Out-hit and out-coached, the Seattle Seahawks return to the postseason proved to be a brief one following a 24-22 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Saturday’s Wild Card tilt.
Unable to replicate the success running the football that had steered the team to a playoff berth, the Seahawks were held to 73 yards on the ground, including starter Chris Carson rushing for only 20 yards on 13 carries. With the Cowboys fifth-ranked run defense holding serve, Seattle didn’t make essential offensive adjustments quickly enough, falling behind two scores late in the fourth quarter before finally opening up the playbook for quarterback Russell Wilson.
“They did a lot of great things, made it hard on us.” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after the game. “This game didn’t go the way we had anticipated and most of our games have been different from this one. It was a different game for us to play and not being able to move the ball like we want to really is a product of the third down issues we had.”
The Cowboys were able to flip the script, as Ezekiel Elliott carved up the Seahawks for 137 rushing yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. With the game in the balance, Dallas relied on Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott to move the chains as runners behind a physical offensive line that played substantially better than when the two teams last met in September.
Some thoughts on Seattle’s season-ending defeat in Arlington and what it means as the organization prepares for a long offseason:
· Carroll emphasized third down struggles multiple times in his post-game press conference, as the Seahawks converted only two out of 13 third down opportunities. The inability to stay on schedule and move the chains looked eerily similar to the first four games of the season when Seattle converted on less than 28 percent of their third downs, including a 0-for-10 performance against the Cardinals. Wilson should shoulder some of the blame for those atrocious numbers, but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer didn’t do him any favors by continuing to try to run into the teeth of Dallas’s defense on early downs, putting his quarterback in a position to fail. In many previous games, the Seahawks could’ve gotten away with such antics. But in the postseason against a top-notch defense on the road? Not so much. This needs to be a defining learning moment for the coaching staff moving into next year, but who knows if that’ll actually come to fruition.
· Wilson’s final stat line looks respectable, as he finished 17 for 27 with 233 passing yards and a late touchdown pass to running back J.D. McKissic. But a large chunk of that yardage came on the final desperation scoring drive, again illustrating how Seattle’s offensive conservatism came back to backfire on the playoff stage. He only attempted two passes in the first quarter and completed seven out of 11 passes in the first half for 97 yards, simply not enough given how well the Cowboys defended Carson and the Seahawks’ ineffective run game. In big playoff games like this, Seattle shouldn’t have any fear or reservations about putting the ball in their franchise quarterback’s hands to win. With seven seasons under his belt, the organization has to feel a bit of pressure to win while he’s in his prime years under center.
· Carson endured the worst game of his NFL career, unable to find any running room while constantly being swarmed by Dallas defenders in the backfield. Interestingly, if the Seahawks were so insistent about running the ball, they may have been better suited against this opponent to cut rookie running back Rashaad Penny loose. He didn’t see any snaps in the entire first half, but the first-round pick exploded for a 28-yard run on his second carry midway through the third quarter. Offering more burst and quickness than Carson or Mike Davis, Penny may have had more success overall with holes closing up quickly in the trenches. After getting blown up on a toss sweep thanks to a missed block, he only ran the ball one more time the rest of the game, once again relegated to watching on the sidelines.
· There’s nothing wrong with Seattle’s identity being built around running the football. They won 10 regular season games by establishing the top rushing attack in the NFL and it’s one of the main reasons they made the postseason to begin with. But it’s a travesty that Tyler Lockett, who amassed 120 receiving yards on only four receptions, didn’t get more than six targets in this game. Heading into next season, Schottenheimer has to find a way to scheme plays to get the football into his dynamic receiver’s hands more frequently. He’s an All-Pro caliber player who nearly reached the 1,000-yard mark this year despite being targeted only 70 times. The offense doesn’t need to steer away from prioritizing running the ball necessarily, but in today’s NFL, it’s inexcusable Lockett isn’t a bigger part of this offense.
· At the core of Seattle’s struggles running the ball against a tough Dallas front line and linebacker group, guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker weren’t close to 100 percent. Both gutted it out after missing time with injuries over the past month, as the duo hadn’t started a game together since December 2. Fluker may have been in a better situation given the fact he practiced last week and saw game action a few weeks ago, but Sweezy admitted after the game that he had a chipped bone in his foot that would take at least a month to heal. Who knows how differently Saturday night would’ve played out if both players were healthy, but their injuries certainly had an undeniable impact on Seattle being held to under 75 yards rushing.
· As one of the major differences from the first matchup between these teams back in Week 3, the Seahawks struggled to generate much of a pass rush pursuing Dak Prescott. Back in September, Seattle sacked him five times, with Frank Clark and Jarran Reed posting two sacks apiece. With the exception of Clark, who sacked Prescott once and hit him a total of three times, the Seahawks weren’t able to create much pressure on the Cowboys young signal caller this time around. Reed also managed to hit Prescott once and otherwise, the Seahawks didn’t touch him all evening. When Seattle did create a bit of push in the pocket, Prescott scrambled and completed several passes on the move to extend drives. Going into the offseason, Seattle will once again have to figure out how to land a complementary pass rusher opposite of Clark, whether through the draft or free agency.
· If K.J. Wright played his final game in a Seahawk uniform, he ended his tenure in style, playing arguably the best game he’s had in the past two seasons. The veteran linebacker flew around the field all day, finishing with nine tackles, including diagnosing and tackling receiver Tavon Austin on an end-around for a three-yard loss. He also made one of the biggest plays of the night, covering a “crunch-to-fade” route by tight end Noah Brown, deflecting the pass, and then hauling it in for an interception in the end zone. Due to his age and recent injury history, it remains unclear if the Seahawks will try to re-sign Wright, who will become a free agent when the league year opens on March 13. Teammates such as Bobby Wagner have made their viewpoints clear, but as the organization showed last offseason, they’ll have no issues moving on from a long-time starter if the price isn’t right.
· Similar to Sweezy, cornerback Shaquill Griffin grinded out Saturday’s game playing on a bum ankle and the Cowboys took advantage, picking on him throughout the course of the game. Prescott threw back-to-back fades to receiver Michael Gallup on a second quarter touchdown drive with Griffin in coverage. While he misfired the first one, Prescott was able to loft the second attempt over Griffin’s head and the second-year corner didn’t turn to look for the football quickly enough, allowing Gallup to bring it in for the score. Later in the half, Griffin also lost contain on the edge, allowing running back Ezekiel Elliott to race for a 41-yard gain down the right sideline and put the Cowboys in position to tack on another field goal before halftime. Fans went after Griffin throughout the game, but the young defender had been playing lights out until suffering the ankle injury in the season finale and his performance was no doubt hindered. Once he gets healthy, he'll have a chance to get back to work and make a huge jump heading towards his third NFL season.
· In a strange, unconventional way, losing kicker Sebastian Janikowski to a hamstring injury at the end of the first half may have actually helped Seattle’s offense a bit after halftime. Forced to stay aggressive without a dependable kicking option, Wilson was able to complete a 22-yard pass to Doug Baldwin, who did a fantastic job getting both feet down along the sideline, to convert a 4th and 5 opportunity past midfield. If Janikowski was available, Seattle might have gone for the long field goal instead, though it would’ve been on the outer edge of his range at 40 years of age. A few plays later, Wilson kept the football on a read-option and sprinted untouched into the end zone, helping Seattle briefly retake a 14-10 lead.