Wild Card Preview: Seahawks-Redskins

Derek Harper, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Seattle at Washington
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, at FedExField, Landover, Md. - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
*Keys to the game: Two of the most dynamic rookie quarterbacks to ever burst onto the NFL scene go toe-to-toe. The Redskins' Robert Griffin III clearly isn't 100 percent recovered from his sprained right knee, but the Pistol formation is a new element for Seattle to contend with and the cutback lanes rookie RB Alfred Morris exploits requires extremely disciplined, gap assignment football from the Seahawks' defense. Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will figure heavily in containing the league's top-ranked ground game, leaving RG3 to test man coverage on quick slants and seam routes. The Seahawks finished with the league's third-ranked ground game and as vulnerable as Washington's secondary is, it's RB Marshawn Lynch who must set the tone. Seattle's offensive line was overwhelmed in pass protection last week, although the Redskins finished with a modest 32 sacks. It's the read-option - a page taken out of the Redskins' book - that has elevated the Seahawks' offense to another level over the past month. QB Russell Wilson is adept at slithering through the smallest crease and likes to test cornerbacks with vertical shots to WRs Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.
*Matchup to watch - Seahawks CB Brandon Browner vs. Redskins WR Josh Morgan: Browner is coming off a four-game suspension and will be left in man coverage for much of the game as Seattle crashes the edges and focuses on disrupting the backfield. Browner is physical at the line, but lacks the speed to stick with Morgan if beaten off the line.
*Player spotlight - Redskins CB Josh Wilson: Wilson spent his first three seasons with the Seahawks, but was jettisoned when the current regime took over in 2010. At 5-9, he's a popular target who has been beaten for several notable big plays this season.
*Fast facts: The Seahawks led the NFC with a plus-167 point differential during the regular season. ... Washington has a plus-17 turnover margin.
The two hottest teams in the NFC battle with two of the most intriguing rookies in recent memory. The Seahawks' Russell Wilson has exploded with the added dimension of the read-option over the past month and rarely makes mental mistakes. However, Seattle didn't beat a playoff team on the road this season and Washington's Robert Griffin III has thrown only one interception at home all season.
*Our pick: Redskins 27-24

When the Seahawks run the ball: This is one of the game's truly critical battles. Marshawn Lynch finished third in the NFL with 1,590 yards during the regular season, and QB Russell Wilson adds a special dimension off the read-option as Seattle averages 161.2 yards per game on the ground. Washington held opponents to 95.8 yards per game and must control first and second down to protect its secondary. Edge: Seahawks
When the Seahawks pass the ball: Seattle's passing game is hardly dynamic, but Wilson will push the ball downfield a few times per game to stretch defenses pouncing on underneath routes. The Redskins allow 281.9 passing yards per game, although they did come up with three enormous interceptions against Dallas last week. It comes down to whether Wilson has an effective play-action attack to work off of. Edge: Seahawks
When the Redskins run the ball: The Redskins led the NFL with 169.3 rushing yards per game during the regular season and average 5.2 yards per carry. Rookie Alfred Morris finished second in the NFL with 1,613 yards and has shown no signs of hitting the "rookie wall." The big question is how explosive RG3 will be with a brace on his right knee. Seattle finished 10th in run defense, but was gashed up the middle in several games and rookie MLB Bobby Wagner must be sound in filling cut-back lanes. Edge: Redskins
When the Redskins pass the ball: The Redskins' passing game has a serious big-play flair with defenses forced to over-play the ground game. RG3 thrives off attacking man coverage to his speedy receivers on quick routes off play-action. Seattle can bring serious heat and the secondary is extremely physical. The Seahawks must be able to get off the field on third down. Edge: Redskins.
Special teams: Rookie seventh-round pick Richard Crawford, who also serves as the nickel back, has brought stability to the Redskins' return game and first-year PK Kai Forbath is 17-for-18 on field-goal attempts. However, there are few bigger special teams threats than the Seahawks' Leon Washington, who can provide a significantly field position edge. PK Steven Hauschka quietly converted 24 of his 27 field-goal attempts, with all three misses coming for 50-plus yards. Edge: Seahawks
Coaching: Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll are both extremely battle-tested and won't wilt under the pressure of a tight playoff battle. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett must be credited for his game plans while working with a depleted unit. Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has helped institute the read-option while defensive coordinator Gus Bradley could be a head coaching candidate. Edge: Even

What to Read Next