The Seahawks have adhered steadfastly to what Pete Carroll on Monday called “The Formula,’’ and it has served them well.
You know the drill: Tenacious, ballhawking defense. The punishing running of Marshawn Lynch. Opportunistic special teams. A decided advantage in the giveaway-takeaway ratio.
And quarterback Russell Wilson making it all purr, not necessarily with swashbuckling bravado, but rather prudent decision-making and, above all else, an overriding focus on keeping the ball out of the other team’s hands.
Do all that, Carroll said, “and we’re going to have a really good chance to win.”
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In that light, the Seahawks’ declining offensive numbers over the past five games are not a concern, Carroll said. He gave an emphatic “no” when asked if Wilson has become too cautious.
It’s hard to argue with a 22-5 record over Seattle’s past 27 games, and a workmanlike victory Saturday that put them 60 minutes away from the franchise’s second Super Bowl berth.
Yet count me in the camp that would like to see the Seahawks open up their attack Sunday against the 49ers.
It’s a game that shapes up as a vicious, dogged clash of two evenly matched ballclubs (Seattle’s past two routs at CenturyLink notwithstanding), one in which any and every edge could prove vital. Mere game management might not be enough against a 49ers team that operates out of the same handbook.
The Seahawks shouldn’t abandon The Formula, because going away from your identity in the biggest contest of the year is never wise. But in a game in which every point will be sacred, against a stout defense whose biggest vulnerability is in the secondary, the time has come to turn Wilson loose a notch.
Wilson has shown ample playmaking ability in his two seasons. His Fran Tarkenton-like scrambles were becoming a trademark until they became scarcer in recent weeks. He has a knack for creativity that begs to be mined more fully on Sunday.
Wilson doesn’t do defiance, at least not in the antiseptic realm of the news conference. When probed Monday about the conservative turn of the Seahawks’ offense — suddenly the burning issue as the NFC title game approaches — he made a firm point: “I never play scared. I never have and never will.”
Yet asked if the competitor in him wants to try to do more, he gave a classic Wilson answer.
“I think the competitor in me always wants to make the smart decision and help the football team in the best way possible,’’ he said. “Whatever that is — if it’s running the football, and sliding and getting 3 yards, or throwing the ball away, or taking a shot down field. There’s times you have to take a shot down field.”
It’s not that the Seahawks can’t win playing close to the vest, or with Wilson struggling. They’ve been there, done that. Against Houston, Wilson threw for just 123 yards, with an interception, for a 49.7 rating, but Seattle won in overtime. At St. Louis, Wilson passed for 139 yards, but had two touchdown passes in a 14-9 victory. Saturday, he threw for a season-low 103 yards, and we know how that turned out.
Heck, the Seahawks did it against the 49ers earlier this season in their 29-3 home win, with Wilson completing just 8 of 19 passes for 142 yards. The defense saved the day with five turnovers, and Lynch rushed for 98 yards. The Formula.
Any number of factors have led the Seahawks to dial back on the offensive fireworks, from offensive-line difficulties to inclement weather to the understanding that with their dominating defense, there’s no burning need to be reckless with a lead.
It’s also true that Wilson has at times seemed to be uncharacteristically off-kilter. Even allowing for the wind, there were a few throws Saturday that he flat-out missed.
“I always think I can get better,’’ he said. “There’s tons of throws in there I can make, and I know I will make. I have no worry about that.”
A sharp, accurate Wilson will be essential for the Seahawks on Sunday. And a less restricted quarterback armed with a more aggressive game plan wouldn’t hurt, either.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.