Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks relish relative calm, clarity of road at Arizona, in playoffs

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are leaving the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field, but are undaunted by road games. Wilson said he enjoys playing in front of hostile crowds and linebacker K.J. Wright said on-field communication is easier for the defense.
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are leaving the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field, but are undaunted by road games. Wilson said he enjoys playing in front of hostile crowds and linebacker K.J. Wright said on-field communication is easier for the defense. dperine@thenewstribune.com

So off they go, on the road in the desert — and then likely for the entirety of their postseason, however long that lasts.

Perfect, say the Seahawks.

“I’m so glad we’re going on the road, so we can finally hear each other and talk to each other,” Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright said before boarding the team plane to Arizona for Sunday’s regular-season finale. .

Wright said the difference in noise between home games at ear-splitting, press-box-shaking CenturyLink Field and away ones is “night and day.” Thus, he says, that’s the difference between the Seahawks communicating effectively on defense before snaps and being out of touch and place.

Wright says that alone could be the decisive difference for the Seahawks’ defense in the postseason.

“And it will show up,” Wright said. “It will show up.”

Whether the Seahawks (9-6) beat the NFC West-champion Cardinals (13-2) or lose for the second consecutive week, Seattle will play on the road in the playoffs next weekend. And the weekend after that, if they win Jan. 9 or 10.

Right now Seattle is No. 6 of six conference playoff seeds, the second wild card. If Minnesota (10-5) beats Green Bay (10-5) on Sunday night, the Seahawks will open the playoffs at the Vikings, regardless of the outcome in Glendale.

Seattle beat Minnesota, 38-7, in Minneapolis on Dec. 6.

If the lately skidding Packers win, and the Seahawks upset the Cardinals , Seattle will be the five seed. It would play at No. 4 Washington in the opening round.

However, if Green Bay beats Minnesota and the Seahawks lose at Arizona, Seattle will play its first-round game at the No. 3 Packers. The Seahawks lost at Green Bay, 27-17, in September, the second game of this season.

So, yes, it’s timely the Seahawks are saying they enjoy playing away games.

“I don’t think playing on the road is tough, honestly. I enjoy playing on the road,” said quarterback Russell Wilson, who needs 173 yards passing to become the Seahawks’ first 4,000-yard passer in a season. “I love playing (in Seattle) — like I always say, there’s no place like home. But going on the road is actually more exciting, I think, because you get to go to a place that has 75,000 people rooting against you. That’s always kind of fun. … The noise, and being in the huddle with 10 other guys, and they’re all listening. Everybody’s focused, everybody’s so attentive and everything. It’s fun.

“I know for the past four years we’ve been able to do that really well, and so I know we all look forward to going on the road.”

Seattle has a single road playoff win in the past 31 years — Jan. 6, 2013, at Washington — and has reached its three Super Bowls only after having home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Wright said miscommunication in the home finale led to big plays by the Rams. It was the Seahawks’ third loss in eight home games, their most home defeats since 2011.

The other losses there this season: When the Seahawks’ defense was caught playing two different coverages on Cam Newton’s winning touchdown pass with 32 seconds left in Carolina’s win in October; and when Arizona’s Carson Palmer completed 29 of 48 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns amid Seahawks confusion in coverages on Nov. 15.

In their last two road games, at Minnesota and Baltimore, Seahawks’ defenders could easily hear and talk to each other before the snap. They didn’t allow an offensive touchdown in either game, winning by a combined 73-13.

Of course, the Cardinals are a far tougher test than the Vikings and Ravens.

Arizona steamrolled the Eagles and playoff-bound Packers by a combined 78-25 the past two weeks. Coach Bruce Arians has already declared the obvious: Even with the division clinched, his Cardinals won’t be resting any starters. They can seize home-field advantage as the NFC’s top seed with a win and a loss by Carolina at home to Tampa Bay.

Behind MVP-contender Palmer, Arizona has the league’s top-ranked offense at 420 yards per game and the No. 1 passing offense. It’s 6.41 yards per play leads the NFL. So do the Cardinals’ 47.3-percent rate converting third downs and 23.8 first downs per game. Arizona has more touchdowns this season than punts (57 to 55).

Palmer is No. 2 in the NFL in passer rating to Wilson. Pete Carroll’s former Heisman Trophy winner at USC slings it down the field farther than anyone; his 8.9 yards per completion leads the league.

Arizona is 19-2 the past two seasons with Palmer healthy and starting. He missed 10 games in 2014 and the Cardinals slumped down the stretch after a 9-1 start.

The Seahawks’ secondary has uncharacteristically allowed many deep pass plays this season, especially down the hash marks. That defensive backfield may or may not get back strong safety Kam Chancellor on Sunday from the bruised tailbone he suffered Dec. 13.

“This week, we’ve got to stay on top,” Seahawks defensive back DeShawn Shead said. “Eliminate the big plays; they are a big-play offense.”

Shead returned from a sprained ankle this past Sunday, started, then yielded to Jeremy Lane, the usual nickel back. Lane and Shead may alternate more against the Cardinals — anything to get interceptions against a quarterback that will throw it to Larry Fitzgerald (103 catches) and friends even if the Seahawks have them covered.

“They’re going to put the ball up when you’re in coverage, and it’s your responsibility to have yourself in position. If you’re not, they will capitalize,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “That’s one major thing that we’re locked in, we’re focused on, is putting ourselves in position to stop what they do best.”

As well as the Seahawks’ defense has played over the past six weeks, they still aren’t generating turnovers like they did in runs to the previous two Super Bowls. Seattle has 20 takeaways. That’s four fewer than this past season — and 19 fewer than in the 2013 regular-season, before it won the Super Bowl.

The Cardinals are plus-12 in turnover margin (third-best in the NFL), with 33 takeaways. Seattle is plus-4. That’s the key difference between 13-2 and the division championship and 9-6 and the sixth playoff seed.

“Yeah, we definitely need to get the ball back to the offense,” middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Whether it’s fumbles, interceptions, I feel like that’s always been a big thing for us. It’s always helped the offense out a lot.

“We definitely need to do that going into the postseason. Oh, that’s definitely been talked about and stressed.”

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

Seahawks gameday

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-6) at ARIZONA CARDINALS (13-2)

Sunday, 1:25 p.m., CenturyLink Field

TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.

The series: The Cardinals lead the series, 17-16, including a 39-32 win at Seattle Nov. 15. The Seahawks have won the past two meetings in Glendale, including, 35-6, in December 2014 to win the NFC West. But Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer was out injured. Seattle’s last time inside University of Phoenix stadium was, of course, Feb. 1, when they came within 1 yard of a second consecutive Super Bowl title but lost in the final seconds to New England.

SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY

Keep Wilson healthy: The Seahawks are probably going to be without 40 percent of their starting offensive line, a line that was already having trouble keeping its quarterback clean. Wilson’s been hit 24 times in the past two games. And now right guard J.R. Sweezy (concussion) is out and left tackle Russell Okung (calf) is doubtful. With rookie Mark Glowinski likely to make his first career start, for Sweezy, Alvin Bailey again in for Okung, and the Cardinals’ swarming defense the NFL’s leaders in blitzing, the priority is to keep Wilson in shape for next week’s playoffs more than it is to win this game.

Swipe the rock: The one aspect of Seattle’s game it needs most in the postseason: getting more turnovers. Their 20 takeaways would be the lowest for a regular season since 2008 — and it is 19 fewer than the Seahawks’ defense had en route to winning the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Carson Palmer is going to throw it deep whether his Cardinals receivers are open or not. Time to start the turnover train in time for a playoff run.

Get back “on schedule”: If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard those two words the last month … The Seahawks’ five-game winning streak came when success on first and second downs created third and short and a conversion rate of more than 65 percent. That led to sustained drives and touchdowns. Last week’s loss to the Rams came after third and 9s, third and 12s — even a third and 31. That’s not “on schedule” for the Seahawks’ offense. It’s a lot easier to keep Wilson from getting hit on third and 2. The offense must get back to that for the playoffs.

THE PICK

Cardinals, 31-24. The result here isn’t as important for the Seahawks as it is for the Cardinals, who are seeking the NFC’s top seed. Seattle’s need is to keep Wilson intact for next week’s expected return of Marshawn Lynch, Russell Okung and friends for the playoff opener.

PRIME NUMBERS

SEATTLE

3 — Russell Wilson, QB (5-11, 206, fourth season): 140 yards passing away from breaking Matt Hasselbeck’s team record for a season, 173 from becoming Seattle’s first 4,000-yard passer.

25 — Richard Sherman, CB (6-3, 195, fifth season): Carson Palmer doesn’t avoid throwing at any defender, including Seattle’s All-Pro. He’ll do it even when Sherman has good coverage. Chances to add to his 2 INTs.

63 — Mark Glowinski, RG (6-4, 310, rookie season): Rookie makes first career start. His game experience on offense: one snap. Arizona’s blitz has an up-the-middle bull’s-eye on him.

ARIZONA

11 — Larry Fitzgerald, WR (6-3, 218, 12th season): 103 catches, 8 TDs, yet another Pro Bowl. Still has it — and still gets it from Palmer — at age 32.

20 — Deone Bucannon, LB (6-1, 211, second season): Former Washington State safety leads Arizona in tackles as a trusted rover. Trained with Seattle’s Kam Chancellor.

38 — Andre Ellington, RB (5-9, 199, sixth season): Back from two injuries this season, poised to become the lead runner he was supposed to be for NFL’s sixth-ranked rushing attack.

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

  Comments