Last year, the Seattle Seahawks made it to the Wild Card round of the playoffs, and lost to the NFC East champion.
This year, the Seahawks returned to the first round of the playoffs and have emerged victorious. Against the NFC East champion.
So what was the difference?
Not at all what many might have expected.
In fact, there were hardly any differences at all.
Like the two games were eerily similar.
Much of the conversation last January centered around Seattle’s rigid commitment to the run game against a Dallas defense that shut it down. That’s right, three links in one sentence because it’s so easy to look up that tired old argument.
So when Seattle comes out of the win over the Philadelphia Eagles despite a pitiful rushing game, one would be tempted to assume that the Hawks listened to the detractors of 2018-19 and reschemed in order to win, right?
Let’s break down the stats, Seahawks on the left, enemies on the right. See if you can tell which game was which.
A Tale of Two Playoffs (I didn’t say halves)
Here’s what got me - even the opponent 3rd down conversion rates were nearly identical. That was one of the things I thought Dallas used to shred Seattle.
If you haven’t put it together yet, the loss to Dallas was Game 1, the win over Philly Game 2. Seattle managed two more carries this week to gain nine less yards than last year’s loss. They ran five more plays, so it was two runs and three passes ahead of last year - strangely similar.
The list gets pretty long if we compare near identical stats between the two playoff games.
It’s like the Seahawks played both games
- Rushing yards - already covered
- Rushing TDs - one apiece
- Sacks - exactly the same, one for seven yards
- Offensive turnovers - zero apiece
- Time of Possession - a minute and a half different; statistically insignificant
- Fourth down conversions - actually better last year, going two for two
Russell Wilson’s line was pretty similar as well
- 18-27 last time vs 18-30 this time
- One TD apiece
- No interceptions
Tons of similarities. In fact, the biggest statistical difference was actually the amount of penalties in this Sunday’s victory. Seattle was penalized an atrocious 11 times for 114 yards. Half of that was Jacob Hollister Bradley McDougald and Germain Ifedi, I think the other half was Tre Flowers by himself.
So was anything different?
Here’s three that jump out.
1) Russell Wilson was way more efficient, which is apparently what he’s very good at. Since people were very mad that Russ was not allowed to be Russ last January, it’s a very good thing that the coaches let him throw the ball much further each time he threw the ball this year.
But on the same number of completions Wilson achieved 10.8 yards per attempt against the Eagles, compared to 8.6 yards per attempt against the Cowboys. The active leader in yards per attempt sits at 7.9 and it’s.....Russell Wilson. So he’s really good, but this Sunday he was really really good.
Playcalling against the Philadelphia man coverage was phenomenal, and Metcalf is simply a better receiver at what he does than any Wilson has ever had.
I’m told this is a good football play:
That’s 53 yards on a release time of 2.5s almost on the nose. That did not exist last year. Even as good as Tyler Lockett is, generally requires a bit more time to get open that deep. Now there’s a massive problem for defenses on deep routes in two distinct fashions.
2) Third down conversions. Here’s one you can hang your hat on if you want to die on the hill of 2019 playcalling ruined Seattle - every single third down play for the Hawks this Sunday was a pass. Every one. And Russell ruled the day. The only exception was his 18 yard scramble that came because the entire
backup left side of the offensive line gave out and Wilson found huge grass up the right side.
But here Seattle was 8-15 as opposed to 2-13 in the Dallas loss. That’s above league average by a wide margin, and is a very good way to win some football games.
Not only that, but my my count six of the completed third downs were explosive plays (20 yards receiving or 10 yards rushing). Three to Metcalf, two to Moore, and Wilson’s scramble.
Seeing as how it sure felt like the two big third down gains by the Cowboys last postseason wrecked the whole game, one can imagine what this does to a defense and a fanbase watching this happen over and over and...
3) The run defense was better.
That was not a typo.
This is not to say that Seattle has a good run defense; they don’t.
Alternatively - Problem with McCown in the game is they'll run more and the Seahawks run defense is terrible.— Mookie Alexander (@mookiealexander) January 5, 2020
For the record the above definitely happened. Including McCown himself, which made no sense on any level.
But Seattle got hit for 4.6 yards per carry this go around as opposed to 4.8 against Dallas. It’s not much, but it’s worth noting. Ezekiel Elliott and Co. were also able to work the clock more, stay on the field longer, and just do terrible things, as 34 attempts and 162 yards is really bad, even by this new Seahawks’ standard.
Differences in this area were as confusing as the Seattle season defensively.
I thought Bradley McDougald was really good, when he wasn’t getting penalties. He had two very valuable tackles for loss and led the team in total tackles.
Jadeveon Clowney picked a quarter and a half to turn off his core pain and wreck dudes, and it was very pleasing to the eye.
Lano Hill did not play and that was a good thing.
Cody Barton continues to not be bad.
And then getting seven sacks in a game also makes running the ball much more difficult, so a tribute to the defensive front seven all around.
The Seattle defense will continue to be infuriating, and will probably be the thing that keeps them from advancing, if they are unable to maintain the jet fuel in Metcalf’s jetpack against better teams than the Eagles.
But a win is a win, statistics are surprising, the NFL is weird, and the weather currently shows 28 degrees with no snow in Green Bay on Sunday.