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Sunday, December 30, 2012
What makes Seahawks tough out in playoffs

By Mike Sando

Russell Wilson
Quarterback Russell Wilson overcame a rocky first half to lead the Seahawks over the Rams.
SEATTLE -- Russell Wilson could have pulled up and thrown a touchdown pass to break Peyton Manning's single-season rookie record Sunday.

Tight end Zach Miller was open.

Instead, the Seattle Seahawks' rookie quarterback decided to run the ball across the goal line for the winning touchdown in a 20-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams in Week 17.

The play said much about what makes Seattle dangerous heading into the playoffs as the NFC's fifth seed, set to visit Washington in a wild-card game at 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

Some quarterbacks can beat you with their legs. Some can beat you with their arms. Wilson can do those things, but it's not an either-or proposition. The offensive rookie of the year candidate's ability to beat teams with his arm after beating them with his feet is what makes him a matchup nightmare.

"You try to prepare for him all week and it's hard to prepare for a guy like that who is mobile and can still throw at the same time," Rams defensive end William Hayes said. "I really don't know a certain way to say 'this is how you stop that kid.' He is special."

Wilson showed something else on his winning 1-yard run to punctuate a 90-yard touchdown drive with 1:45 remaining.

"I was going to throw it to Zach to break the record," Wilson said, "but that is not me. The only thing that matters to me was to win the game."

No wonder Wilson's teammates made him the first rookie to win the team's highest individual honor -- the Steve Largent Award, given annually to the Seattle player who "exemplifies the spirit, dedication and integrity of the team."

The Rams sacked Wilson five times in the first half and made him work for everything he got. But with third-down completions covering 49, 44 and 31 yards in the second half, Seattle rallied to hand St. Louis its first NFC West defeat of the season.

The Seahawks won seven of their final eight regular-season games in getting to 11-5, good for second in the NFC West behind the 11-4-1 San Francisco 49ers. The Rams were 7-8-1 and they are rising. Seattle could not rest until cornerback Richard Sherman picked off Sam Bradford in the final minute.

"It was a good, hard-fought win and it was nice to finish like that in a tough situation and actually come from behind to get it done," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.

Seattle had outscored its past three opponents by a combined 150-30 score.

The way this game against the Rams went mattered to the extent that it informed expectations for Seattle in the postseason.

Seattle has not faced Washington. The Rams defeated the Redskins in Week 2, so I headed to their locker room Sunday looking for thoughts on the Seahawks' playoff prospects.

"I think Washington is built to defend the zone read because they see that every day in practice," Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan said.

Rams defensive end Chris Long grew up around Wilson in Virginia and threw down his friend for three sacks Sunday. But when the outcome was in the balance, Wilson did enough. His Total QBR score jumped from 31.2 in the first half to 85.3 in the second as Seattle appeared to use bootlegs to greater effect.

"He does a great job extending plays," Long said. "Those are the things you can't plan for. He was able to extend some plays and that is how they won."

The Seahawks are not a rhythm passing team. They're a big-play passing team because teams must respect Marshawn Lynch and the run while making sure Wilson doesn't escape with the football on the perimeter.

Marshawn Lynch
The threat of Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 100 yards Sunday against the Rams, sets up Seattle's big-play passing game.
Lynch finished with 100 yards rushing and a 5.6-yard average. Wilson carried 10 times for 58 yards. He also averaged 13.2 yards per pass attempt, best in the NFL for Week 17 by more than 2.5 yards.

"They run the ball so well," Finnegan said. "It's not the fact that he makes any on-schedule throws. It's off-schedule stuff. He is a shorter guy in the pocket and if you don't get ahold of him, he's going to make plays like that."

Wilson completed all six pass attempts for 77 yards when the Rams brought five or more pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. However, Wilson also took two of his six sacks on those plays. Seattle struggled to defend against some of the Rams' pass-rush schemes. Long and fellow defensive end Robert Quinn gave the Seahawks' tackles trouble in one-on-one situations as well.

This was a tough game for Seattle. Some of the Seahawks' troubles were self-inflicted. Miller would have had a touchdown early in the game if fellow tight end Anthony McCoy hadn't committed offensive pass interference unnecessarily.

Penalties repeatedly turned down-and-distance against Seattle.

"That was obviously the difference in the first half," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.

One difference in the second half: Wilson had no turnovers. Lynch coughed up a fumble that could have lost the game for Seattle, but the Rams couldn't get the bounce they needed. St. Louis finished the season with only four opponent fumble recoveries in 17 chances.

Wilson has three turnovers in the Seahawks' past eight games.

"Russell really showed me some things today, for him to be a rookie," Hayes said. "He is a good quarterback, man. He is a lot better than what you would think he is."

The Rams held on against Robert Griffin III and the Redskins in Week 2, winning that game 31-28. Griffin completed 20 of 29 passes for 206 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and carried 11 times for 82 yards and two scores.

"I feel like Russell is, when the play breaks down, that is when he is at his best," Rams safety Quintin Mikell said. "He is looking to pass. That is what creates headaches for you. With RG III, I think it's more of a system they have, more like the pistol and zone read-type stuff. They are both very effective, just in different ways."

The interception Griffin threw against the Rams led to a field goal for St. Louis. That was the difference on the scoreboard in the end.

"Robert is faster, but with Russell, he scrambles to make the throw deep," Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "He had a 15-second play against the 49ers and he scrambles looking to find guys. It is impossible to cover for 15 seconds in the NFL."

The Seahawks can emerge from this game against the Rams feeling confident in their chances against any NFC opponent. Their inability to generate a pass rush consistently, particularly late in games, is one concern. But with a highly productive ground game, one of the NFL's most dynamic quarterbacks, and cornerbacks strong enough to disrupt opponents' timing, Seattle will be a tough out.

"I just can't wait to see RG III and Russell go at it, if that is the matchup," Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers said.