Beat The Man - Divisional Edition

To paraphrase Mr. Tarantino, there's two characteristics of the superhero mythology - the superhero and the alter ego. In the 21 years since their last playoff win, the Seahawks have struggled to find their "special powers"...more often than not, their stories had ended with the Man of Steel stuck in the phone booth, and the bad guys running off with the loot. Scott Jones reveals why this may be the year Seattle finally puts the "S" on the chest...

Last Week’s Results: 1-3
Season to Date: 36-50-1 (and tired of saying so)
Hawk Picks: 4-5

And now let us enter the fray… It’s time for our Hawks to prey.

Everything that came before is now sitting at the 50-yard marker. Waiting for a push in one direction. A nice stiff shove to start it off, followed by a perpetual tangle of determined desire. If we’re able to maintain this year’s impressive credentials… we may find ourselves at the opposition’s 30 by the end of this contest. The following week could put us at the 20. And then into the Gold Zone we go. Where they don’t say “stop” – they say “cash in, baby!” A fistful of Lombardi is all the coin you’ll ever need.

It’s time to catch a wave and I can taste the salt in the air. How ‘bout you?

Last weekend served up a fair amount of slop. Home Field teams took the fall 3-1 – and deservedly so. By the time Carson Palmer hit the turf on his first pass of the game, I had filed this one away as the most forgettable Wild Card weekend ever. But don’t expect the same disappointment this Weekend. At the very least, the Home teams will vastly improve on last week’s results.

As you’ve likely heard spoken, each of these games follow exact competition earlier in the season. That ought to pull the results a bit tighter as each opponent is familiar with their foe. And while it answers questions for many as to who will win… I don’t follow that credo at all. In fact, I am QUITE certain 2 of these sequels will have an alternate ending…

Let’s have a look:

SEA -9 vs DC
We’re all well aware that back in wk4, Josh Brown missed a 47-yarder by inches - to land this game in the hands of the Redskins. The story of that game was a mirror on the season prior (and perhaps the season prior to that). We simply could not stop them on 3rd down. When a team goes 13-18 in 3rd down conversions on you? You lose. Plain and simple. We generally matched them even in virtually every other aspect of the game, with minor incidentals either way. You could say the difference will then be - we have them now in our house. But I’ll step far beyond that…

Since that game, we have not looked back.

Anything tied to Seahawk teams of the past got cut off and trash-canned like a butcher takes a cleaver to a cow, slicing fat. And we’re talking blade-wielding handiwork like they do at Benihana’s. And now, it’s time for the Seahawks to tell themselves what Pai Mei told Beatrix Kiddo, right before applying concussive force to what once seemed an indestructible obstacle: “It’s the wood that should fear your hand, not the other way around”. Time to hit that block – HARD - until it acquiesces.

I’ve read several enlightening quotes from players this week naming THAT game as a confidence builder and forever motivating factor. Teams of the past would only allow a loss of that type to haunt them. But THIS team parlayed it into an 11-game win streak (ended only by a meaningless contest in Green Bay, wk17). The following week we beat the feared Rams in their house, fielding an injury-depleted Seahawks team on both sides of the ball. And went on to conquer virtually any telling crutch from the past. Most importantly, when the game gets tight and the ball gets real heavy… we pick it up and carry it through. Fifty-three guys, wearing Seahawk blue and the meanest green you’ll ever see… get it done.

And now DC returns, the media darling with their pithy 6-game win streak – a bit more than half what the Hawks put together. And not nearly half as impressive. Following their overtime finish against Seattle, the Redskins went 2-6, losing to Denver, KC, NYG, Tampa, OAK, and SD. Consistently losing to playoff competition while winning at home vs SF and Philly. The win streak that followed, however, did include an impressive 3-game stint against NFC East rivals Dallas, NYG, and Philly – where they scored 30+ in each and every contest. But let’s keep in mind, 2 of those teams did not make the playoffs. And the 3rd just got clowned at home like the last guy to get out of the little tiny car.

Last Saturday at Tampa Bay, the Redskins found themselves victorious - carving out a whopping 120yds of Offense. A thrilling 41yds from QB Mark Brunell, bested only by 53 from RB Clinton Portis. And WR Santana Moss, the only receiver they have who can threaten you, had 2 catches for 18yds. Does this make you edgy? Are you spilling your coffee? Nope – the Bucs managed defeat in that game cuz they play ball so very close to the vest and found themselves down 14-0 in the first, following a pair of hardly impressive turnovers. The game was a snore from then forward.

And they’re bringing THAT into the Nation’s most mind-numbing arena of voracity. The only town to retire #12 in honor of The Fan. The shore that invented the most kinetic, collective, and inspiring chant in sports history – The Wave. A forgotten city, starved 20+ years for an NFL win when it counts. To a team that has fought back the tears to rise up from the ashes of disrespect and disappointment - and demand a chance at the apex of success. Home Field advantage for the first time in history. The NFL’s most valuable player coming off a week of rest and recuperation, along with his mates. An Offense that fields 5 in the Pro Bowl – QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander, the glorious selection of FB Mack Strong, and the most talked about left O-Line in Football, Jones and Hutch. A Defense packed with youth and vigor, and the deepest Defensive Line in Football. The Seattle Seahawks demand a proper stamp on the map.

Do the Redskins have a chance? Sure, they have a chance… if we let ‘em.

A quick hit at X’s an O’s says this game plays to the strengths of Mike Holmgren. He teaches his Offense to do what they do regardless of opponent (albeit, not something I generally agree with). The Redskins Defense serve a disciplined approach that depend on the opposition to panic and fail from physical frustration. Our Offense can attack from any angle on the field (and carries the confidence of a 91yd drive to tie the game when they had to have it in wk4). An Offense that does not resemble the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in any way shape or form. The Redskins Offense demands that Marcus Trufant step it up and play like his ability expects – in covering the shifty Santana Moss. That our young Linebackers fill gaps securely and maintain leverage (I expect them to excel in that area, with the exception of DD Lewis, who MUST maintain more discipline in his gap control on early downs). And that we stuff the run, as we have done allllllll season long – in short yardage situations.

Nine points is quite a lot considering the success of the DC Defense. I expect us to wear them down and ultimately crush them by that and THEN some. Bring the Noize!!!

DEN –3 vs NE
So everyone suddenly fears the Patriots again, eh? I got news for ya, I’m not one of them. While their playoff history, familiarity, and confidence DOES remain relevant… I am doing backflips at giving a tiny 3 here.

The .NET Fireside Chat opened my eyes to a few others out there looking at Denver as respectfully as I am, but I would venture a few of those have tempered their enthusiasm following the success the Pats encountered last week. Well, the Jagz sucked mud in that game. If New England offers the very same effort to Denver? They’ll lose. Denver has shown no indication this season they will struggle to move the ball in the manner Jacksonville did. What occurred in that game was unfamiliar youth, from a warm climate, facing the most post-season hardened team since the year 2000 – in weather that makes a 1970’s parka fashionable. I had the Jagz marked a bit tougher than that. But clearly, I was mistaken.

The concern in this game is that Denver plays directly to New England’s strengths. Excellent stat appeared this week: The Patriots Run D allowed 128.9yds/gm the first 8 games of the season, and the last 8 games – 68.6yds/gm. Yup, that’s a juicy stat. Particularly when we’re all fully aware that Denver, umm, prefers to run the ball, yes? But let’s take a look at who the Patriots played those final 8 weeks, since we’re not forgetting we KNEW back then they would still make the post season due to a weak schedule, riiiight? The first 8 games featured Oakland, Carolina, Pittsburgh, SD, ATL, BUF, IDY, and DEN (who put up 178 on ‘em) – all generally successful Rush teams. The last 8 featured the Jets twice, Miami twice, New Orleans, Buffalo again, Tampa in the chill, and @KC (who they lost to in wk12, while allowing a respectable 119 to Larry Johnson). Notice a difference there? Is it the chicken or the egg? Did NE get healthy and field a better run D? Or did they just get a break from a more favorable schedule? And with the league’s 31st rated Pass D, who of those unspectacular teams is running on them anyway while chasing 4,000+ passer Tom Brady?

Adding the All-American to the mix, Denver is barely rated higher than the Pats in Pass Defense (28). How are they going to stop Brady? The point becomes moot if Denver is able to run the ball effectively as their 158.7/gm shows they have all season. Furthermore, Jake Plummer had a very nice stat line last time around, 17/24 262 2TD’s. And the Pats’ paltry 10 Interceptions hardly get us concerned about his Achilles’ heel rearing ugly. The Broncos can control the game Offensively.

In all honesty, I am concerned about the pass attack of the Pats (as Brady almost brought them back the last time), but you have to look at the season as a whole in these contests. Denver has had things consistently working all year, to the point where they pose a threat to Indianapolis. New England, on the other hand, has struggled mightily until they ran into favorable match-ups. This is not one of those. Up in the clouds of Denver, facing a Bronco team that has earned the right for another shot at the Colts in the post-season? Put this down as a GUARANTEE pick. The only record I have left that carries respect (unblemished). There is no way in hell the Broncos lose this game. Just be glad it’s only costing us 3 due to overwhelming support for an under-whelming Patriot team in 2005.

Book it!

INDY –9.5 vs PITT

Have you noticed a trend in me picking the Home team this week? That’s how it’s done in Divisional Playoff’s, folks. Immeasurably different from the Wild Card pot-luck.

Will the real Colts team please stand up? Yes, yes they will. I expect a virtual blow out here. Contrary to the theory that sitting for several weeks will leave them fatigued (as it did John Kitna last week, btw. Kitna’s body was not prepared for a full 4 quarters and he clearly faded as the 2nd half moved on), I do not expect that from the Colts at all. You can expect them to show up as hungry and deliberate as the last time they played the Steelers (26-7 on Monday Night where they absolutely out-physicaled the Steelboyz. By the end of the 1st Quarter you will forget all about what you’ve been listening to the last 4 weeks. Instead, it will hit you like a can of V-8, “Oh yeah, I almost forgot, this is the team that dominated the NFL until it didn’t matter anymore. Why in the world did I think a Pittsburgh team that almost missed the Playoffs might make a game of it?

Week after week through the first 12 of the season, the Colts delivered brilliant Offensive game-planning – while consistently absorbing anything thrown their way on Defense. You witnessed them field any number of approaches. All of which were successful. You did not discover any area of weakness, nothing to exploit. Certainly nothing consistent worth attacking or defending. This was a magnificently calculated year by the Indianapolis brain-trust. They’ve been thinking ahead week to week, while impressively able to maintain the NOW along the way. And they are worthy of every accolade bestowed upon them. As I’ve said in previous editions, Peyton Manning went beyond play to play, and play to set up play – to game to set up game. And the results were masterful. Don’t be foolish in expecting he’s forgotten what got him here and has found himself willing to ignore football the last 28 days. His eyes have not turned red and zombified his body. The Colts are ready and able.

Indianapolis have maintain a monumentally disciplined approach to the entire season from week 1 forward, and that is NOT going to blow up in their faces when it truly starts to count. Instead – it will blow up in the face of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers cannot maintain the Offense required to stay with Indy. And they will not succeed at a single-minded ball control approach. It will simply not be enough. The Colts are far more dynamic than New England. And Denver is somewhere in between. After the Horshoe drop kick the Helmets out of town… we can talk about the chances of the Broncos. And that, my friends, ought to be an interesting match-up. Until then, you’ll be bored with this game by half-time.

I’ve half a mind to drop another guarantee here, were I not so desperate to hang on to my last branch of credibility.

CAR +3 @ CHI
What, you thought I’d go Homeboy the entire list? Not for this one.

As I said last week, I really don’t fear anyone in the NFC as much as Carolina. If we are to face them next week? I’ll chew down to my third knuckle by game time. And perhaps have my entire forearm swallowed by halftime. They, not Seattle, are a more dynamic match for the Colts (or Broncos). Yup. They’re the one dude on the Dodgeball court I’ve got my third eye trained to. BUT… they are as inconsistent and insecure as a teenage girl in college. Which way is the wind blowing this week?

Ignoring their capacity for foolish behavior – they OUGHT to be the perfect foil for Chicago. But back in week 11 the Bears truly put themselves on the map of respectability by thumping up on the Panthers for a 13-3 win. In that game (which I saw start to finish), the Bears D-Line went Kong upon the Cats. You may recall a scene in that film (which I saw, start to finish) where Kong goes gonzo all over several ornery Dino’s (and satisfied my cash in full). That is precisely what occurred to Jake Delhomme and his guarding unit. They got ripped apart, limb from limb. And when down on the Chicago 18 with 1 minute to play, they looked down into Jake’s ripped apart jaws following the 8th and final sack of the game and said “You dead now. Me conquer”.

To counterbalance that, the Panthers managed zero sacks against QB Kyle Orton. Orton, who played a serviceable if unspectacular management style throughout the season, took the shots if they were there and knew enough not to if it looked less than certain. The fact he was not sacked by one of the leagues better Defensive units – should point out his excellence in doing so. And when you field a Defense with the consistency of the Chicago Bears? That’s smart football. You cannot argue it a fool’s approach when you look at the results. Kyle Orton led this team to where they are today. Just as Trent Dilfer did in Baltimore. Just as Bob Griese did in Miami. And just as Jim McMahon used to in Bear country. He’s as much a part of it as the Defense was. And if you don’t agree? Just ask the Seahawks Defensive unit what they think of QB Kelly Stouffer back when we went 2-14.

But Kyle Orton is no longer the QB in Chicago. And while the rest of the media are telling you that’s a brilliant move, as replacement Rex Grossman is far more dynamic, I’m telling you that Grossman is far more likely to make the mistake that will cost them than Orton was. And furthermore, Rex Grossman has a QB rating identical to Orton’s 59.7, his completion percentage is lower by 3/10’s at 53.3. And he’s started about half as many games in his NFL career as Orton has. All that Grossman can tell you is he did not give the game away facing an ice-cold Atlanta team, and put up a win with crappy stats against a horrendous Packer team. In my opinion, the better way to go is with the proven winner – Kyle Orton. (While not denying that Grossman is far more athletic and throws a nice catch-able bullet between the hashmarks, 20-30 yds.) In a Playoff game of this magnitude, I’m thinking Grossman has more jitters than Orton would. Seriously.

Grossman will make the mistake Orton would not. And if Carolina feels like being the team they ought to be? It will be enough to overcome another spectacular effort by that Bears Defense. Carolina will be the team they ought to be – if Jake Delhomme and the coaching unit understand the time he’ll have to get that ball off and gameplan accordingly. Flip a coin as to that certainty, folks.

This week’s heretic picks:
SEA -9
DEN –3
INDY –9.5
CAR +3

“Beat the Man… cuz it’s high time we did so”

G. Scott Jones is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to Seahawks.NET. Reaction of any sort is always encouraged at Top Stories