I haven't watched the replay of the game as of yet - I hope to write something more in-depth later in the week - but first I wanted to pass along some quick ideas.
The Seahawks faced twelve third downs and converted only two. 2/12.
One third down conversion came on a 3rd and 5 and the other a 3rd and 9. One was a deep pass to Doug Baldwin and the other a Russell Wilson scramble, and both were in the 2nd half. They faced five 3rd down situations in the first half, and seven in the second half. The distances they faced on 3rd downs were fairly manageable:
2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 9, 9, 10, 15, 15
I would not say the situations the Seahawks found themselves in were easy, but Seattle did misfire on four of five 3rd-and-5 or less situations.
On Seattle's first touchdown drive, the Hawks never faced 3rd down, and the drive successfully concluded with the TD pass to Golden Tate. On the touchdown drive that ended with the Jermaine Kearse catch, Seattle failed to convert a 3rd and 3, but Russell converted the subsequent 4th and 3 via a scramble. Two plays later he hits Kearse at the left pylon.
Obviously, the Seahawks need to improve on third down. Going into the game they were 34% on 3rd down, which was good for 25th in the NFL. Their numbers will drop after the 2/12 performance on Sunday.
A typical Seahawks game features 12 third downs, and in the 2nd half of 2012 they averaged somewhere in between 5/12 or 6/12 on 3rd down. So, they don't need to convert five more opportunities per game, they really only need to convert 3-to-4 more opportunities versus the Colts game, or 1-to-2 more opportunities versus their "average" game.
Where can Seattle find these extra three plays per game? Perhaps one is just by simply getting Russell Okung back instead of having Paul McQuistan out on the edge. Not a scheme thing, just a pure talent upgrade. Pete Carroll mentioned that the reason he thought Seattle struggled so badly on 3rd down against Indy was because of issues with protection. Seattle could probably get another one by getting Unger back. Lemuel Jeanpierre has earned the praise of Carroll, but on 3rd down, the defense is always stunting and blitzing, and having Unger in there to diagnose and communicate can probably save another 3rd down in and of itself.
Lastly, Russell Wilson and the wide receivers need to make plays they can make. There were a few drops, a few questionable calls, but Wilson is missing on a few throws, and has been a bit "off" this year when compared to the second half of 2012. I know there is a big question about receivers getting separation and probably on some of the play design and route concepts - and I think there may be something to these as well - but it's likely a combination of three to four key things.
Seattle has to get better on 3rd down, and I think they will. Tennessee should give a perfect opportunity to forge some improvements on this critical down.
3rd down percentage - the long term view
When you saw Andrew Luck, you saw a QB who heated up on 3rd down in the second half, and a QB that has been good on 3rd down in 2013. This is why I think the Colts are the 2nd best team in the AFC and likely headed for a 1st round bye, along with Denver.
This was a good test for the Seahawks. I must confess, I don't think it is realistic to defensively dominate in the Playoffs after the Wild Card Round. The Seahawks need to feel the flow of a game like this. Passing has been on the rise, and Elite QB play is still the biggest story in the NFL, not the rise of the read option. Elite defenses can feast on lesser or average QBs, but I don't believe even the vaunted Legion of Boom is going to shut down the top-5 QBs in the NFL week-in and week-out and during the Playoffs. It doesn't mean the Seahawks can't beat these Elite QBs, though.
The Seahawks gave up 30 points to the Falcons. The 49ers had the 2nd best defense in 2012, and here is what they gave up on their way to the Super Bowl:
31 points in a win over Green Bay.
24 points in a win over Atlanta.
34 points in loss to the Ravens in the Super Bowl.
If the Seahawks are going to go deep in the Playoffs, they are likely going to face the likes of the Packers, Saints, Colts or Broncos. They are not guaranteed to play the game at home, and the Super Bowl is essentially a road game. The Seahawks lost 34-28 to the Colts. They lost 30-28 to the Falcons. I don't think it's wise to go into the playoffs and think "there is NO WAY the opponent scores 30 points on THIS defense- the 'LOB,'"
Assuming Seattle gets there, I think the Seahawks need to go into the Playoffs thinking "we need to go score 30+ points." Against good QBs, when the Seahawks forced three punts to start the game and created a sack fumble - that may be all you get against the likes of Brees, Luck or Peyton Manning. They are going to have at least two TD drives, maybe three or more minimum before the game is over. Holding teams to a field goal on the other drives is considered a win for the defense against elite QBs.
I am not saying the Seahawks can't win a big playoff game 24-14 or 17-14, but I think the offense has to go in with a mentality that the other QB is really good, and the Seahawks need to put up 30+ points. They are capable of doing it - take care of the ball, go 5/12 or 6/12 on 3rd down and that already speaks to your red zone conversion to a degree. The Seahawks will likely run the ball and hit some explosives on 1st and 2nd down. The defense should force a turnover or two. Special teams are typically strong under Carroll. If the Seahawks take care of business in all three phases, that game should be 36-34 at worst, but perhaps something more like 41-28 or something of that order.
It's all related, the best 3rd down teams in 2012, which included New Orleans, Denver and New England were also some of the top scoring teams in the NFL.