By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — Kam Chancellor smiled, seemingly amused at the idea that Saturday’s windy, monsoon-like weather constituted nasty conditions.
“It felt fine to me,” the big safety said with a big grin. “When the conditions are like that, that’s when you just block it out and play harder. It’s football.”
This wasn’t nasty weather, it was Seattle Seahawks football weather. And while some might describe Saturday’s 23-15 victory over the Saints as an ugly win, the truth of the matter is that the Seahawks are now in the NFC championship game because they are built for exactly these situations.
While it is becoming increasingly popular in the NFL to build an offense around a passing game, the Seahawks under Pete Carroll are something of a throwback, building their team around a stout defense and a balanced offense.
Can’t sling it around because the wind is swirling and rain ispouring down in sheets? No problem when you can hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch 28 times and count on the defense to shut the Saints out for three quarters.
The Seahawks have shown they can win in any conditions, but it’s no accident that they play a style that works well in January.
“I hope you can tell, man, this is that time,” Carroll said. “This is exactly why you make a commitment to be a balanced offense and a balanced football team, so that when you have these kinds of opportunities and situations, you can play D, you can stick with your kicking game and you can run the football. I think it was really a great look at it. … I think that’s exactly the way we would like to draw ‘em up.”
In an era that has seen Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady break records left and right, the Seahawks’ style can at times seem downright boring. Carroll trusts his defense, so he’ll punt on fourth-and-short from midfield rather than go for it; he believes in balance, so his teams routinely run the ball more than they pass. It’s not sexy, but it’s darn effective, especially on days like Saturday when throwing downfield, especially into the wind, was an exercise in futility for both quarterbacks.
“Our style is great for this particular weather,” fullback Michael Robinson said. “We know that, we talked about it all week that there wasn’t going to be a chance for rain, it was going to rain. So we prepared for it, we were ready.”
The Saints knew it was going to rain, too, and they tried to run the ball to take pressure off of Brees and the passing game, but they simply aren’t a team that’s capable of running the ball as well as Seattle, week in and week out. Brees ended up with 309 passing yards, but he had gotten just 121 through three quarters while the Seahawks build a 16-0 lead.
“We knew that the weather was going to be a huge factor,” receiver Godlen Tate said. “You know, we kind of welcomed the weather because those guys over there play in a dome. They’re not really used to it.”
And while having a running game is a big part of what the Seahawks like to do, this approach doesn’t work without the NFL-best defense Carroll and general manager John Schneider have assembled. Sure it’s great to commit to the run game, even if it doesn’t always result in a lot of points, but that commitment would be foolish if the defense wasn’t able to routinely keep the Seahawks in low-scoring affairs like Saturday’s.
When the Seahawks were going into the wind in the third quarter and had bad field position, they at one point ran the ball on five of six plays, including a third-and-nine and a third-and-six. The Seahawks didn’t score on that drive, or any others that quarter, when they rushed on eight of 12 plays, but they also avoided any crushing turnovers.
“It was a deterrent from throwing the football,” Carroll said of the wind. “You noticed in the third quarter, as strong as (the wind) was, we ran the ball quite a bit there. We didn’t want to make crucial mistakes when we backed up, so we just played good grind-it-out football and kicked the ball and relied on the defense and all of that, and it worked out.”
The Seahawks style will often have people questioning their offense, and it’s fair to say Russell Wilson and the offense as a whole struggled at times. But before you spend the week fretting about how this offense is going to keep the Seahawks from reaching their goals, remember that a lot of what you saw Saturday was by design. I’d say Carroll would be happy to take two more ugly wins, but he sees nothing but beauty in the style with which his team played against New Orleans.
Yes, the Seahawks very well might need to throw the ball better next week against Carolina or San Francisco, or if they get there, in the Super Bowl. Then again, haven’t people been worried about the weather at a cold weather Super Bowl all year? Maybe for the Seahawks, that could end up being the prettiest ugly win of all.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.