The Seahawks seemed to enjoy their surroundings in Arizona on Sunday night, defeating the Cardinals convincingly, 35-6. The way they’re playing right now, a return trip in 6 weeks for the Super Bowl seems highly likely. The defense has allowed a total of 33 points over their last 5 games (6.6 per game). Against the Cardinals, the offense finally seemed to hit its stride too.
Dominating Up Front:
Seattle’s success on the ground in recent weeks was not due to the effectiveness of their offensive line. The big men up front had been struggling to stay on blocks and move the line of scrimmage. Much of their success came from Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch making great individual plays. That wasn’t the case on Sunday. The Seahawks’ offensive line handled Arizona in the trenches. Making this all the more impressive is that fact that the Cardinals have been a very good run defense all season.
Marshawn Lynch was his usual self despite an upset stomach. His 79-yard touchdown run was obviously ridiculous, as he displayed his power and deceptive lateral agility. Robert Turbin and Christine Michael are nice compliments to Lynch and bring a little more speed to the table. Seattle was running the ball well against Arizona even before Lynch came into the game in the 2nd quarter.
Wilson’s Impact on the Defense:
A week ago, the 49ers held Russell Wilson to just 27 yards on the ground. They did this mainly by using a “mush rush.” Defenders did not rush upfield like they would against a traditional pocket passer. They made sure to stay in front of Wilson instead, almost creating a wall. When they blitzed, outside rushers attacked Seattle’s tackles by pushing them back towards Wilson instead of using speed to get around the outside. All of this was done in an effort to prevent Wilson from having any escape lanes right in front of him.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, did not do a good job of containing Wilson. Defensive tackles rushed upfield past him, leaving huge lanes for him to take advantage of. When Wilson sees these, he almost always takes off running. He had two huge runs on Sundayfor 55 and 22 yards. Defenses can’t rush him like a normal quarterback.
The other element of these huge run plays was that the Cardinals played man coverage behind the rush. This meant that defenders were focused on their receivers, and their backs were turned to Wilson as a result. Once Wilson got by the defensive line, there was nothing but open space in front of him.
The Cardinals are a predominant man-coverage defense. However, on the same drive when Wilson burned them for 22 yards, Seattle faced a 3rd-and-8 from Arizona’s 15-yard line. This is normally a man-coverage situation for most defenses. It is especially a man situation for the Cardinals. However, they elected to play zone coverage on this play (soft zone) because they didn’t want to get burned with their defenders’ backs turned to Wilson again. The result was a wide-open receiver and an easy pitch and catch for a first down. Seattle scored a touchdown on the next play. This is great example of how Wilson impacts a defense.
This game wasn’t just about Russell Wilson’s legs. He also won through the air. The Cardinals went back to their blitzes and man coverages for the rest of the game after that 3rd-and-8. Wilson recognized the blitzes and spotted his advantageous 1-on-1 matchups – most notably, tight end Luke Willson versus linebacker Larry Foote. Wilson hit…Willson for two big plays in the 4th quarter, including a touchdown pass that put Seattle ahead 21-6. The first was against man blitz with no deep safety. The second was against man blitz with a lurk defender roaming the middle of the field and no deep safety. Each time, Wilson recognized the defense and identified the best match up. Each time, he threw a perfect touch pass to his tight end.
With the way Seattle’s defense is playing, if the offense can kick it into high gear like they did on Sunday night, it’s hard to imagine any team beating them. The Seahawks now have the inside track on the NFC’s number-1 seed. They also appear to have a very good chance of making a return trip to Arizona in February.