In the finale of this weekend’s wild card festivities that will surely be won by a combined score of, say, 44-26 with four road wins (believe in Madden), you’ll see an elusive quarterback run, and consistently keep plays alive with his feet. You’ll see him demonstrate great comfort and ease while throwing outside of the pocket, and often target his receivers deep downfield after designed rollouts. You’ll see him make athletic defensive ends look simply silly while diving and whiffing.
Then Robert Griffin III will take the field.
If he was fully healthy, Griffin would be the slightly more mobile of the two mobile, blossoming rookie quarterbacks set to square off Sunday in Washington, with the other Seattle’s Russell Wilson. But he remains at least mildly hobbled by a knee injury, giving us two QBs who are nearly identical. They’re supported by two running backs whose downhill, pounding styles are almost identical too after Alfred Morris finished second in rushing during the regular season with 1,613 yards (he was one of just two running backs to average over 100 yards per game), and Marshawn Lynch was right behind him in third with 1,590 yards. And finally, there’s also the two opposing speed threats split out wide (Pierre Garcon and Sidney Rice).
But the mirror doesn’t work so easily on the defenses.
Specifically, the secondaries, a place where the Redskins were burned all season, while the Seahawks boast arguably the league’s best defensive backfield. Richard Sherman — he of the eight interceptions this year, only one behind league leader Tim Jennings — dodged a suspension, and now Brandon Browner is returning from his own four-game banishment. And all Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor do is hurt dudes. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Hall may have looked like his vintage Atlanta self last week, but for much of the year all he did was watch dudes run away from him. Really far too.
To the numbers.
|Seahawks offense||Redskins defense|
|Total yards P/Game||350.6 (17th)||377.7 (28th)|
|Passing yards P/Game||189.4 (27th)||281.9 (30th)|
|Rushing yards P/Game||161.2 (3rd)||95.8 (5th)|
|Seahawks defense||Redskins offense|
|Total yards P/Game||306.2 (4th)||383.2 (5th)|
|Passing yards P/Game||203.1 (6th)||213.9 (20th)|
|Rushing yards P/Game||103.1 (10th)||169.3 (1st)|
Even just the surface layer shows the gaping divide between the two secondaries. But it gets worse, because of course it does:
- The Redskins were one of only five teams to give up more than 30 passing touchdowns (they finished with 31), meaning that throughout the regular season opponents scored nearly an average of 14 points per game by throwing to a guy in the end zone, or throwing to a guy and he then ran to said end zone.
- Much of that was on Hall, who was just the worst. According to Pro Football Focus, he gave up a reception every 8.3 times he was in coverage, ranking him 96th in the league. Yeah, throw his way, Russell.
- That awfulness has, of course, extended to tight ends. The Redskins have given up 68.3 receiving yards per game to the position, putting them firmly in the basement. That’s enough of a weakness to make Zach Miller matter, even though he hasn’t logged a +30 yard game since the Seahawks’ Week 11 bye, leading to the emergence of Anthony McCoy.
- RG3 is always the great equalizer, though, even a slightly hobbled RG3. But opposite him will be rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who’s the foundation of a Seahawks’ linebacking corps that has great lateral speed. They can bring pressure off the edge too, as K.J. Wright and LeRoy Hill have combined for 9.5 sacks.
- Containing Griffin and by extension the league’s best rushing attack is a matter of gap discipline, something the Seahawks demonstrated just a few weeks ago when they faced the similarly mobile and fast Colin Kaepernick, the leader of an offense that also relies on exotic run formations and option plays. Overall in that Week 16 game a 49ers offense that averaged 155.7 rushing yards per game overall (4th) was held to only 82 yards. Kaep was the leading rusher with just 31 yards on seven attempts.
- In the Redskins’ run-based offense Griffin doesn’t pass often, and instead he’s asked to make the most of his limited attempts. He finished with just 393 attempts (26th), and there were only five games when he threw 20 or more times. Yet despite that minimal usage of his arm and reliance on his legs that resulted in only 258 completions, he still connected with his pass catchers for 47 completions of 20 yards or more.
- That means 18.2 percent of Griffin’s completions resulted in chunk yardage, which is coach-speak for, well, a really long play. So the conclusion here then is simple: when Griffin is passing, stretching the field deep is often his aim, with the deep threat ability of Pierre Garcon making him a frequent target. Even though he missed six games this year, Garcon still had two +50 yard catches, including an 88-yard touchdown in Week 1, Griffin’s longest completion of the year. Since returning to a regular snap count following a foot injury in Week 12, he’s averaged 79.1 receiving yards per game, a stretch that’s included three of his four touchdowns.
- And that’s all terrific. Really, it is. The problem with that rosy little Griffin-Garcon connection is Sherman, the Pro Bowl snub. He led the league in passes defended with 24, but most importantly, his shutdown coverage led to a passer rating against of only 41.1 during the regular season when the ball was thrown in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus. Combine that with the return of Browner on the opposite side and the devastating hits of Thomas and Chancellor, and throwing deep likely won’t end well for Griffin et al.