Monday, February 3, 2014
Bengals not far off Seahawks' blueprint
By Coley Harvey
CINCINNATI -- Here are a few of the key factors that contributed to the championship course the Seattle Seahawks charted this season:
- They went 7-1 at home during the regular season, and were 6-2 in division games.
- They had a defense that lived off turnovers. During the regular season, Seattle led the league in forced turnovers with 39, and had more interceptions than any other team with 17.
- Offensively, they showed real balance, both rushing and passing for more than 100 yards in 13 of the 19 games they played, including playoff games.
What allowed the Seahawks to be such an intimidating, turnover-causing force defensively was an ability to pressure passers with both standard rushes and occasional blitzes from their linebackers or big-as-linebacker safeties. Their unselfish, physical, blue-collar approach to tackling and intercepting passes and forcing fumbles in the secondary also had a hand in that success.
When it came to Seattle's offense, the wealth of weapons at quarterback Russell Wilson's disposal made it relatively to engineer drives that used not only his power-running tailback, but also his possession receivers, his deep-ball receivers and -- in the last two playoff games, at least -- his shifty, do-everything slot receiver, too.
So what does all this have to do with the Cincinnati Bengals? Well, how about this?
If we really get down to it and break down they way the Bengals and Seahawks played this season, it seems the Bengals are only a few steps behind the Seahawks' winning formula.
Yeah, laugh at that all you want. After all, the Bengals lost their wild-card round playoff game to San Diego, looking completely overmatched. The Seahawks on Sunday were the Broncos' version of the Bengals' Chargers, blasting Denver to a 43-8 Super Bowl win.
Those of us who have been following the Bengals' every move all season couldn't help but think Sunday about what this year's Super Bowl would have been like had a defense the caliber of Seattle's been able to trade jabs with one like the Bengals'. The suffocating way Seattle blanked the Broncos was reminiscent of a few Bengals wins from earlier this year.
Remember also, the Seahawks finished the regular season with the league's No. 1 defense. The Bengals were No. 3.
Including the postseason, Seattle had the highest defensive efficiency rating in the league. Cincinnati had the second-highest.
Also including the postseason, the Seahawks had the top defensive win probability average of any team in the NFL. The Bengals were No. 3, and among playoff teams, they were No. 2. In both team's cases it was clear: defense carried them.
While Seattle's "Legion of Boom" and Cincinnati's proprietors of "The Jungle" play similarly, their makeup is slightly different. The Bengals' best defensive statistics came at home, where the team was 8-0 in the regular season. Even though they were paying their headline player at a bargain this year, the Seahawks were paced by a secondary that included the hard-hitting, physical and ball-hawking likes of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. The Bengals have equally intriguing personalities in their defensive backfield, but defensive linemen Geno Atkins (pre-ACL injury), Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko and Michael Johnson, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict, set the unit's smashmouth tone.
As for the offenses, they had commonalities there, too. From a yards-per-game standpoint, Cincinnati was vastly better, boasting the league's ninth-ranked overall offense across the playoffs and regular season combined. Seattle was near the bottom of the rankings at No. 22.
Despite having difficulty compiling yards, the Seahawks had little trouble scoring offensively, ranking in the top 10 in the league with an average 24.1 points in the 19 games they played. The Bengals' offense averaged 23.0 points in their 17 games. Both teams also went over the 40-point plateau multiple times this season, with the Seahawks doing it three times, and the Bengals four.
One way to explain the similarities has to do with the similar structures the offenses have. Both have multiple receiving options, including one a series of possession receivers and one smaller, shifty playmaker who can factor in the screen game, the mid-range passing game or even as an option on reverses.
Golden Tate would be Seattle's equivalent of A.J. Green. Harvin and Cincinnati's Andrew Hawkins are their team's version of a speedy, field-stretching change of pace.
Then there are the running backs. Marshawn Lynch is Seattle's versatile back. He catches passes, runs between the tackles, around the tackles and can plow ahead in short-yardage or long-yardage situations. Cincinnati has two players to fill those responsibilities in Giovani Bernard, the pass-catching, edge-running, longer-yardage back, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the power back used to convert third-and-shorts and goal-line tries.
The thing about Lynch, though, is that he's a major part to the Seahawks' offense on his own. Whether thrown to or running the football, he was part of 37.1 percent of Seattle's play calls in the regular season, and 40.7 percent in the playoffs. Bernard and Green-Ellis together were used on 43.6 percent of all Bengals plays in the regular season but were part of just 39.5 percent of all plays in the lone playoff game.
If the Bengals want to follow the Seahawks' blueprint more closely, they'll need to use their running backs more often in the postseason.
The other rather significant difference on offense? The success of their quarterbacks. Dalton has an admirable 30 total wins in three seasons, but Wilson has 28 in two.
But who knows? Maybe the Seattle Way was only a once-in-a-while phenomenon? Perhaps a different formula will be what wins next year's game.
Either way, the Bengals still have to wonder what could have been if they could have only avoided that dreaded first-round loss.