative plays.
Riding a hot RGIII is the Skins' surest path to victory. (Well, duh.) Even more than a 125 yd. day from Alfred Morris. As we saw with Teddy Bridgewater in the Sugar Bowl a few nights ago, a hot QB can make an excellent defense look downright silly.
It's a safe assumption that Griffin will come out hot. Regardless of whether he does, the key remains the same. Force RGIII to give the ball away and force the supporting cast to make the special plays on their own. Washington's WRs and TEs are solid, competent guys. They're not as good as Seattle's starters but they are deeper as a unit. If this defense is going to limit Washington, and it is as well-equipped as ANY defense in the league to do so, it must force Garcon, Hankerson, Moss, Davis, and Paulsen to catch balls facing the line of scrimmage and then to make plays in traffic. That's where big plays on defense can come from. If they beat us on tough catches and great runs, so be it.
2. Seattle was built to win this game--on offense. Even if Seattle's defense is really on its game it will only limit Washington from getting its normal numbers, not shut them out. A defensive win for Seattle on Sunday is putting the ball in the offense's hands to close out the game. Ignore all the other hype. I have yet to see any analysis suggest anything other than this about Washington's defense: it is mediocre-to-bad on pretty much every important measure. And it's alleged late-season defensive improvement is as likely as not the product of an easier schedule. (Look at the defensive yards per pass attempt and per rush in four game blocks in Hawkblogger's excellent analysis.)
3. The first and third quarter are "coaching" quarters. The second and fourth are about execution and depth. Game planning and strategy matter most early and after the half. Let's not front. You have to like Shanahan's resume over Carroll's in a playoff game. Although Carroll is not going to embarrass himself, he is more likely to get outcoached in this game. But on the flip side, short of some Arizona-style turnover-fueled mayhem, Seattle should be able to impose its will physically. A close game favors Seattle as the athletically deeper and more physical team. Shanny's no dummy. He will do everything possible to score early. Washington realistically has to play from out in front. Seattle fans have to like their chances in a 10 point game--ahead or behind--going into the fourth quarter.
4. Playoff games turn on unexpected players making explosive plays as much as "great" players making them. The presumed underdog typically has to own the explosive plays (20+ yards) to pull off an upset. I love Seattle's chances to make explosive plays in any phase (offense, defense, special teams). I can see Washington making them on offense, but not really in any other area. But then, that's what would make one unexpected.
I never make predictions in these things -- not in a parity-driven league. I have yet to see a case that Washington is a significantly better team in any phase, and yet that tells us nothing about what will happen Sunday night other than giving us a rough sense of the odds. I would hope that every Seattle fan who lived through or saw Beast Quake is smart enough to recognize that either of these teams is capable of playing well above or below its norm. Take nothing for granted and just enjoy the game.