By Erik Lewis, Feature Writer
In a league where repeating as champions is rarely done, a team that looks like it has all the pieces to do so has risen. The Seattle Seahawks began their quest for Super Bowl win No. 2 in a row last night, with a 36-16 trouncing of the Green Bay Packers.
In front of a raucous crowd that got to see the three-ring circus that goes on at a Thursday Night NFL Opener. They also got to see many reasons why their team will be the top team to beat in the NFC and NFL in 2014-15.
Here are my three reasons why…
1. A scary, balanced offense
Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin and even Percy Harvin, showed that in pass happy league, the ground game is still relevant and essential to winning football games. Lynch ran for 110 yards on just 20 carries, including two relatively easy touchdown runs. Lynch’s punishing style ripped through the Green Bay defense, which has had trouble stopping the run in recent years.
The read-option was still effective, with new pass wrinkles mixed in that college teams know all too well. Wilson threw a touchdown on the first attempt at said wrinkle. Because of that, the Packers defenders had to stay even more focused on their specific assignment (which is all option football is).
As a team, the Seahawks ran for 207 yards on 37 carries, getting 41 from Harvin, who is extremely dangerous in open space, and 56 more from Turbin and Wilson.
When the running game has as much success as it did on Thursday, the passing game comes rather easily. Wilson didn’t have to try very hard on play-action to get the defense to bite, because if it didn’t, the run could’ve gone for a touchdown on each play. The corners, safeties and linebackers were on their toes trying to guess what was coming to even have a chance. The Packers defense was ranked 26th last season in the NFL, so it didn’t seem too difficult for the Seahawks have balanced success, but Seattle’s play-calling and execution were good enough to beat any defense last night.
Russell Wilson added to that equation because he makes few poor decisions and turnovers (the Packers had a two chances to intercept him last night, but were unable to come down with either pass). Wilson is elusive and an accurate passer who needs to be pressured if teams are going to have any success. Wilson was sacked just once on Thursday night and was able to complete 19-for-28 of his passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns.
2. A stout, fast defense
Trying to out-speed and outrun the Seahawks on the perimeter is a no-no. Eddie Lacy learned that the hard way on numerous occasions. The Seahawks swarmed to the ball well, and used good technique by wrapping Lacy up so he couldn’t break free.
The Seahawks rarely get beat on the edge with pass-rushers like Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and O’Brien Schofield. Lacy tried to cut runs to the outside when his interior offensive lineman couldn’t make blocks, but he was cut down immediately for no gain or a loss. Lacy isn’t a speed back to begin with, so stretching the field wasn’t going to be easy.
After breaking off two runs for 21 yards to start the game, the rest of the Packers run attempts netted just 59 yards on 19 carries. The speed all over the field also showed on quick screen passes and arrow routes to receivers, which had trouble eluding and outrunning Kam Chancellor, Byron Maxwell and hard-hitting Earl Thomas.
Looking at their wide-set defensive ends, rushing inside proved to be a little easier, however that requires stretching the field enough on first and second down to loosen up the middle. James Starks had the most success at that, rushing and receiving in the middle of the field. Starks didn’t try to do too much like Lacy, he just put his head down after making one cut to get yards.
Starks finished with 48 yards on nine total touches. John Kuhn was also able to score on his only carry, a 1-yard plunge in the first quarter, but the rest of the game the interior shored up. When the Packers were unable to get at least three yards on first or second down, Kevin Williams and the Seahawks linebackers (Bobby Wagner and Malcolm Smith) filled the gaps well enough to deter any more attempts.
3. Home field advantage and experience
CenturyLink Field (the Hawks Nest) is a tough place to play. The noise from the “12th Man” makes it nearly impossible to come in and upset the home team. The Seahawks are 16-1 in their last 17 home games (technically the fail mary counts in that category…how? I’m not sure).
The home field advantage is important because that means the road to the Super Bowl, assuming the Seahawks clinch home-field, goes through Seattle.
But even if the ‘Hawks don’t get that and still get into the playoffs, they’re youthful (Seattle’s players averages 26 years old) yet experienced enough to make another run, losing very few starters on both offense and defense.
The Seahawks’ odds to win Super Bowl XLIX are at 6/1, along with the Denver Broncos…I’d say after seeing them play last night, it might be even better than that…