Today’s game features the Seattle Seahawks flying east to the nation’s capital to do battle with an explosive Washington Redskins team led by superhuman rookie quarterback RGIII. The Seahawks are the favorites heading into this game on the strength of their superior record and the way they closed out the season with a notable victory at Chicago followed by three blowout wins (including one over the #2 seed San Francisco) and a final win last week against St. Louis. 5 wins, 4 of them of the impressive variety, is nothings to sneeze at and it’s no surprise the Seahawks are being labeled as a dangerous team right now. The thing that people seem to be glossing over is that the Redskins won their last 7 games which is an even more remarkable feat. They can’t be taken lightly in this game but nor are they an unstoppable force. The Redskins are the sort of team you’d expect to play in wildcard weekend, a good team with some issues. One of those issues today is Robert Griffin’s knee. Although RGIII is an accomplished passer without his trademark speed he loses a dynamic aspect of his game. However, since it’s hard to discuss the matchup of the Seahawks defense vs. Robert Griffin’s knee without sounding like Gregg Williams I’ll have to turn my attention elsewhere. Instead we will focus on whole players rather than individual joints in the first ever playoff edition of “matchups of the game”.
Matchup #1: Russell Okung vs. Trent Williams
I’ll start here by saying that I am aware of the basic principles of football and the fact that these two LT’s will never see the field against each other. The comparison of the two Pro Bowl tackles in this game is what interests me. Not only were Okung (drafted 6th overall) and Williams (4th overall) compared ad nauseam during the 2010 Draft process but they likely will be during their careers. Most observers at the time saw Okung as the #1 LT prospect available but the Redskins chose Williams instead as he was a better fit for their scheme. Both teams have been rewarded with quality players. Both players are making their first Pro Bowl appearance in their third years in the league after having some trouble staying healthy in their first two years (23 starts during that period for Williams, 22 for Okung). Okung and Williams are both protecting very mobile quarterbacks which, on the surface, seems like a benefit as their quarterback’s legs can bail them out of trouble. In reality scrambling quarterbacks can be infuriating to block for because although they are a moving target to defenders they are the same for blockers and their unpredictability of movement can turn an excellent block into the wrong block in no time at all. Both the Seahawks’ and Redskins’ defenses will be keying on the oppositions running game and as a result there will be opportunities for shots down the field in this game. Whichever one of these men is able to keep their quarterback safer and in a position to hold the ball and make the deep throw might well see their team emerge victorious.
Matchup #2: Richard Sherman vs. Pierre Garcon
I’ve highlighted this matchup mainly for the reason that Richard Sherman already declared that he wasn’t worried about Garcon and I’d like to see him back up that kind of talk. I admire Sherman’s confidence and acknowledge his skill, but to be honest Garcon is the type of receiver worth losing a little sleep over. Garcon played in only 10 games this year, very few of them completely healthy, and put up 633 yards or 63.3 per game. Over a full year that average would have resulted in 1012 yards for Garcon and that’s without considering to what degree he played hurt. Given that 1000 yard receivers don’t grow on trees (there were 19 this year) Sherman will have to pay attention today. Garcon has electric down the field ability and Sherman would be wise to bully him at the line of scrimmage as much as possible. The reason that shutting down Garcon is so essential is that there is such a drop off between him and the next best receiving option in Washington. The Redskins other starting wideout, Joshua Morgan, has put up 31.9 yards a game and a far from intimidating 10.6 yards per catch. Logan Paulsen, the starting tight end, is averaging 19.3 yards per game. The bottom line is if you shut down Pierre Garcon you can cripple the Washington passing game and the Seahawks will be allocating arguably their best player to that exact assignment.
Matchup #3: Golden Tate vs. Josh Wilson
The battle of Seattle’s 2010 2nd round pick and their 2007 2nd rounder should be a doozy. Even though Sidney Rice isn’t 100% (1 catch for 14 yards in his last 2 games) he will still likely draw DeAngelo Hall leaving two “mighty mites” to duke it out on the other side of the field. Tate actually has the height advantage in this one, a luxury he rarely has access to, which might make it easier for him to reel in a jump ball or two down field. He has really emerged this year with 45.9 yards per game, almost twice his career high of 23.9 yards per match. Tate has finally turned his strength and short area quickness into tangible production and is beginning to look the part of a starting WR. If the Seattle passing game is really going to get going Tate will need to be involved but that’s easier said than done against former Seahawk Josh Wilson. Wilson has emerged as a viable starting corner over the last two years in Washington starting all 32 games and averaging 2 INT and 14 PD per year. Adding in a knack for creating fumbles (3FF this year) and the fact he is immensely dangerous with the ball in his hands (you may recall he led the league in kick return yardage for the 2008 Seahawks), Wilson is a nifty player and a formidable opponent. However, he is a formidable opponent Tate will have to best because unless Rice finds his stride again Tate is the #1 option for Russell Wilson today.
This game has the makings of a memorable contest. The Seahawks take to the road looking for their first road win since 1983 (a stat that just keeps coming up this week) against a team that is likely inferior but only slightly so. With the Redskins holding home field advantage I’d say this one is about dead even. An absolute dogfight is in order with two powerful RB’s, two Pro Bowl LT’s and two rookie sensations leading the way at QB. The difference in this game is that Seattle has the elite defense and Washington doesn’t (the Redskins allowed 1144 yards and 143 points more than Seattle over the course of the year). I have faith that Seattle can put some points against a Washington defense that is fairly unimpressive, so all they really have to do is stop RGIII and company. That sounds so simple. I’ve got this sneaking suspicion it’s easier said than done. Whatever the case may be Seahawks fans are in for an exciting day, and with any luck, an even more exciting night.
Expect Seattle to sign their first-round picks by the end of today. Russell Okung and Earl Thomas should both be ready to go when training camp opens tomorrow.
Last night, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Brandon Graham, the thirteenth overall selection last April, to a five-year deal. This is significant for the Seahawks because Thomas was chosen fourteenth overall, one spot behind Graham.
At the very least, Graham’s deal should provide a guideline for getting a deal done with Thomas. Negotiating a contract and determining Thomas’ value as the fourteenth overall pick should be easier with Graham’s deal finished.
Graham signing his contract before camp is excellent news, especially considering earlier reports that he was a long way from signing his rookie deal. Without Graham’s deal completed, it may have been more difficult for the Seahawks to negotiate a fair deal for Thomas.
The Washington Redskins also made a push last night and signed their first-round pick, tackle Trent Williams. The former Sooner signed a six-year, $60 million contract that includes $36.75 million guaranteed.
Williams’ contract is significant to Seattle because not only does he play the same position as Okung, but was drafted only two spots ahead of him. Williams’ deal, like Graham’s, should help Seattle negotiate contracts with its first-year players.
Williams was drafted fourth overall, the same spot Aaron Curry was selected in 2009. Curry signed a six-year deal potentially worth $60 million with $34 million guaranteed.