While Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is getting a lot of the headlines heading into Sunday’s playoff game, the Washington Redskins‘ defenders have no question who is the real newsmaker on the Seattle offense.
“Marshawn Lynch is one of the most explosive backs in the league,” Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen said of the Seahawks bruising runner. “He’s one of the hardest backs I’ve ever had to tackle. He runs like reckless abandonment. It’s going to come down to who can stop the run.”
The Seahawks and Redskins are among the most run-heavy teams in the NFL, with Seattle carrying the ball 55.03 percent of its plays, just ahead of Washington at 52.21 percent. So, the mission appears clear for the Redskins defense — figure out a way to slow down a back who goes into “Beast Mode” when he’s hot.
“It’s just one of those things, you know where he’s at,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “You know what he’s going to be. He runs hard. He runs like he wants to hurt somebody. I think he’s a great football player. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Lynch bulled his way to 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, but like the rest of the Seahawks, he stepped up his game in the second half, posting six 100-yard games in Seattle’s last eight contests.
“He can do it all. He can make you miss in space. He has the speed. He has the toughness,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He’s got the running skills to make you miss, at the line of scrimmage and the open field. He’s a back that I’ve admired for a lot of years.”
“It’s great because that’s what we’re built on — stopping the run and running the ball,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “It’s going to be a great test for us. These are two teams that are similarly built, [with] similar-type mindsets. It will come down to who protects the ball and who makes the fewest mistakes.”
Adding another wrinkle in attempting to control the Seahawks‘ run game is the fact that over the last five weeks, Seattle has used read option run plays in heavy doses, allowing them to average more than 211 yards on the ground during their five-game win streak and allow Wilson to use his running ability.
“It’s going to take 11 guys,” linebacker Rob Jackson said. “First of all, we’re going to have to stop the run game and then just get after [Wilson]. He makes the first and second guy miss a lot of times when he’s scrambling around, so it’s going to be up to the defensive line and linebackers to keep him corralled and get him down on the ground.”
That effectiveness with the run allows Seattle to use its play-action passing game, putting pressure on the Washington secondary, which, although it has played better of late, is susceptible to big plays.
The Redskins are familiar with the traits of the read option thanks to going against Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris all year, but the Seahawks‘ set is slightly different, run out of the shotgun instead of the pistol. Washington’s players aren’t going to let their familiarity equal complacency.
“All the work we put in over OTAs and during the summer and during training camp, it helps,” Cofield said. “It’s still going to come down to execution on game day. I don’t want to sit here and act like it’s going to be second nature for us and we’re going to go out there and be completely comfortable. Marshawn Lynch is one of the best running backs in the league, and Russell Wilson is using his ability to hurt you in many different ways. It’s going to be a tough task.”
Washington ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing defense during the regular season, yielding just 95.8 yards per game while facing standout backs like Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice. It figures that Sunday will be another battle in the trenches, which is just fine with the guys in the mix.
“It’s going to be a real physical game,” Cofield said. “I love it.”