Week 1 of the NFL season kicked off Thursday night and if what we witnessed is a prelude to the rest of the 2014 season, then all that is to be decided is which AFC team is going to play the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. The formula Seattle used last year during the season and in trouncing Peyton Manning and the record setting offense of the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl—- remains very much intact. In fact, it appears to be better.
Before a raucous crowd at Century Link Field, Seattle dominated the Green Bay Packers with a 20 point, 36-16 victory. From the raising of the 12th man flag to Russell Wilson’s final knee, the outcome was never in doubt.
The Legion of Boom (Seattle’s Secondary) held the NFL’s most prolific passer during the past five years to under 200 yards passing and sacked him three times. That is impressive when you consider Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has not been held under 200 yards since December of 2012 vs. Detroit and since 2010, has only been held under 200 yards just five times. How dominate was the Seattle defense vs Green Bay? The Seahawks were able to apply pressure without actually applying pressure.
Seattle shut down half the field, as Rodgers didn’t throw one pass to a receiver CB Richard Sherman was covering. Rodgers completed 5-of-7 passes for just 6 yards to the right side, as WR Randall Cobb’s 3-yard touchdown reception was the only completion to a wide receiver on that side of the field. Furthermore, all three of Seattle’s sacks vs. Rodgers came with four or fewer pass rushers. When Seattle sacked Rodgers eight times in their 2012 meeting, seven of those sacks also came with four or fewer pass rushers.
Dating back to last year’s postseason, Seattle has devoured elite franchise quarterbacks. Starting with the Divisional round of the NFC playoffs vs. New Orleans, Seattle’s “D” has faced three guaranteed Hall of Fame signal callers and one that is considered one of the top young guns in the league today.
Versus Drew Brees, Colin Kaepernick, Peyton Manning, and Rodgers on Thursday, Seattle’s vaunted defense allowed only four passing TD’s while forcing six interceptions. They also made Manning and Rodgers look like rookies while scoring defensive safeties. The four signal callers, who combined to throw 132 TD passes last season (2.3 per game), could not find and answer for the L.O.B. Including the 35-point win in last February’s Super Bowl, Seattle outscored the four quarterbacks by 50 points, 105-55.
It’s Not All About the “D” in Seattle:
Seattle’s offense was equally as impressive to start the new year. Completing almost 68 percent of his passes, quarterback Russell Wilson played a nearly perfect game. He also threw for less than 200 yards but his 191 passing yards were efficient. Wilson tossed two TD’s with no INT’s and finished with a passer rating of 110.9.
The scariest part for the rest of the NFL is how poised and composed Russell Wilson played. In terms of maturity, Wilson appears to be years ahead of his 38 career starts. Both of Wilson's touchdown passes came when the Packers sent five or more pass rushers. The third year signal caller, whom the Seahawks drafted in the third round (75 overall) from Wisconsin back in 2012, completed 8-of-13 passes for 104 yards against the blitz.
Whatever Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers dialed up, Wilson and the Seahawks offense answered. With such a potent ground game, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell turned to the play action pass. Wilson was 6-for-9 for 100 yards, as both TD passes came on play action vs GB. It will be interesting to see if quarterbacks such as RG3 and Collin Kaepernick have matured, as much as Wilson has. The Seahawks QB made smart decisions to throw the ball instead of taking off with it when he had a patch of grass to scamper but also had open receivers down the field. With 29-yards on seven carries, Wilson still galloped for valuable yards.
Seattle’s offensive isn’t pretty, it won’t keep you glued to the TV wondering what play is coming next. In fact, if you have to grab a beverage or take a bathroom break, you’re more apt to do it when the Seahawks have the ball. What makes the offense boring but so effective is their commitment to running the football. The best stat that shows how important running the ball remains in the pass happy NFL is that only Seattle, and division rival San Francisco, ran the ball more than they threw it in 2013. That’s not a coincidence, as both teams finished one and two respectively in most power polls to finish the 13’ season.
At least for Seattle, that trend looks as if it will continue in 2014. On Thursday night, RB Marshawn Lynch was unstoppable vs. the Packers defense and hardly boring I might add. In full “Beastmode”, Lynch rushed for 110 yards on just 20 carries– 5.5 yards per carry. He scored two touchdowns and now has 43 rushing touchdowns since he made his Seattle debut in Week 6 of the 2010 season. That’s tied with Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson for most in the NFL in that time.
Aside from gaining half of a first down every time he touched the ball, 94 of Lynch’s 110 yards were hard fought yards between the tackles. That is the highest total for Lynch since the beginning of last season (including playoffs) and his 995 yards between the tackles in 2013 were third-most in the NFL. His 10 touchdowns on those rushes led the league.
As a team, the Seahawks ran 37 times, nine more times than threw it and rushed for 207 yards as a team, 16 more rushing yards than what Wilson passed for. Lynch’s straightforward, physical, and nasty style of play mirrors the image of a team that’s known for having those very adjectives used to describe its defense.
The Packers looked as though they were onto something very early in the contest. Former Crimson Tide star RB Eddie Lacey had a couple of nice bursts to start the game. He ran with a similar toughness to that of Lynch. But—in winning 18 of their past 20 regular-season home games, the Seahawks, as they have done with brutal consistency during this span, imposed their physical will on Lacey, Rodgers and the rest of the Packers offense. Lacey left in the fourth quarter with a concussion and only 34 rushing yards. Lacy was 4th in the NFL with 531 rushing yards after contact, but was limited to 16 yards after contact against the Seahawks. The Packers were 0-3 last season in games when Lacy was limited to less than 3.0 yards per rush.
Current NBC Sunday Night Football studio analyst and former Colts and Buccaneers head Coach Tony Dungy isn’t a believer that the Seahawks will repeat. Dungy was adamant in his prediction that Seattle will not join the elite group of franchises that have had the distinction of hoisting back-to-back Lombardi’s. During the networks pre and post-game shows on Thursday, Dungy pointed out that his Indianapolis Colts, who won the Super Bowl the year before, also looked dominating in winning their opening game 41-10 over Drew Brees and the Saints the following year. Dungy pointed out that Indy started the season 7-0 and finished the year 13-3. However, Manning and Dungy were upset by the upstart San Diego Chargers, 24-21, in the Divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
Seven teams (Green Bay, Miami, Pittsburgh (x2), San Francisco, Dallas, Denver, & New England) have repeated eight times as Super Bowl champion in the NFL. Winning the big game breeds greed and builds net worth in NFL players. Other teams pounce on Super Bowl wining rosters and chip away at teams during the offseason. The Baltimore Ravens lost nine players (seven starters) from their 2012 squad and while other issues factored in, the Ravens missed the playoffs with 8-8 record last season. Aside from losing players, a shorter off-season and the proverbial Super Bowl hangover are additional factors when
In fact, no Super Bowl Champ has won a playoff game the following year since the 2005 Patriots did so. Last year, the Ravens became the seventh defending SB Champ in the past 15 years to miss the playoffs altogether. The Pittsburgh Steelers did it twice recently and in fact, all time, almost one third (15 of 47) of Super Bowl-winning teams failed to make it to the postseason as defending champs.
Could Seattle Be Perfect?
Strictly based off Thursday night’s win, the Seahawks could be headed for yet another special season but how special can it be? First, it will be tough to take down the Seahawks if opposing offense are only throwing to half of the field. If one of the three best field generals in the league is willing to play with half the field because of Richard Sherman, will Derek Carr, Alex Smith, Sean Hill, Carson Palmer or Eli Manning fare any better?
Can any defense shut down Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks rushing attack? Playing ball control offense with a great defense means less time to beat the most physical, nasty and opposing defense in the league—not likely to happen. The only real problem the Seahawks appeared to have is they don’t have anyone to return punts.
A lot can happen in the NFL—injuries, slumps and bad luck can derail any team’s season in a hurry. Schedule strength isn’t on the side of Seattle in 2014. For starters, playing in the NFC West makes for the toughest divisional slate in the league. Arizona finished 10-6 last season and missed the playoffs but they wouldn’t have in the AFC. They also play their counterparts form the west in the AFC, which had three playoff teams last season. Three road games from Week 13 to Week 16 — at San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Arizona — with a home test against the 49ers might be the toughest stretch any team in the NFL will face all season. Aside from the Packers, which they beat, the season continues with two more playoff teams from 2013, at San Diego and a Super Bowl rematch at home against Denver. According to the experts, Seattle has the sixth toughest schedule as their 2014 opponents had a winning percentage of .561 in 2013.
No worries in Seattle—-this team is veteran enough, deep enough, close enough— as a unit, and well coached to withstand most issues that could arise. The only real trouble would be if they lost Lynch, Wilson, or more than one member of the L.O.B. But with the presumption of health, not only will Seattle likely be the first repeat champs since New England in 2004 & 05, but they might be able to finish what the 2007 Patriots couldn’t—–a perfect season.