Seahawks/Broncos Preview (Super Bowl XLVIII)

29 Jan

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Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks (NFC Champion) vs. Denver Broncos (AFC Champion)

Site: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, New Jersey)

Kickoff: 3:25pm

The Seahawks made sure that the terrible feeling that followed their Divisional playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons last season would not happen again. After earning a 13-3 record, an NFC West championship and their second NFC championship, the Seahawks are heading to what FOX Sports has dubbed the “biggest, boldest, and coldest event in history.” The Seahawks will face the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday afternoon. With a victory the Seahawks will earn their first ever world championship along with the Vince Lombardi trophy. The Broncos lead the all-time series with the Seahawks 34-19. Their last meeting game in 2010 in Denver where the Broncos crushed the Seahawks 31-14 in what has remained the hottest (temperature) regular season home game in Broncos history. That meeting in 2010 was Pete Carroll’s second ever game as Seahawks head coach. In the 68 regular season and postseason games since, the Seahawks hold a .603 winning percentage. This is also Seattle and Denver’s second ever meeting in the playoffs. This is what to look for and what the Seahawks must do in order to become world champions.

Many wondered if Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning would choke once again in this year’s playoffs but when you are not sacked through your first two playoff games it obviously makes it easier to complete your throws, move the ball, and score points. This is the primary reason why Denver’s offense has been so successful in this year’s playoffs and it is up to the Seahawks defense to change this narrative on Sunday. Putting consistent pressure on Manning will be a big priority. In Seattle’s two playoff games this season defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has used both Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett on one side of the ball while using linebacker Bruce Irvin as a spy to read where the quarterback may be looking to throw. This strategy will be used on Sunday but I would like to see an addition to our pass rush. Chris Clemons has gone unnoticed over the past few games and he has not recorded a sack since playing San Francisco in week 14. The Seahawks cannot afford to let Peyton Manning have ample time to make his throws so a heavier dose of pass rush could make it challenging for Manning to get comfortable.

It is time for Percy Harvin to make his $12 million salary this week. Harvin, who was sidelined in the NFC Championship Game while recovering from a concussion, is listed as probable this week and head coach Pete Carroll has said Harvin will be a full go. Harvin will not be limited on offense and he will also return kicks for the first time this season. There is one example of Harvin’s explosiveness that really gets me excited to wonder about his impact in Super Bowl XLVIII. Before he exited the NFC Divisional playoff game against New Orleans, the Seahawks ran a fly sweep with Harvin with the ball deep in New Orleans territory. Harvin took the snap from Russell Wilson and ran around the right side of the line for 9 yards before stepping out of bounds. It was the fastest I have seen a Seahawks receiver run all season long. This play has truly opened my eyes to what our potential on offense is this week. Throwing in Harvin’s direction is a tactic that I do not believe Denver is ready for. Look for Harvin to be a major player in the bubble screen game this week and I also would not be surprised to see him line up at obscure position such as at running back. As far as kickoffs go, I really hope Harvin gets a chance to return one, unlike against the Saints when Shayne Graham’s kickoffs went for touchbacks. If Harvin busts a kickoff return for a large gain, it will send positive shockwaves throughout the entire team and will put the Seahawks in great position for Russell Wilson to lead scoring drives.

I am a firm believer in sticking with a game plan that carried you into a position like playing in the Super Bowl. However after watching film of the Denver Broncos I believe there is a facet of our offense that if we turn loose, could have significant positive consequences. Over the course of the regular season the Denver Broncos played 4 games against teams with running quarterbacks; 2 against Terrelle Pryor and the Oakland Raiders, one against Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, and one against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins. In those 4 games, opposing quarterback kept the ball and ran a combined 26 times for 133 yards, an average of 5.1 yards per carry. The Broncos played a limited number of games against running quarterbacks and the Denver defense practices on a daily basis against a quarterback who is the furthest thing away from a running quarterback. I think that this could be the right time for Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to call a heavy read-option package for Russell Wilson to keep the Broncos defense guessing. If Wilson keeps at least 5 times the Seahawks will add solid numbers in the running game but if the Seahawks have Wilson run and the read-option continues to be highly effective, 5-10 rushes by Wilson would not be surprising to me. The read-option is an intriguing wrinkle in our playbook that could give us serious momentum and go a long way in controlling the tempo of the entire game.

The biggest storyline in regards to the Denver Broncos this week is their record-setting offense against the Seattle defense, in particular the Legion of Boom. The Broncos have four weapons at the skill positions in wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Eric Decker, along with tight end Julius Thomas; all of which have proven to be reliable targets and they all have the potential to put up big numbers if they can get open. If they can get open. Even if the Seahawks can stop Knowshon Moreno and the Denver running game they still have to deal with Peyton Manning. The key for the Broncos offense is for the offensive line to give Manning time to make his reads and make his throws because if Manning has time he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when it comes to picking apart opposing defenses. This is why one of my three X-Factor players to watch for the Denver Broncos this week is left tackle Chris Clark. Clark started 14 of Denver’s 16 regular season games and both of Denver’s playoff games. Clark replaced an injured Ryan Clady shortly into the 2013 season but has emerged as one of the best pass blocking tackles in football, ranking in the top 10 in pass blocking efficiency according to Pro Football Focus. The Broncos can beat the Seahawks solely through the air which makes Knowshon Moreno’s potential impact on the game an added bonus for Denver. If the Broncos can run the ball effectively against the Seattle run defense, this could put Denver in a great position to win the game.

The Broncos defense has one huge mission this week and that is to stop the Seahawks running game, especially running back Marshawn Lynch. The Broncos have the 8th best running defense in the league, holding opposing teams to just under 102 rushing yards per game. Given Seattle’s recent struggles in the passing game, stopping Lynch will likely determine the outcome of the game. In recent days many people have discussed the importance of the role Broncos defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton will have in stopping the run game but there are other players to watch out for that will also play key roles in stopping Marshawn Lynch. My first of two X-Factor players to watch on defense this week is the Broncos leading tackler, linebacker Danny Trevathan. From the linebacker position, Trevathan really can stretch the field and contribute in all facets of the defensive game plan. He leads the team in tackles with 128, he has 2 quarterback sacks, and when Trevathan drops into coverage he has 10 passes defensed and 3 interceptions. Although he is an outside linebacker, Trevathan is the Bobby Wagner of the Denver defense. He commands the huddle and his play on the field makes him one of the best linebackers in the league. My second X-Factor player to watch on the Broncos defense is a man that may not produce the flashiest stat sheet come Sunday night but he has had recent familiarity and success playing against the Seahawks, linebacker Paris Lenon. Lenon played the Seahawks twice last season while with the Arizona Cardinals and he recorded the second most tackles among all Cardinals defenders in the first of those two meetings in 2012. Lenon will rotate at middle linebacker with Wesley Woodyard and I think Lenon can contribute significantly to the Broncos figuring out how to stop Marshawn Lynch.

Along with playing in the Super Bowl come the distractions of playing in the Super Bowl. Many football players would argue about the importance of having a routine and staying in a routine game after game, week after week. This week the routines and tendencies those players have throughout the season change dramatically. They may not be noteworthy to a lot of people but to the players it could mean the difference between winning and losing the game. The most notable routine that will be altered this week is the halftime break. For all other NFL games during the season, halftime is a mere 12 minutes long, giving teams a short time to make small in-game adjustments and giving players a quick rest before heading back to the field for the second half. At the Super Bowl, halftime is 30 minutes long, so while Bruno Mars is on the MetLife Stadium stage entertaining the fans in the stadium and those watching around the world on television, the players are in the locker room trying to stay loose for the second half. Too long of a break can wear players bodies down so it is necessary to be able to stay loose while taking the extra time for second half adjustments. The team that comes out strong at the beginning of the second half may have the upper hand for the rest of the game, regardless of what the halftime score is. This was apparent in last year’s Super Bowl even though the longer intermission in that game was for the Superdome power outage; after the blackout break, San Francisco came screaming back and almost won the game. Be sure to pay close attention to the first few minutes of the second half to get an idea of which team will have the fire power to close out the rest of the game.

Random Thoughts: Whether you have been following my blog since the beginning or if you’ve just stumbled on my page looking for any kind of Super Bowl XLVIII literature, of course I start with uniforms. The nice thing about the Super Bowl is that the uniform combinations are announced well before game day. The Seahawks have been designated the road team and will wear their white jerseys with their navy blue pants. This is the same combination they wore when they played at MetLife Stadium in December. The Seahawks are 2-0 in this combination this season and 2-1 all-time. The Broncos will wear their orange jerseys and white pants as the designated home team… Terry McAulay is the referee for Super Bowl XLVIII. He was also the referee in the Seahawks divisional playoff win over New Orleans… Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have the call for FOX with Pam Oliver and Erin Andrews patrolling the sidelines. Curt Menefee will anchor 4 hours of pregame coverage on FOX along with the FOX NFL Sunday crew both from inside and outside the stadium… The national anthem will be sung by renowned opera singer Renee Fleming… The halftime show for Super Bowl XLVIII is Grammy award winner Bruno Mars. Personally this is the most anticipated Super Bowl halftime show in my lifetime mainly since I am a big fan of Mars’ music. The fact that I will be in attendance to see this halftime show live is the cherry on top of the cake… Game time temperature is supposed to be clear and in the low to mid 30’s; manageable but cold nonetheless. Time to break out the layers… I am nervous and excited about getting to the game. I will be taking a train from Penn Station in New York City to Secaucus Junction, then transferring to a shuttle train that takes us straight to the Meadowlands. It’s cheaper than alternative modes of transportation and will likely get me to the game faster than if I took said alternative modes of transportation… This week is going to be nuts in New York City. I have 5 and a half days to try to do so much stuff. It will be interesting to see how crowded the city is compared to any other day… I am sure to see celebrities galore and I will post my encounters and updates on Twitter @EricHansman as much as possible so be on the lookout for those… If we win on Sunday, IF we win on Sunday my hope is to celebrate in the heart of New York City with a cigar in my mouth and a glass of champagne in my hand. That would be an amazing feeling… We are almost at 200 days since the start of training camp. It is amazing to think what has taken place since. We are one win away from the Lombardi Trophy and a world championship. Win or lose, we had a fantastic season and we should not discount that at all if we come out on the short end of this. I promise you this, Seahawks fans may be outnumbered around town and at the Stadium on Sunday, but we will certainly be louder. Take it to the bank.

Prediction: *To start, keep in mind that the Seahawks have not lost a game by more than 7 points since November 6th, 2011.* In the first half, Percy Harvin will catch a touchdown pass from inside the redzone and Marshawn Lynch will also add a touchdown run. The Broncos will storm back with a quick touchdown drive capped off by a pass from Peyton Manning to Eric Decker. Matt Prater and Steven Hauschka will exchange field goals respectively in the second quarter; Hauschka’s coming in the final seconds of the first half. Halftime score: Seahawks 17, Broncos 10

In the second half the Seahawks will get the scoring started with a field goal before the Broncos have the 12th Man questioning the durability of our defense. A Manning pass to Julius Thomas will cut the Seahawks lead to 3. The Seahawks will once again exchange a series of field goals with the Broncos, the last of which coming with 4 minutes left to go in the game. In a hurry up offense with the Broncos down 26-20, Peyton Manning will drive to the Seahawks 40-yard line but the Seahawks defense will step up to produce the biggest play in franchise history. Chris Clemons will strip-sack Manning and Brandon Mebane will recover the fumble. The Seahawks will run out the clock and will win their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Seahawks 26, Broncos 20

On the first day of training camp I posted the following status to Facebook:

“Never before has the anticipation for Seahawks football been so high. After the conclusion of last season, the moves made in the offseason, and each practice during OTA’s and minicamp, the expectations for this team placed by the media and the fans are at a “super bowl or bust” level. I am extremely confident in this team and I could not be more proud to call myself a member of the 12th Man. It all starts today. I have a feeling that this team is about to take all of us and this great city on a very special journey; a journey that we will not soon forget.”

As it turns out we HAVE made it to the Super Bowl and it HAS been a journey that we will never soon forget, which will be made even more memorable if we win on Sunday. Win or lose I am extremely proud of this team and to be a part of this amazing fan base.

To all of my friends and family know this: Even though you will not be joining me at MetLife Stadium physically, I will carry you with me in my mind and in my heart and I will surely scream my lungs out on behalf of everyone I know.

I will not have my computer with me in New York and I will not be home until late Tuesday night. I hope to have my Super Bowl review published by Wednesday night. Enjoy the Super Bowl everyone! Go Seahawks!

Review: Seahawks 23, 49ers 17

20 Jan

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Photo Credit: seahawks.com

That may have been the most nail-biting, exciting, nauseating, thrilling Seahawks game I have ever been to. The Seattle Seahawks are heading to New York for Super Bowl XLVIII after defeating the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. I honestly do not believe I have ever been on an emotional roller coaster quite like the one I rode for just over three hours on Sunday afternoon. Up next, the Denver Broncos and a crazy two weeks preceding it. For now however, this is what I took out of this game and what needs to happen as we move closer to the biggest game in Seahawks history.

They Kept it Clean: One of the worries heading into this game was how the officials would call it. Many including myself thought that the potential chippy-ness would lead the referees to call the game tighter, allowing the Seahawks to possibly be subject to many questionable calls. All in all the game was not officiated as tight as I thought it would, especially in the secondary. No member of the Legion of Boom was called for pass interference. The only Seahawks penalty in the secondary was a holding call on Richard Sherman in the first half which led to an Anthony Dixon touchdown and a 10-0 San Francisco lead. Other than that one holding call no penalties significantly hurt Seattle in this game and there were no plays that could be “questionable” calls for the duration of the game. Gene Steratore and his officiating crew did a great job of letting the players play; the referees did not dictate the shaping of the game.

Taking Shots: And no I’m not talking about Fireball. I wanted to see Russell Wilson take more shots down the field this week and he did a much better job of stretching the field than last week. Although he still seemed confused and indecisive at times, Wilson went deep several times on Sunday. On vertical passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air, Wilson went 3/5 connecting with Doug Baldwin on receptions of 22 and 51 yards and Jermaine Kearse on a 35-yard touchdown pass. The Seahawks had been playing very conservatively over the past few weeks which is a small part as to why our offense has struggled in my eyes. What seemed to help Wilson in this game on his long throws was to utilize his mobility. On his 51-yard connection with Doug Baldwin, Wilson scrambled for more than 5 seconds before seeing that Baldwin has space down the field to make a play. Although it was not Russell Wilson’s most glamorous performance of the season, some of his throws on Sunday should build confidence heading into Super Bowl XLVIII.

Pass Protection Needs to Improve: There was a glaring negative on offense this week and that was the lackluster protection the offensive line gave Russell Wilson. Wilson was sacked 4 times for a combined loss of 22 yards. Although pass protection must improve greatly, I will give credit where credit is due. The San Francisco 49ers continue to be one of the best pass rushing defenses in the National Football League and that was evident on Sunday. Aldon Smith recorded 2 sacks while NaVorro Bowman and Dan Skuta added sacks of their own. In addition to the inconsistent pass protection there is one other huge problem I have with our offensive line which is…

Left Guard Shuffle: Last week the Seahawks started rookie Michael Bowie at left guard and James Carpenter was inactive. This week was the exact opposite with Carpenter starting and Bowie standing on the sidelines inactive. I understand that competition is at the heart of the Seahawks philosophy but now, in the most important games of the season, is not the time to play the left guard shuffle. Stick with who has the hot hand. Who’s to say that Paul McQuistan won’t start against Denver in two weeks? The Seahawks must stabilize the left guard position. I do not want to look past the Super Bowl but I think I may know what the Seahawks should target in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Kaepernick’s Wheels Keep 49ers in Game: This game would not have been as close if the Seahawks defense had been able to stop Colin Kaepernick from scrambling in the first half. Highlighted by a 58-yard scramble, Kaepernick led all 49ers rushers with 130 rushing yards, 114 more yards than the next leading San Francisco rusher and 116 yards more than primary running back Frank Gore. The quickness of Kaepernick fooled the Seahawks defense for much of the first half and the Seahawks did a fantastic job of making the necessary adjustments at halftime to shut Kaepernick down in the second half. Aside from Kaepernick’s legs he did not do a whole lot. Kaepernick ended the day 14/24 for 153 yards passing with one touchdown and 2 interceptions, each of tremendous importance and which ultimately cost the 49ers the chance to play in the Super Bowl.

“It Was Only a Matter of Time”: The 49ers led the turnover battle at halftime 1-0 and right before the start of the second half my Dad leaned over to tell me that it was time for Colin Kaepernick to screw up; that we had shut him down through the air in the first half and that it was only a matter of time before he made a mistake. The 49ers made 3 mistakes in the second half and Kaepernick made two of them. The first came with 7:37 remaining in the game when Kaepernick dropped back and tried to get the ball to Michael Crabtree on the far side but instead threw it right into the hands of Kam Chancellor. That turnover resulted in an insurance field goal to make the game 23-17 Seahawks. The second mistake turned out to be the biggest play of the year, and perhaps the most important play in franchise history. With the ball at the Seattle 18-yard line with less than 30 seconds left to play, Kaepernick saw one-on-one coverage in the endzone on a fade route. He threw intended for Crabtree but the ball was tipped by Richard Sherman and hauled in by Malcolm Smith to seal the Seahawks victory. Like my Dad said, “it was only a matter of time” and that time came with 22 seconds remaining and there was nothing the San Francisco 49ers could do about it.

Random Thoughts: Is it just me or is the general crowd sitting around me becoming dumber and dumber as each game goes on when it comes to “cheering education?” I felt like there was a lot of cheering when the offense had the ball and when the 49ers fans tried to get loud when the Seahawks had the ball, the 12th Man would boo, making the stadium even louder. That is a big no-no and was quite frustrating… Perhaps the Macklemore performance at halftime re-energized the crowd. We were down 10-3 at halftime and the crowd seemed fired up at the start of the third quarter. That was very much needed and maybe it’s not too crazy to think that Macklemore’s impact played a key role in how the second half turned out… It’s too bad not everyone got a rally towel. It was a scattering of white waving around before the game, nothing like what it has looked like in previous games where rally towels were the giveaway… Paul Allen raised the 12th Man flag this week which in my eyes was a very safe choice. I still would have loved to see Mike Holmgren raise the flag… We went to the Nest and then over to the Pyramid Alehouse for lunch before heading into the stadium. Since this was going to be the last home game of the season I guess we wanted to make the rounds… I may have tried the grossest beer ever on Sunday. Pyramid has a seasonal brew called “Weiss Cream” which tastes like if you sprayed whipped cream into a glass of water. Yuck. The tap handle was really cool though; a waffle cone full of vanilla ice cream… Time to start packing for New York City. I leave a week from Wednesday!

Moving Forward: Over the next week I hope to hop on at least a couple of times with various posts. I am unsure what my computer status will be for the last half of Super Bowl week, Super Bowl weekend, and the two days following the game. If I decide to take my computer with me to New York, my preview of Super Bowl XLVIII will come on its normal day; the Saturday before the game. If not, I may be forced to publish my Super Bowl preview a few days early. I will update with more information when my plan becomes clearer. We are one win away from a world championship. Enjoy this, 12th Man but understand our job is not done just yet. Go Seahawks!

49ers/Seahawks Preview (NFC Championship Game)

18 Jan

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Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: (5) San Francisco 49ers at (1) Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 3:30pm

Not very often do you get an opportunity like this, even less often at home. It has been 8 years since the Seahawks played the Carolina Panthers in the 2005 NFC Championship Game and personally I have been waiting for the Seahawks to get back on this national stage ever since. I became a season-ticket holder in 2006 and for all the games I have been to over the past 8 seasons, opportunities like the one presenting itself on Sunday makes having tickets and going to games during the bad years absolutely worth it. In front of a nationally televised audience on FOX, the Seahawks will take on the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. If the Seahawks lose the season is over, but if the Seahawks win they punch their ticket to New York for Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2nd. The all-time series between the Seahawks and 49ers is tied 15-15. Their last meeting came on December 8th when San Francisco defeated Seattle 19-17 in the final seconds at Candlestick Park. This is the first meeting between the two teams in the playoffs. There are many storylines that have gained momentum from both a local and a national perspective in the days leading up to this game. Here are my thoughts as we head into the biggest home game in franchise history.

The absolute number one key for the Seahawks this week comes on defense. In the last two 49ers/Seahawks games played in Seattle, the Seahawks have held 49ers running back Frank Gore to a total of 44 rushing yards. What I’ve noticed when you dig into all of Colin Kaepernick’s career starts is that he has been successful because of a dynamic rushing attack helping him. When opposing defenses are able to shut the San Francisco running game (especially Gore) down, Kaepernick becomes extremely vulnerable. Once again the number one key for the Seahawks is to stop Gore. Unlike last week where I wanted to see the Seahawks force the New Orleans Saints to run, forcing Colin Kaepernick to throw will help the Seahawks mightily. In Kaepernick’s 28 career starts he has thrown only 11 interceptions. 4 of those interceptions have come in his two starts in Seattle. The Legion of Boom will be Kaepernick’s worst nightmare if the Seahawks run defense allows it to. My target rushing total for Frank Gore this week is between 50-60 yards. If the Seahawks can hold Gore to under 60 yards on the ground, we will be in fantastic shape.

The Seattle offense is a unit that has not lit up the stat sheet recently but they have been efficient enough to win football games. There are three things I need to see out of the Seahawks offense this week. The first thing is for Marshawn Lynch to have a productive day at the office. Unlike Frank Gore, Lynch has been very efficient running the ball against the 49ers in Seattle. In the same two game span that Gore has rushed for 44 total yards, Lynch has rushed for 209 total yards and has also added 3 touchdowns. I fully expect the majority of fans to panic if the Seahawks cannot get the running game going early but it will be necessary to be patient through the first half to try to get Lynch large chunks of yards. The second necessity for the Seahawks offense this week is to protect Russell Wilson. Wilson was sacked 3 times last week and he has been sacked 18 times in his last 6 games. The last time the Seahawks and 49ers played in Seattle, the Seahawks were without two starting offensive lineman and lost Russell Okung to a foot injury early in the game. This week the entire starting offensive line is healthy and I expect significant improvement in pass protection. Keep an eye on the left guard position this week as Michael Bowie is expected to start again after playing a great game last week in his first career start at that position. The third thing I need to see out of the offense this week is an extension of my second offensive key, only the weight of this key falls more on the shoulders of Russell Wilson. There have been instances throughout the past few games where when Wilson drops back to pass, at times he seems to bail from the pocket and move around to try to make throws while at other times he seems a bit too overconfident being patient in the pocket. In those instances he will wait for a receiver to get open and by the time he decides on his read he is either on the ground sacked or throwing the ball away. Wilson needs to be more aware of what is going on around him to know how much time he has to throw. Confidence in the pocket and connecting on throws down the field will help the Seahawks greatly this week.

The San Francisco 49ers come into the NFC Championship Game red-hot and firing on all cylinders. My 49ers preview is rather broad this week as there are only three things that I believe will help the 49ers be more effective this week. The first key is to ride the wave of momentum that comes with an 8-game winning streak. San Francisco comes into the NFC Championship Game as perhaps the more confident team, which comes naturally riding a long winning streak. My other two 49ers keys will be the most important to keep that momentum going.

The 49ers need to handle the crowd noise much better than they have in their last two visits to CenturyLink Field. Shorter verbiage and hand signals will be necessary this week and I would not be surprised to see the 49ers use a no-huddle package, especially early in the game. San Francisco will want to take the 12th Man out of the game as early as possible so it will be very important to score early. On offense for San Francisco this week there is only one player that I believe is deserving of my X-Factor player to watch, and that is the most important player that was not on the field the last time the 49ers played in Seattle. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has elevated the 49ers passing game to extraordinary levels since returning from a torn Achilles on December 1st. Crabtree has averaged 62 receiving yards in 7 games this season and he has also been targeted an average of 8 times per game. It is hard to believe how big of a difference Crabtree has made since returning; the 49ers have not lost since his return. Taking Crabtree away will limit Colin Kaepernick’s weapons to tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

In my “Making Memories” post earlier this week, I recall the 2005 NFC Championship Game in great detail. One of the things I mentioned is how I never sat down throughout the duration of the game and the 12th Man did not let up on the Carolina offense all game long. I cannot stress the importance of duplicating that stadium environment again this week. At last week’s Divisional playoff game many fans left following Marshawn Lynch’s final touchdown assuming the game was all but over. For a playoff game I find that behavior utterly pathetic. This week cannot and hopefully will not be the same as last week. I hope to spend the majority of the game on my feet regardless of who has the ball. I expect every single fan to scream when San Francisco has the ball. I expect no fan to leave before the fourth quarter clock hits zero. If everything goes right this should be the biggest party in the city. I hope you will not want to leave as the game gets closer to the finish. In addition, I want this game to be the loudest Seahawks game I have attended up to this point in my life. We the 12th Man WILL have a voice in deciding the outcome of this game. Do not doubt that. We also owe it to the guys on the field to give it our all. If we stay consistently ear-drum-bursting loud this week, the 49ers will have no chance communicating and coming into our house and stealing a victory.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will likely wear blue jerseys and blue pants for the final time this season. I say “likely” because should the Seahawks win, they will be designated as the road team in Super Bowl XLVIII. The 49ers will wear their classic white jersey/gold pants look… Gene Steratore is this week’s referee. He called the Seahawks week 8 game against the Rams in St. Louis and Steratore’s crew loosely called that game. He let the players play. Hopefully the same goes this way because if the game is called tight the Seahawks may be in trouble… Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have the call for FOX this week with Pam Oliver and Erin Andrews covering the sidelines. In addition, the entire “FOX NFL Sunday” pregame crew will be attendance this week and they will do their pregame show from inside the stadium, an annual tradition, starting at 3pm… The giveaway this week is white rally towels. All I can say is hallelujah. I’ve been waiting to get the chance to wave a rally towel all season and it is entirely fitting that chance comes in the biggest home game of the season… Ann Wilson from “Heart” will sing the national anthem before the game which actually surprises me because I thought FOX would bring in the most recent American Idol or X-Factor winner to sing it like they have done in the past… The halftime show is one that I am very much looking forward to. Grammy nominated and Seattle recording artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis will perform at halftime, which turns the NFC Championship Game into a mini Super Bowl in my opinion. Hopefully the Seahawks take control of the game in the first half so I can actually enjoy Mack’s halftime performance… In my opinion there is only one group that I think should have the honor to raise the 12th Man flag this week. Back when we played Tampa Bay in November, the Seahawks honored the 30th anniversary of the first playoff team in franchise history. Members of the 1983 Seahawks stood at the flagpole while Steve Largent did the honors of raising the flag. This week should hold the exact same concept. The only group that I see fit to raise the 12th Man flag this week is members of the 2005 Seahawks led by head coach Mike Holmgren, the first Seahawks team to play in the Super Bowl. I will be extremely disappointed if this does not happen. Even if they do not celebrate the entire team, Coach Holmgren deserves the chance to raise the flag this week… Goal for Sunday: Try to meet up with all of my friends that I know are going to the game… Streamers are a must once again this week. Gotta go all out… If we win, the Halas Trophy presentation will be really awesome to be a part of again… Let this sink in: We are 60 minutes away from playing in the biggest game in Seahawks franchise history.

Prediction: There is no doubt that this will be a physical game and it may be close until the final few minutes of the fourth quarter. Zach Miller will catch a first quarter touchdown to make it 7-0 Seahawks. A Steven Hauschka field goal will extend the lead to 10-0 before the 49ers score on a Michael Crabtree touchdown pass in the final two minutes of the half. Halftime score: Seahawks 10, 49ers 7.

In the second half the Seahawks will take full control in the running game. Marshawn Lynch will run for a pair of touchdowns, the second of which coming in the final 5 minutes of the game. That will be the dagger. Vernon Davis will catch a garbage time touchdown under the two-minute warning but by then it will be far too late. The Seahawks will win, hoist the Halas Trophy, and will head to Super Bowl XLVIII as the 2013 NFC Champions.

Seahawks 24, 49ers 14

Whether we win or lose check back late Sunday night for my review of the NFC Championship Game. Whether you are watching on television or at the game, enjoy this one everybody because hopefully this will be a game we all look back on as one of the best in team history. Go Seahawks!

Making Memories: An NFC Championship Commentary

15 Jan

*On Sunday the Seahawks will host the NFC Championship Game for the second time in franchise history as a part of what I have dubbed “Hate Week Part III” with the San Francisco 49ers. I was in attendance at the first NFC Championship Game in 2006 and I am hoping that this week’s game against the 49ers will be just as, if not more special than the first*

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This was the scene on January 22nd, 2006 as the Seahawks ran out of the tunnel before the 2005 NFC Championship Game.

Pictures sure do say a thousand words, don’t they? 67,000 fans screaming at ear-damaging decibel levels while waving their white rally towels; one of the most amazing sights these eyes have ever seen and been a part of.

This Sunday the Seahawks host the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game in what I believe is the biggest home game in Seahawks history; even bigger than the 2005 NFC Championship Game against the Carolina Panthers.

Pick any Seahawks home game over the past 8 years and I could tell you some detail or memory about it. Every Seahawks game I attend becomes a collection of memories. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, yet every single game I have ever attended is its own unique story.

I can still distinctly remember that cloudy January day in 2006. Sports Radio 950 KJR had done a live broadcast from a pioneer square bar overnight leading all the way up to game time. I had turned the radio on in my room and at a very soft volume and I subconsciously listened to the entire overnight portion of the pregame show while I attempted to sleep. When I woke up in the morning I immediately got dressed into my gameday attire, my 2005 NFC West Champions hat, and my blue Matt Hasselbeck jersey over my white Seahawks sweatshirt. My friend Alan and I headed into downtown where after waiting for at a table at the waterfront Red Robin, we decided to instead walk down to Ivar’s for a fish n’ chips pregame meal. Following lunch we decided to head straight into the stadium and we hung out at our seats in section 302 for two hours as we watched the entire stadium fill up before the Seahawks even concluded on-field warm-ups about 25 minutes before kickoff. I was amazed how full and crazed the stadium was that early. Everybody was at their seats with plenty of time to spare and the mood was utter excitement and confidence, as if there was no doubt that we were going to walk off the field as the 2005 NFC Champions. Following the most beautiful rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” I had ever heard (performed by the beautiful and talented Carrie Underwood) Alan and I briefly sat down just before kickoff. We knew we had to charge up our lower bodies as we did not sit down for the duration of the game; a feat that has not been repeated in the 82 preseason, regular season, and postseason games I have attended since. Just before kickoff Seahawks owner Paul Allen raised the 12th Man flag; the most epic sports moment I have ever been a part of.

The game went just as everyone in attendance hoped it would. Jerramy Stevens caught a touchdown pass to make the score 7-0 Seahawks and following a Lofa Tatupu interception later in the first quarter, the Seahawks had taken control of the game for good. Starting at this point the 12th Man started several “Super Bowl” chants following every score and timeout. 2 Josh Brown field goals, a Darrell Jackson touchdown catch and two touchdown runs by league MVP Shaun Alexander cemented a 34-14 win as the Seahawks punched their ticket to Super Bowl XL.

An extended postgame fireworks celebration and large quantities of blue and green confetti bathed the entire stadium as the Seahawks and the 12th Man entered full party mode. By the time the clock hit :00 no one had left the stadium and quite frankly no one wanted to. The 12th Man wanted to soak in the greatest moment in the history of Seahawks football for as long as they could. A stage was wheeled to mid-field as Terry Bradshaw of FOX presented Paul Allen, coach Mike Holmgren, Matt Hasselbeck, and Shaun Alexander with the George Halas memorial trophy, emblematic of the champions of the National Football Conference. At the end of ceremony Alexander took the trophy on a victory lap around the stadium to “show everybody” as Terry Bradshaw advised him to do. After the Seahawks left the field and headed back into the locker room Alan and I headed for the gates to head home. My friends are amazed at the selective memory I have for every Seahawks game I have ever attended but I can say with full confidence that there is no game I can remember more clearly than the 2005 NFC Championship Game.

I will be taking my Dad to this year’s NFC Championship game; an event that I am sure will be made a memory for him and me to bond over for years to come. Needless to say this will be a very special moment between the two of us, made even more special since he will not be going to New York with me to attend Super Bowl XLVIII should the Seahawks win this week. I am very excited for him to experience everything an event like the NFC Championship Game has to offer.

When we beat Carolina to get to Super Bowl XL no Seahawks fan went out of their way to make fun of or insult any Panthers fan in attendance, or to make them feel any worse that their team did not make it to the Super Bowl. I realize that our ticket to Super Bowl XLVIII will come at the expense of the one team Seahawks fans hate the most but my ultimate hope is that the same celebratory actions from 2005 repeat themselves this week. I know it would be the sweetest feeling in the world to beat the 49ers to get to the Super Bowl but that should not mean that the 12th Man should go out of their way to emotionally pummel any 49ers fans in attendance. Simply put, this is OUR moment to shine. Do not make it about them. This game and this potential victory should be made all about US by US. If we win, celebrate the win as a Seahawks victory, not a Seahawks victory AND a 49ers loss. make sure to also revel in the amazing scene that will take place following the game. This is an experience that every sports fan dreams of. To everyone lucky enough to attend the 2013 NFC Championship Game, savor every moment and even the smallest little details of your gameday experience because I promise you this will be an event that you will never forget

Review: Seahawks 23, Saints 15

12 Jan

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Photo Credit: seahawks.com

It was not pretty by any means necessary, but the grit of the Seahawks defense and the timely play by the Seahawks offense late in the game, along with a fired up 12th Man helped secure a 23-15 victory over the New Orleans Saints in an NFC Divisional Playoff on Saturday afternoon. With the victory the Seahawks will play either the San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game next Sunday. This game had its ups and its downs and although Saturday’s game lacked one major play that shaped how the rest of the game played out, much like the last time these two teams met, there was a feeling of pure confidence that was not challenged until late in the game (more on this a little later). Here is what I took out of Saturday’s playoff win.

Halftime Over-Confidence: The Seahawks entered halftime with a 16-0 lead and the general feeling in the stands seemed to be that we would run away with the game in the second half. This was not the case with me. Two different things popped into my head. First, a 16-0 lead is only a two score lead. If the Saints scored a touchdown and converted the 2-point conversion (which they did in the fourth quarter), the Seahawks would suddenly have just a one score lead. The second thing I thought of was the NFC Divisional Playoff game from last season when the Atlanta Falcons took a 20-0 lead over the Seahawks into halftime. The Seahawks were able to come all the way back to take the lead before losing in the final seconds. At halftime I was probably the only person in my general area that felt legitimately nervous about the possibility of the Saints jumping out to close the gap in the second half. Perhaps I was disappointed and nervous that the Seahawks only came away with 16 first half points, but in my opinion it felt like a lot of people thought the game was all but over at halftime.

Lynch Powers Offense: As I was standing in the Brougham Beer Hall inside CenturyLink Field’s southwest concourse corridor about two hours prior to kickoff, I glanced up to one of the many televisions to see the bold prediction on NFL Gameday Morning that Marshawn Lynch would run for over 150 yards on the Saints defense. He came 10 yards short. When the Seahawks passing game was halted in the second half, Marshawn Lynch rose to the occasion, running for 71 second half yards, including a 31-yard touchdown run with 2:40 left in the game. Lynch’s stat line was practically split right down the middle between the first half and the second half and Lynch’s most valuable contribution late in the game was chewing clock, ultimately leading to his fourth quarter touchdown.

Passing Game Stalls When Harvin Leaves: In his final 4 regular season games, Russell Wilson had an average passer rating of 80.0; his worst stretch of the season. Wilson recorded a passer rating of 67.6 on Saturday while only completing 9 passes for 103 yards. This was only the second time all season that Wilson had single-digit completions. The presence of Percy Harvin seemed to get the offense into a groove in the first half but when Harvin exited the game with 1:21 left in the first half with a concussion, the offense struggled to gain any kind of momentum in the passing game following halftime. In the second half Wilson only went 2/9 for 35 yards passing. Weather may have played a factor in Wilson’s poor performance but it seemed a little odd that an offensive unit that played an entire season without Percy Harvin could look so lost once he left the game. Next week the Seahawks will face one of the toughest defenses in the league. Regardless of whether it is San Francisco or Carolina that comes to town next week, the Seahawks need to figure out how to make Russell Wilson more comfortable in the pocket as once again his hesitancy making throws potentially cost the Seahawks big chunks of yardage on Saturday. Hopefully with a healthy Harvin next week, the Seahawks will open up the playbook even more than they did against New Orleans which could help take some of the pressure off of Wilson in the NFC Championship Game.

Defense Must Improve: The Seahawks allowed only 15 points on Saturday with 7 of them coming in garbage time. Early on in the game it looked like the Seahawks defense might be able to hold Drew Brees and the Saints offense to a lesser yardage total than they did back in December. Instead, the Seahawks allowed 409 yards of offense, the most in a game since they played Houston in week 4. Brees successfully picked apart Seattle’s defense and many intermediate passes were completed in the middle of the field. The Seahawks seemed inept at times putting pressure on Brees. Although New Orleans only converted 25% of their third down opportunities, Brees seemed to have a lot of time to throw on those passing downs. More pressure and better play in the middle of the field need to be improved upon in practice this week or else Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton may have similar passing opportunities next week.

Goat of the Season: What in the world was Saints wide receiver Marques Colston thinking when he stayed inbounds and then threw an illegal forward pass with under 10 seconds left, ending the game? Colston will surely be berated by Saints fans in the coming days for choosing to stay inbounds instead of stepping out of bounds, which would have given the Saints one more play from the Seahawks 40-yard line. After watching the replay of the final play, it is possible to wonder if Colston saw a wide open Travaris Cadet across the field and if he could somehow throw him the ball, Cadet could score. Nevertheless Colston failed to make the smart decision and get out of bounds and it cost the Saints one final chance to try to score and tie the game with a 2-point conversion.

Thoughts on New Orleans: The New Orleans Saints have a very talented offense and a solid defense when healthy. The absence of safety Kenny Vaccaro was certainly noticeable on Saturday. I believe the Saints will bounce back strong in 2014 and will once again be contenders for the NFC South and potentially Super Bowl XLIX next season.

Random Thoughts: The Saints mixed it up on Saturday by wearing gold pants with their white jerseys. That was a surprise to me since they usually wear their black pants for all late season games… In my game preview I mentioned that one of the four divisional playoff referees will earn the opportunity to referee Super Bowl XLVIII. I am starting to wonder that if the Seahawks make it to the Super Bowl Terry McAulay may be ineligible for the Super Bowl. It would make sense for the NFL to call upon a ref that did not officiate any of the Super Bowl team’s playoff games. Just some food for thought… The streamers were a huge success on Saturday and you could probably see them from multiple sections over. I think I found my new touchdown/victory celebratory prop, at least for playoff games… Everybody was in their seats with plenty of time to spare before kickoff. That made me happy. Hopefully the same goes next week… The 12th Man flags looked pretty cool from the upper deck, especially since I can look down the entire side of the stadium to see a wave of blue. I’m still disappointed that rally towels were not the giveaway but I would not be surprised to see them make an appearance next week… I didn’t get to try the beast burger because if I had bought one it would have been waterlogged by the torrential downpour that ensued about an hour before the game. I had to settle for a bigfoot hot dog in the second quarter. It was nothing special… Here’s a funny story. After the Rams game two weeks ago I had gotten an NFC West champions hat and I decided to wear it to Saturday’s game. Due to the strong wind gusts and sideways pouring-down rain, we decided to walk along the inside of the stadium to our seats instead of the upper deck concourse. As we approached our section, a sudden wind gust whooshed my hat right off of my head and I watched helplessly as it blew over the façade of the upper deck into the lower bowl. That was the end of that. I then trekked down to the Seahawks pro shop to buy a new NFC West champions hat. I made sure the second hat stayed on my head. Talk about an embarrassing moment but a laughable one after the fact for sure… We are one win away from Super Bowl XLVIII. I can’t believe it. The anticipation of next Sunday’s game will cause a serious lack of sleep this week.

Check back next Saturday as I preview the 2013 NFC Championship Game between the Seahawks and either the San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers. GO SEAHAWKS!

Saints/Seahawks Preview (NFC Divisional Playoff)

10 Jan

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Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: (6) New Orleans Saints at (1) Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:35pm

The last time the Seattle Seahawks hosted a playoff game, Marshawn Lynch personified “Beast Mode,” Matt Hasselbeck broke a Seahawks franchise record for touchdown passes in a single playoff game, and the Seahawks won in perhaps the biggest upset in NFL Playoffs history. The opponent on that crisp January afternoon was the New Orleans Saints. On Saturday, the Seahawks hope to add the next chapter to the book of highly anticipated victories over the Saints. After defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild-Card round, the Saints stamped their ticket to Seattle to play the Seahawks in an NFC Divisional playoff game. The winner of this game will play either the San Francisco 49ers or the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with New Orleans 7-6 and in their last meeting 6 weeks ago on Monday Night Football, the Seahawks annihilated the Saints 34-7 to take control of the top seed in the NFC. Although I personally believe that this is the best possible draw for the Seahawks in the Divisional round, this is NOT an automatic win by any means. This is what I will be looking for out of both teams on Saturday afternoon.

Even though Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was able to throw for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns on New Orleans back in week 13, the Saints still have the NFL’s second best pass defense, averaging 194 pass yards allowed per game. I expect to see the Seahawks come out and try to control the clock early in this game by running the ball. In their first meeting, the Seahawks ran the ball on 56% of their total plays. This week I think it is possible to see the Seahawks run the ball between 60% and 63% of their plays in order to control the clock and to keep Drew Brees and the Saints offense off the field. If Marshawn Lynch struggles early in the game I believe it would be better for the Seahawks to keep emphasizing the running game instead of panicking and having Russell Wilson throw, especially on first down. By running the ball, eating the clock by extending drives, and scoring on those drives, the Seahawks will be in good shape and the offense will be able to charge the 12th Man into staying loud when the Saints have the ball.

On defense this week the key to stopping the Saints from scoring is to do the exact same thing we did the last time we played; to make the New Orleans offense one dimensional. Stopping the run to make Drew Brees throw would be the stereotypically ideal way to minimize the Saints offensive attack but this week it is necessary to keep Brees from throwing in order to force the Saints to run the ball. I believe the Seahawks defense will be able to shut down Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram which will be extremely beneficial to the Seahawks but this is why I want to see the Seahawks prevent the Saints passing game. One stat that favors the Seahawks this week is the dramatic shift in the passing defenses Brees will face in back-to-back weeks. After facing the NFL’s worst rated passing defense last week, the Saints will face the top passing defense in the league this week. After putting up a season-low 147 yards passing against Seattle, Brees has bounced back nicely. In the final 4 weeks of the regular season and last week’s playoff game against Philadelphia, Brees has averaged 324 passing yards per game. He has also thrown 11 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions in this same span. Add the motivation of getting one more shot at the Seahawks and on paper, Brees is a weapon that the Seahawks must eliminate in order to be successful, just like they did in week 13.

New Orleans has the personnel on the offensive side of the ball to be successful. There is no questioning that. Drew Brees has the capability to make everyone around him better. In order for the Saints to be successful on offense this week, the offense needs to do something that they failed miserably at the first time around; they need to block much better. The Saints running game was a glaring weakness in week 13, as leading rusher Mark Ingram only ran for 22 yards. New Orleans only ran for 44 yards total in that game. Creating holes for Ingram to run through will keep the momentum of the game with New Orleans and the will be able to move the ball and keep the 12th Man quiet. In the passing game, the Saints will be in charge of stopping a Seahawks pass rush that will be charged up at home. There is one significant change in personnel from our last meeting to this week’s game. My X-Factor player to watch for the New Orleans Saints this week is left tackle Terron Armstead. Armstead, a rookie lineman from Arkansas- Pine Bluff, will be starting just his fourth career game this week. Armstead made his NFL starting debut in week 16 following the benching of starter Charles Brown. In his 3 previous starts, Armstead has faced the defenses of the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Philadelphia Eagles. This week he will face arguably the toughest pass rushing group in the NFL while also playing in the league’s most hostile postseason environment. The Saints will need Armstead to step up as he faces the daunting task of protecting Drew Brees from Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, and Bruce Irvin. I am also curious to see how Armstead handles the crowd noise this week, as rookie mistakes prior to the snap will put the Saints at a disadvantage trying to move the ball. If Armstead can successfully pass block for Brees, the Saints will have a much better day than they did 6 weeks ago.

A Public Service Announcement to Everyone Attending Saturday’s Game: There is a distinct difference in the stadium atmosphere between a regular season afternoon game and a regular season primetime game. There is an even greater difference in the stadium atmosphere between a regular season primetime game and a playoff game. When the Seahawks hosted the Washington Redskins in an NFC Divisional playoff game back in 2006 (2005 Super Bowl season), I distinctly remember that everyone (I mean EVERYONE) was at their seats at least 30 minutes prior to kickoff and no one in my section sat down for the duration of the game. I am hoping that the environment is the same this week. Everyone who is going, make sure to give yourself extra time to get into the stadium and in my opinion, be at your seats between 12:45pm and 1:00pm. Give 100% vocal participation when the Seahawks are on defense and wave your 12th Man flags (one of the confirmed giveaways) proudly and in unison to make a cool, spine-tingling sight. This, perhaps by default, will be the most exciting game of the season. Making sure you are early and loud will help make this game an experience that you will surely never forget.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear blue jerseys and blue pants this week. My prediction is that the Saints will wear the same uniform combination they wore in Seattle last month; white jerseys and black pants… Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch have the call for FOX this week with Erin Andrews patrolling the sidelines… As a late birthday present, it would be really cool to get a picture with Erin Andrews before the game. She didn’t respond to my tweet asking for a picture though. That won’t stop me from trying… Yes, my birthday was this past week and it is awesome if the calendar lines up right to where the Seahawks play in the playoffs on my birthday. It has happened twice before, the last time coming 3 years ago when we played the Saints… Terry McAulay is this week’s referee. It is possible that we could see McAulay in 3 weeks at Super Bowl XLVIII as well. It was announced this week that one of the 4 divisional playoff referees will earn the right to referee the Super Bowl… It is a mystery as to who will raise the 12th Man flag on Saturday but I might have an idea. In two of our previous home playoff games, the Seahawks have had current members of the team raise the flag; players that were hurt at the time of the playoffs (Ken Hamlin in 2005 and Marcus Trufant in 2006). If the Seahawks decide to go that route this week, I predict that K.J. Wright will raise the 12th Man flag… Here’s a stat that may come as reassuring to Seahawks fans. In the Seahawks 6 postseason games at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks have outscored their opponents by 50 points, going 5-1 in those games. The Seahawks also hold a +1 turnover differential in those 6 postseason home games (10-9)… The pregame starts early this week. Pregaming at the Nest starts at 8:30am before heading into the stadium a couple hours before kickoff… Good thing I sit undercover. The last weather forecast I saw called for a 100% chance of rain and wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour. Those conditions certainly would favor the Seahawks over a team that plays in a dome… Hopefully the Seahawks do something fun to pump the crowd up before introductions. They have played some sort of NFL Playoffs hype video in past home playoff games and they always get the crowd fired up… I will be screaming and streaming this week if you know what I mean. The Skittles might be gone but I think the NFL Playoffs calls for a new kind of touchdown celebration. Get ready #section340crew… We are one win away from the NFC Championship Game. Remember that on Saturday.

Prediction: Almost everyone in the national media has been talking this week about how the Seahawks won’t blow the Saints out just like they did last month. I agree with all their arguments but I still do not see how the Saints can come into CenturyLink Field in a playoff atmosphere and win. This game will be controlled by the Seahawks running game. Marshawn Lynch will run for over 100 yards and a touchdown. Percy Harvin will also be a difference maker, especially as a decoy receiver. Harvin will catch 3 passes while helping spring Golden Tate as the Seahawks leading receiver. The Seahawks defense will give up an early second half touchdown but will play a sound game overall. The Seahawks will win and they will get an extra day to rest as they wait for either San Francisco or Carolina.

Seahawks 29, Saints 17

Win or lose, check back late Sunday night for my Saints game review and potentially an early look at the NFC Championship Game next week. Enjoy the game everybody. We Are 12! Go Seahawks!

Review: Seahawks 27, Rams 9

29 Dec

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Photo Credit: seahawks.com

As I sit here sporting my own 2013 NFC West champions hat, allow me to once again congratulate the Seattle Seahawks on clinching our division title and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks defeated the St. Louis Rams 27-9 on Sunday in a game that may have felt close at the beginning but as the Seahawks continued to score and put the game away, you realized perhaps how big of a mismatch overall this game actually was. The Seahawks end the regular season tied for the best record in Seahawks history (13-3) and will host an NFC Divisional playoff game at CenturyLink Field in two weeks. The Rams finish their season at 7-9 and are in surprisingly good shape heading into the offseason, given that they have the Washington Redskins first round pick in 2014 (#2 overall). Here are the noteworthy talking points I took out of this week’s game.

Run Defense Forces Clemens to Throw: At the end of the third quarter I was told to take a look at the stat board in the south end of the stadium. I couldn’t believe what it said; the St. Louis Rams had -1 rushing yards through the first 45 minutes of the game. One of the points in my Rams game preview was to eliminate the running game to force Kellen Clemens to throw. The Seahawks mastered this aspect of the game plan. When it was all said and done, the Rams only ran for 13 yards and running back Zac Stacy’s longest run of the game was a meager 7 yards. Bobby Wagner played a great game covering the run as he finished the day with 12 tackles. Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel also made a significant impact at the line of scrimmage, combining for 9 tackles and 3 quarterback hits. What pleased me the most about the Seahawks run defense was the ability to stop Stacy up the middle. The Rams seemed to have a focus of running up the gut just like how the Arizona Cardinals ran against us last week. The Seattle defense clearly made the proper adjustments and Stacy could not get anything going all game long. The Seahawks were able to force Clemens to throw two interceptions including one that was returned by linebacker Malcolm Smith 37 yards for a touchdown. The Seahawks now have recorded 11 interceptions in their last 3 games.

Shorthanded, Tate Steps Up: Although Jermaine Kearse was active against the Rams, he saw no playing time while nursing an ankle injury. The Seahawks started Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin at wide receiver this week with Ricardo Lockette and Bryan Walters also seeing a handful of plays. It was Tate however that stepped up and played a game that the Seahawks needed badly on the offensive side of the ball, also confirming the talent and potential depth the Seahawks will carry into the playoffs. Tate caught 8 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. How dominant was Tate’s performance on Sunday? When you crunch the numbers, Tate caught 75 percent of the yards thrown by quarterback Russell Wilson. I was pleased with the way the Seahawks used Tate this week as he was used in the screen game and in the deep vertical passing game. Even though it is likely Percy Harvin will be out for the playoffs, Golden Tate’s performance on Sunday should allow the 12th Man to rest easy. With Kearse likely back in time for our first playoff game, the Seahawks receiving corps may be in better shape than ever heading into January football.

Offensive Line Still a Weakness: One stat category that the Rams dominated over the Seahawks this week was sacks. St. Louis recorded 4 sacks on Russell Wilson, including Robert Quinn’s league leading 19th sack of the season. This week the interior offensive line played a much better game and from my seats it looked as though both tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini had a hard time stopping the outside pass rush of the Rams. The Seahawks had aspects of their offensive game plan to work around any potential struggles protecting Wilson but he was still hit way too often. I need to see more consistency in the playoffs because the Seahawks will have a hard time moving the ball if the offensive line cannot block the ferocious playoff-caliber defenses Seattle is sure to face.

Langford Seals the Win: With a Seahawks holding a 13-3 lead with 3:10 left in the third quarter the game on paper seemed to be far from over. A 10-point deficit with over a full quarter left to play is surely enough time to overcome and take the lead. However, the stupidity of the Rams Kendall Langford cost the Rams a score, and the momentum of the entire game. After stopping Robert Turbin on a run for no gain, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on St. Louis linebacker Alec Ogletree, while explaining and arguing with the officials, Rams defensive end Kendall Langford accidentally stuck his arm out and knocked the hat off of one of the referee’s heads. Langford was flagged unnecessarily for unsportsmanlike conduct and was ejected from the game due to the physical contact with the official, even though it was clearly unintentional. While trying to plead his case to head referee Jeff Triplette, Langford threw his helmet to the ground in frustration and was once again penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. After these three consecutive dead-ball penalties, the Seahawks had the ball on the St. Louis 1-yard line. Two plays later Marshawn Lynch punched it in for a touchdown to give the Seahawks a 20-3 lead. These penalties got the crowd fired up to a fever pitch that had not been felt or heard until this point in the game and it was obvious that the Seahawks were in the Rams heads from this point forward. The actions by Langford on this sequence virtually handed control of the entire game to the Seahawks and ultimately emotionally propelled Seattle to victory.

Thoughts on St. Louis: It is amazing that 3 years ago a 7-9 team would have been a division champion in our division. This year the 7-9 Rams finish in last place in the NFC West and I honestly believe they would have been division contenders in about half of the divisions in the NFL. With two top 15 draft picks on deck in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Rams will be able to plug some holes, primarily on offense, that could give them a significant chance to contend in the NFC West next season. Be on the lookout for a healthy Sam Bradford and a rested Rams defense that could also be one of the league’s best in 2014.

Random Thoughts: Congratulations to Earl Thomas who won the 2013 Steve Largent Award… I had a really great time with my sister throughout the day on Sunday and I could clearly tell that she was having a lot of fun also. Definitely something to remember for future seasons; that my sister is a fun guest to take… The randomly chosen season-ticket holders that got to be on the field for pregame introductions also got to run out of the tunnel prior to. I was extremely jealous. That would be a dream come true to get to run out of the tunnel in front of 68,000 screaming fans just like the players get to… The Seahawks Pro Shop was a madhouse following the game. Everyone wanted to get their hands on the 2013 division champion shirts and hats. They had plenty of both so I was happy I could get a hat. Thanks again for the early birthday present Kelle!… Seahawks halftime shows are still embarrassing to watch… 2 slices of pizza and a Bud Light inside the stadium is $23.75. I don’t think I need to explain how bad of a rip off that is. The price speaks for itself… I think the 12th Man should be rooting for the New Orleans Saints to beat Philadelphia next Saturday night. New Orleans is probably the easiest matchup for the Seahawks at home in the playoffs, at least for the Divisional round. I absolutely cannot wait for our first playoff game in 13 days. There is a distinct difference between a regular season game and a playoff game in regards to the overall stadium atmosphere. I have a feeling that this is going to be a very fun January.

Seahawks Divisional Playoff Outlook: With the win on Sunday, the Seahawks are the #1 seed in the NFC Playoffs and will host an NFC Divisional Playoff game on Saturday, January 11th. Kickoff is slated for 1:35pm. There are three teams the Seahawks could potentially face in the Divisional round, depending on how the following Wild-Card matchups play out:

The Seahawks will play the Green Bay Packers if…

Green Bay defeats San Francisco AND Philadelphia defeats New Orleans

The Seahawks will play the San Francisco 49ers if…

San Francisco defeats Green Bay AND Philadelphia defeats New Orleans

The Seahawks will play the New Orleans Saints if…

New Orleans defeats Philadelphia

I will jump back on the blog in the upcoming week if any notable Seahawks news breaks and once we know which team we will play in the Divisional playoffs. Enjoy the bye week and enjoy Wild-Card weekend everybody. Now the fun really starts. Go Hawks!

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