Why the Seahawks are so confident heading into their playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys

Gregg Bell

The News Tribune

Forget San Francisco. Forget Arizona.

Forget 2017 …. and 2018, for that matter.

Of course Pete Carroll enters the playoffs renewed. He wouldn’t be Pete Carroll if he didn’t. To the Seahawks’ coach and his remade team what’s past—including two ugly performances the last three weeks, against the 49ers and even more woeful Cardinals, after missing the postseason altogether last season—is absolutely past.

It really is a happy new year for Seattle.

“I don’t see many things that aren’t encouraging,” Seattle’s sunny side-up coach said with a wry smile about his team earning the fifth of six playoff seeds in the NFC.

As a result of Sunday’s 27-24 escape past the three-win Arizona Cardinals in the regular-season finale, the Seahawks (10-6) play at Dallas (10-6) in a wild-card playoff game Saturday at 5:15 p.m.

So what that the Seahawks are coming off a performance Sunday in which they had two punts blocked that set up two touchdowns by Arizona. Or that Russell Wilson absorbed six sacks and threw his second interception in eight weeks, and had to play through the final snap of the regular season before Sebastian Janikowski’s final-play field goal beat Arizona at CenturyLink Field?

Monday, the Seahawks’ special-teams units wanted extra work to fix the protection issues that got Michael Dickson’s punts partially blocked to set up an Arizona drive start at the Seattle 21-yard line and completely blocked into the end zone for a Cardinals touchdown.

“The special teams guys were asking, ‘Can we have an extra meeting before the main meeting today?’ because they want to settle the issue,” Carroll told Seattle’s KIRO AM on his weekly radio show Monday. “They want to make sure everybody fronts up about what needs to be done. This is a place that is really connected to accountability, and I’m really fired up about that.

“These guys want to do right, be right, and they’re going to do whatever it takes.”

Another reason for renewal and optimism: The Seahawks enter their short work week having gotten through the Cardinals game with only one new injury concern. Carroll said Monday starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin woke up sore the day after he twisted his ankle in the first half. He didn’t finish the game, though at the time that seemed like a precaution for the playoffs.

“We’ve got to wait and see on that one. It was OK coming out of the game,” Carroll said. “But this morning he was pretty stiff, I understand. So we’ll have to wait and see.”

Akeem King replaced Griffin, a starter in both his years with Seattle, at left cornerback against Arizona. Carroll said the coverage scheme did not change with the speedy King in the game.

The Seahawks are expecting their starting offensive line to be more intact, or perhaps at full health, for Dallas. They’ve played the last two games mixing and moving blockers because of right guard D.J. Fluker’s strained hamstring, left guard J.R. Sweezy’s sprained foot arch and right tackle Germain Ifedi’s strained groin.

Carroll said Fluker will practice Tuesday and all week and is “ready to go” start against the Cowboys.

The prognosis for Sweezy isn’t as certain. The team sought opinions nationally how to treat what Carroll last week called an “unusual” injury the Pro Bowl alternate got in the first half of the home win over Kansas City Dec. 23. Sunday the Seahawks forced Sweezy to stay home, to keep him off his foot rather than have him stand on the sidelines in street clothes during the Cardinals game.

“Sweezy has a good report (Monday) morning,” Carroll said. “But it’s still going to be a game-day decision for him.

“Like I said, it’s a three- or four-week recovery that he’s going to do in two. So we’ll see if he can pull that off.”

Fluker’s return means Ifedi, now healthy, can move back to his 2018 spot of starting right tackle. Ifedi played guard for Fluker and George Fant played tackle for Ifedi against Arizona. Sunday in Dallas Fant can return to being the extra tight end. Seattle has been so successful using Fant as a sixth lineman while becoming the NFL’s leading rushing offense, Fant has played 25 percent or more of the team’s snaps in that unique role in many games this season.

Another reason for the Seahawks’ optimism heading to Dallas: They’ve already beaten the Cowboys this season.

Chris Carson had the first of his six 100-yard rushing games this season against Dallas in week three, a 24-13 Seahawks win in Seattle. Earl Thomas (remember him?) intercepted two passes that day.

And the offense finally followed through on Carroll’s promise to run the ball more.

Since that Cowboys game, the Seahawks have rushed for at least 154 yards 12 times in 13 games. They’ve topped 200 yards on the ground three of those times, including twice in the last four games. Seattle rushed for 182 yards on Sunday against Arizona.

The Seahawks finished the 2018 regular season averaging 160.0 yards rushing per game, best in the NFL. It’s the offense’s highest total since Marshawn Lynch led Seattle to 172.6 yards rush/game in the Super Bowl season of 2014.

All that running didn’t just produce yards. Carroll marveled Monday about one of the most overlooked numbers to this Seahawks season: They scored 428 points, the second-highest total in team history. The 2005 Seahawks scored 452 points with coach Mike Holmgren, NFL MVP Shaun Alexander running and Matt Hasselbeck passing them to the franchise’s first Super Bowl.

Running. Scoring. And an opportunistic defense that has been creating sacks (41 in 16 games, including six on Sunday) and turnovers (for an NFL-best plus-15 margin this season). That’s a formula that can win games, any games. Ugly. Home. Away. In weather. In domes, like Saturday at Dallas.

And, yes, in the playoffs.

Hence, Carroll’s latest sense of optimism and renewal.

“Whenever we continue to play good on defense and we run the ball really well,” the coach said, “we’ve got a chance to be in every game.”