The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday 35-6 in a game that saw quarterback Russell Wilson throw for five touchdowns. This coming weekend the Seahawks face the Cleveland Browns, another dreg of the AFC North. Where do the Seahawks currently stand in their quest for a trip to a third straight Super Bowl?
The Ravens are an injury-depleted team that the Seahawks should have beaten badly, and they did. Seattle has kept some games close this year that should have probably had wider margins, against the Tony Romo-less Dallas Cowboys, for instance. That the Seahawks, even after a slow start to the game, were able to defeat a weakened team by 29 points is a very good sign that the team is getting into playoff form.
Of course, the biggest negative coming out of the game was the season-ending loss of rookie running back Thomas Rawls to a broken ankle on Seattle’s first drive of the first quarter. Rawls was leading the league in average yards per carry (5.6) and had 830 yards rushing this season. His combination of speed and power seemed to augment the offense more so than even when fellow back Marshawn Lynch has played this year. The problem now is the Seahawks are without Rawls and Lynch.
Running back DuJuan Harris (since released by the Seahawks) received the majority of the carries after Rawls’ injury, but was mostly ineffective with 42 yards on 18 rushes. He also fumbled on the Ravens five-yard line killing a drive that would have ended in points otherwise. His replacement this week appears to be newly signed Bryce Brown. It seems as if Brown has been signed and released by the Seahawks 75 times this season, but this week, unless there is a last minute change, would appear to be the week he can make a difference. Seattle will still want to run the ball and not rely solely on Wilson’s passing, so Brown will need to be much more effective than Harris.
(Author’s note: former Seahawk Christine Michael was re-signed by the Seahawks on Wednesday.)
But what a last month of the season it has been for Russell Wilson. Not only is he currently playing the best football of his career, he is playing as well as anyone ever has over a four game stretch in National Football League history. Only two other quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era have thrown for at least 16 touchdowns with no interceptions over a four game period, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and they were Tom Brady (2007) and Peyton Manning (2013). That is good company to keep. Plus, there is the fact that Wilson’s quarterback rating against the blitz the last four games is 153.9 to go with his 145.9 overall rating.
And receiver Doug Baldwin is not far behind. Over the last three weeks Baldwin has 17 catches for 321 yards and eight touchdowns. When half of a receiver’s catches go for scores, that receiver is doing something right.
Sunday, the Ravens were simply overwhelmed by Wilson’s passing ability and the Seahawks rush defense. The Ravens with their current roster are not a good team, and the Seahawks treated them as such.
This weekend the 3-10 Cleveland Browns visit Seattle. Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel is coming off arguably his best game as a professional. This past Sunday in Cleveland against the San Francisco 49ers he was 21 of 31 for 270 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception. The Browns outgained the 49ers 481 yards to 221 and sacked 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert nine times. Cleveland running back Isaiah Crowell had 145 yards rushing with a 7.3 average per carry and two touchdowns. In review, the Browns dominated a 4-9 49ers team that will probably see its coach get fired after the season along with many other changes.
The Seahawks are not the 49ers, however. The Seahawks are not as historically good on defense as the last few seasons, but they still rank second in scoring defense in the NFL, second in overall defense, they are second against the run and fifth against the pass. For all the naysayers wondering what is wrong with Seattle defense this year, they are still one of the top defenses in the league. This is what Manziel will be facing on Sunday.
In an away game.
The issue for the Seahawks offensively will be making sure they do not become too one dimensional with throwing the ball. As well as Seattle normally runs, there is just no way of knowing how well Brown, the presumptive starter, will do. He has not played this season with any team and has never played with the Seahawks. He does possess raw skill, but that has not translated to any sustained starting time in his short NFL career. Tailback Fred Jackson, according to coach Pete Carroll, will maintain his third-down specialty position. Brown and Jackson at least played with each other when they were with the Buffalo Bills last year, so one could hope that they have a good working relationship, and Jackson can help Brown learn some of the more nuanced techniques of the Seahawks running game. Either way, Brown will be relied upon to be a big part of the game plan on Sunday, especially as the Browns rank 29th against the run. At least it appears Lynch will be back by the end of the season.
This should be another good day for Wilson. The Browns defensive QBR away from home is an awful 107.7. In overall defensive QBR the Browns are 28th in the league. It certainly does not help Cleveland that excellent cornerback Joe Haden is out for the year.
The Browns, though, were able to generate a pass rush against the 49ers, so if the Seahawks offensive line takes a step back this week, it is possible that the Browns can keep the game close. If the Browns do not get pressure on Wilson, this game will be another blowout for the Seahawks.
Basically, the Seahawks will win easily if Brown can get 75-100 yards on the ground, the offensive line can protect Wilson as well they have in recent weeks and the Browns are unable to effectively run the ball. If these things do not take place, the Browns are still professionals and can surprise the Seahawks.
A win would put Seattle at 9-5 with two games to play. They currently hold the number five spot in the NFC playoff standings and according to Football Outsiders have a 99.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Seahawks can clinch a spot in the playoffs with wins over the Browns and the following week against the St. Louis Rams, or a win over the Browns and losses by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants on Sunday.