Countdown to kickoff: Seahawks at Redskins

LANDOVER, Md. – Greetings from FedExField, where the Seahawks and Redskins will not only meet in an NFC wild-card game this afternoon, the winner already knows who, where and when it will play in the divisional round next week.

Either the Seahawks or Redskins will travel to Atlanta next Sunday to face the Falcons, the conference’s top seed.

That matchup was set on Saturday night, when the Packers beat the Vikings in their wild-card game. The Packers (No. 3 seed) will lay the 49ers (No. 2 seed) in San Francisco on Saturday.

But first things first, and for the Seahawks that means not only getting past a Redskins team that enters this game on a seven-game winning streak, but doing something that has been accomplished only once in franchise history – winning a playoff game on the road, and that happened against the Dolphins in Miami on Dec. 31, 1983.

Focusing on the task at hand has served the Seahawks well during their five-game winning streak to close the regular season – when they’ve outscored their opponents 193-60. And that hasn’t happened by happenstance.

“We don’t try harder because it’s a playoff game,” coach Pete Carroll explains Friday, after practice and before the team flew to the East Coast. “We do everything we can possibly do every single time we go.”

The players have parroted that philosophy down the stretch – from the overtime victory against the Bears in Chicago; through the series of routs against the Cardinals, Bills and 49ers; to last week’s win over the Rams in the regular-season finale.

“I know you guys hear this and maybe you don’t think it’s sincere in the way we look at it,” Carroll told the reporters gathered around him. “But this is a championship game. So was the one last week, and the one before that. We needed every one of those games to get where we are.

“So we don’t hold anything back at any time so that now we’ve got to turn it on for our big matchup. We never do that. That’s just a mentality, and I don’t want the players to think that way either – like, ‘This week, boy, we’ve really got to play hard.’ That’s a mistake. So they have been grilled for a long time around here about how we approach, so that when we get here we already know how to do everything we can possibly do to get ready.”

To better understand the method behind this message it helped to see the looks on the players’ faces as they left the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., for Saturday’s walkthrough at a recreation park near FedExField – a trip that also included a stop at the stadium. Wide-eyed? Hardly. They wore the same confident, focused expressions that have served them so well in dispatching a series of five teams that included the 11-win 49ers and 10-win Bears – compared to the Redskins’ seven-game winning streak that included one win over a team that won 10 games (Ravens) and three against teams that lost more than 10 games (Browns and Eagles, twice).

“We’re trying to be as ready as possible for this opportunity,” Carroll said. “And that’s all part of that.”

Part of today’s game is a series of great matchups. The rookie quarterbacks who have not played like rookies – Russell Wilson and the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III. The second- and third-leading rushers in the NFL during the regular season – the Redskins’ Alfred Morris and the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks’ No. 4-ranked defense vs. the Redskins’ No. 5 ranked offense, led by the league’s top-ranked running game. Two offenses that have baffled opponents with their zone-read options – will it be Lynch or Wilson; Morris or RGIII? Two defenses which are used to seeing the zone-read, because they’ve played opponents who use it and also see it every day in practice.

Here’s another matchup that bears watching: Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss vs. Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant. When the Redskins go with three receivers, Trufant will be the nickel back who covers the slot receiver. Of Moss’ 41 receptions, 30 have come from the slot – for 467 of his 573 receiving yards and six of his eight touchdown catches.

And, 208 of Moss’ slot yards have come after the catch. Trufant has had problems running with faster receivers this season, and that was before missing four games with a hamstring injury. But he returned last week and made a couple of big plays in coverage to help the Seahawks in their seven-point win over the Rams.

Another thing to watch is the way the Seahawks use tight ends Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy in the passing game. The Redskins have had problems against tight ends all season. They have yielded at least five receptions to opposing tight end 11 times – led by the Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez catching 13 for 123 yards. They have allowed at least 50 yards receiving to opposing tight ends eight times – with the Cowboys’ Jason Witten getting 74 on nine catches. Eight different starting tight ends caught TD passes against the Redskins – Witten, Gonzalez, the Ravens’ Dennis Pitta, Giants’ Martellus Bennett, Steelers’ Heath Miller, Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph, Bengals’ Jermaine Gresham and Saints’ Jimmy Graham. Miller and McCoy have combined for six TD catches, and McCoy had one of the two 100-yard receiving games for the Seahawks during the regular season.

Those are two smaller things to watch in this big matchup between two hot teams.

Enjoy the game. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. PT on Fox (KCPQ/13 in the greater Seattle area), as well as 710 ESPN and KIRO 97.3.

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