Over their past 27 games, the Seattle Seahawks have found a winning formula. They use a powerful ground game, a swarming defense – featuring perhaps the best secondary in the NFL – and play-making special teams. Over that span, they are 22-5.
But when the 49ers play the Seahawks this Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at rowdy CenturyLink Field, they’ll be facing an offense that has struggled in recent games.
In Seattle’s home victory over the New Orleans Saints in last week’s divisional round, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw for a career-low 103 yards. And in two of his last three games, Wilson has thrown for less than 110 yards.
And, over the past five games, Seattle has averaged just 20 points a game.
In his most recentt five starts, Wilson has struggled and the Seahawks have gone 3-2, with losses to the 49ers in San Francisco and Arizona at CenturyLink. He’s thrown just four TD passes with three interceptions.
Yet neither Seattle coach Pete Carroll or Wilson is overly concerned by those numbers.
The Seahawks, after all, are the NFC’s No. 1 seed, have lost only once at home over the past two seasons and are the oddsmakers’ favorites – by 3½ points – to beat the 49ers and advance to the Super Bowl.
“We’re always looking for more and (Wilson) is too,” Carroll told reporters in Seatltle Tuesday. “But as long as our team is playing well, playing within the formula, playing good defense, running the football and taking care of the ball, we’re going to have a really good chance to win. It’s not about the stats.”
Added Wilson: “There are a lot of factors that go into winning a football game. We just need to execute one play at a time. That’s what it really comes down to.”
Some who’ve watched the Seahawks on a regular basis have said Seattle’s receivers are having trouble getting separation from defensive backs in recent games, and that Wilson’s passes have not been quite as crisp as they were early in the season. And the stats seem to back up that assessment.
According to ESPN.com, Wilson has completed just 56.7 percent of his passes over the past five games, compared to a 64.9 rate over the first 12. Other differences between the first 12 games and the past five: 8.8 yards per attempt vs. 6.6; a 22-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio vs. 4-3; and a total QB rating of 67.5 vs. 30.4. And, in an indication of the possibility Wilson is having trouble finding open receivers, he has been holding the ball for 4.42 seconds per pass attempt over the last five games compared with a 3.86 second average in the first dozen.
After Seattle’s victory over the Saints last week, Wilson admitted he can play better.
“I always think I can get better,” he told the Seattle Times. “There’s tons of throws in there I can make, and I know I will make. I have no worry about that.”
Plus, in the Seahawks’ winning formula, Wilson doesn’t have to put up big numbers. He can hand the ball off to running back Marshawn Lynch and watch him run over defenders.
In the win over New Orleans, Lynch rushed for 140 yards. And in two games against the 49ers this season, Lynch has 170 yards rushing. In the past two Seattle home games vs. the Niners, Lynch has rushed for 111 and 98 yards. If they can’t stop Lynch Sunday, Wilson won’t need to make big plays with his arm.
But in his two seasons as an NFL quarterback, Wilson has shown he finds ways to win. Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh is one of his biggest fans. Containing Wilson is a challenge for the San Francisco defense, says Harbaugh.
“He’s a fantastic player,” Harbaugh said this season. “A wonderful, wonderful player, competitor. Skills of arm talent, mobility, great field awareness, understands the scrambling lanes, the escape routes out of the pocket. And then, that feel that only so many quarterbacks have had that have ever played the game – to extend plays. A lot of great qualities. A lot of wonderful qualities about him.”