As the post-season nears, it’s time to focus on what makes a championship football team. Obviously, everyone who’s still playing in January has some qualities that put them at a championship-level, but it’s more than just pithy phrases like “Defense Wins Championships” or “The Best Defense Is A Good Offense”. So, I’m gonna break a few things down as I try to talk myself into the Seattle Seahawks this weekend.
3rd Down Percentage
The level of play is heightened in the playoffs. Even some of the worst defenses – if they happen to find themselves in the playoffs – can find a way to step up and make enough plays to win a ballgame. So, while things like Points Per Game and Yards Per Game are interesting-enough to look at, I choose to dig a bit deeper.
3rd down percentage is HUGE in the playoffs. Can you keep drives alive? Can you keep the ball away from your opponent? On the flipside, can your defense get off the field?
The Seahawks currently rank 12th in converting 3rd downs. Washington currently sits 24th. I understand there’s the whole “On Any Given Sunday” line of thinking, but I think this is a huge stat in our favor leading up to this Sunday’s game. On the defensive side, the Seahawks rank merely 17th in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert 38.4% of all third downs. However, the Redskins rank dead last, giving up 44.2%.
A solid pass rush can be the one thing that elevates you over everyone else, just ask the New York Giants of last year. Conversely, if you can’t block for your quarterback, it’s going to put you at a severe disadvantage. The Seahawks and the Redskins both have the same amount of sacks, with 33. That puts them at 20th in the league, which isn’t all that impressive. There’s not a big gap in sacks given up either; the Seahawks gave up 36, the Redskins 32.
Washington doesn’t have a great defense, so they compensate by throwing in more blitzes. Seattle has a pretty good defense, but a weak overall pass rush; we seem to play more zone and try to time our blitzes few and far between. I don’t recall the Seahawks ever playing a team this year that likes to blitz as much as the Redskins, so it’ll be interesting to see how Wilson adjusts. Knowing his style of play, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he’s not going to flip a switch and become a quick-strike passer. He’s going to continue to scramble around like a madman until he can find the open receiver, as always. That might put us at a severe disadvantage, because the quick-strike is pretty much ONLY what the Redskins do (when they’re not running the football). Dialing up extra blitzes would seem to go against our best interests. Can the Seahawks generate enough pressure with their front four to slow down RGIII? Failing that, can the Seahawks win this football game without getting to their quarterback? Odds are, we’ll find out this Sunday.
Time of Possession
I don’t have these numbers readily available, but this still strikes me as one of the most important things you can “win” in the playoffs. Even more than Field Position, which everyone seems to tout so often.
Especially when you’re dealing with a dynamic talent like RGIII, you want to do whatever it takes to keep the ball out of his hands. That means running the ball, pounding the clock with Beastmode. That means sustaining long drives with the aforementioned 3rd down conversions. That means winning the soon-to-be-mentioned Turnover Battle.
Shockingly enough, the Redskins are actually better than the Seahawks at defending the run. I would ask, however, how much of that is due to other teams trying to keep up with the Redskins on the scoreboard. You’re talking about a high-octane offense; I can’t imagine many teams were able to get a big lead on them and then pound away for the rest of a half. On the flipside, both of these teams are among the best in the league on offense with regard to running the ball. Something’s gonna give here.
Sometimes, blind, stupid luck will determine your fate. Just ask last year’s 49ers team. If they don’t muff those punts, you think the Giants are playing in the Super Bowl?
These Seahawks and Redskins are among the Top 5 in the league in turnover differential. That means, obviously, getting strong play from your quarterbacks. Russell Wilson had 10 interceptions this season, but only 2 came in his last 8 games. RGIII was even better, only throwing 5 INTs, with the same 2 in his last 8 games.
These teams have been just as fortunate with the fumbles. Washington only lost 6 and the Seahawks have only lost 8. Sometimes, you can do everything else right, but have a playoff victory taken away from you thanks to a couple of unlucky bounces of a football. It doesn’t mean you were any less worthy of winning a Championship; it just means this wasn’t your year.
Red Zone Percentage
I don’t have these numbers at my disposal either, but if you think about it, it’s pretty simple logic: score touchdowns, not field goals. Score field goals, not nothing. More points are better than less points (or no points), with a hat tip to Dan Fouts and Ron Fairly.
It becomes that much more important when you’re going up against an impressive offensive juggernaut like the Redskins. Can we score touchdowns and hold them to field goals? It’s going to be pivotal. This game figures to be a tight one, as most Seahawks games have been this season. Gotta take advantage of all scoring opportunities, especially in the playoffs.