Iron Man Fletcher will test Russell Wilson’s mettle

In his 241st straight game, Redskins linebacker poses challenge for Seattle rookie

eric.williams@thenewstribune.comJanuary 6, 2013 

WASHINGTON – In his first NFL postseason game, Russell Wilson will face one of the toughest mental challenges in his career against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

Bearing down on him from across the line of scrimmage will be inside linebacker London Fletcher, who at 37 years old still plays at a high level.

An undrafted rookie free agent out of NCAA Division III John Carroll University, Fletcher made the St. Louis Rams’ roster his rookie season, and won a Super Bowl with the Rams in 2000, his first season as a starter.

Fletcher’s also proven to be an Iron Man, playing in 240 consecutive games in 15 seasons with St. Louis, Buffalo, and now in his sixth year at Washington.

Fletcher leads the Redskins in tackles (139) and interceptions (five), and also has three sacks. His impressive play is one of the reasons for Washington’s turnaround in the second half of this season.

The Redskins come into today’s wild-card playoff game riding a seven-game winning streak, while the Seahawks have won their past five in a row.

“He can still move around,” Wilson said. “He’s very, very smart, very intelligent, so you’re going to have to trust your reads and trust what you see, and he’s going to do a great job.

“The key is when you have another great player on the other side of the ball, can you eliminate all his great plays? He’s going to make some good ones, that’s for sure, and the key is not letting him take over the game or do anything too special.”

Fletcher also gushed about his Wilson.

“He’s a playmaker,” Fletcher said. “He’s a football player. He makes plays running around like a video game, and buying time for the receivers. He takes off with it himself. They have a really good offense.”

Wilson’s looking to lead Seattle to its first playoff road victory in nearly 30 years. The last time Seattle won on the road was the AFC divisional playoffs at Miami, a 27-20 win over the Dolphins on Dec. 31, 1983. The Seahawks fell to the L.A. Raiders, 30-14, a week later in the AFC Championship.

The Seahawks have lost eight straight playoff games on the road since then, but no one on the team is thinking about that streak.

More pertinent is how Seattle has done on the road this season. In the first half, the Seahawks were 1-4 away from home, but in the second half Seattle is 2-1 on the road, outscoring their opponents 94-58.

The play of Wilson has been critical to Seattle’s road success during that span.

Wilson has completed 58 of 87 passes (66.7 percent) for 722 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three road games.

“It’s great having a young team in that we know we can play well on the road,” Seattle defensive tackle Alan Branch said. “I feel like that’s a real important thing just because it’s hard to get a win on the road as it is. And in a playoff game it’s that much harder.”

At home or on the road, Seattle has been competitive. The Seahawks did not lose a game by more than seven points this season. And the Seahawks have not trailed by more than seven points since Oct. 14.

Seattle’s road game against Washington likely will come down to which team forces more turnovers.

The Seahawks and the Redskins both forced 31 turnovers during the regular season, with Seattle scoring 97 points off those gifts, while Washington scored 113 points.

In the last eight games, Washington has forced 15 turnovers while giving it away only five times (+10 turnover differential). The Seahawks have forced 20 turnovers and only turned it over five times (+15 turnover differential) in the last eight games.

Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley understands that the team forcing the most game-changing turnovers likely will be moving on to the next round of the playoffs.

“They have really done a good job,” Bradley said of his defense. “And that is what we’re going after. We have to continue to be aggressive going after the ball, but they have done a nice job with that.”

Breaking down the NFC Wild-card Game

Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at Washington redskins (10-6)

1:30 p.m. today (Ch. 13)

The series: Seattle is 2-0 against the Redskins in the postseason. The last time the teams met in the playoffs was the 2007 season, a 35-14 win for the Seahawks in Seattle in an NFC wild-card game. The Seahawks also defeated the Redskins, 20-10, at CenturyLink Field in the team’s march to Super Bowl XL. The Seahawks have a 4-11 record against the Redskins during the regular season.

The coaches: Washington’s Mike Shanahan is 167-125 in 23 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, including two seasons with the Raiders and 18 in Denver. For the past three seasons Shanahan has been coach of the Redskins, posting a 21-27 record. This is Shanahan’s first appearance in the playoffs with Washington. Seattle’s Pete Carroll has a 58-54 record in seven NFL seasons as a head coach. Carroll is 25-23 with Seattle.

Last game: The Redskins took care of Seattle, 23-17, at CenturyLink Field on Nov. 27, 2011. Rex Grossman, now Washington’s third-string quarterback, threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns in that game.

Injury report: For Seattle – CB Jeremy Lane (knee) and RB Marshawn Lynch (back) are probable, and both are expected to play. For Washington – CB D.J. Johnson has been placed on the injured reserve list with an ankle injury. OL Kory Lichtensteiger (ankle) and S DeJon Gomes (knee) are questionable. CB Cedric Griffin returns after serving a four-game suspension for taking a banned substance.

THE MATCHUPSTHE EDGE

Quarterbacks

Robert Griffin III is the leading candidate for the Rookie of the Year award. Griffin completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. Griffin’s rookie-record 102.4 passer rating was No. 3 in the league. Also, he has rushed for 815 yards and seven touchdowns, tops in the league for quarterbacks. But Russell Wilson is no slouch, completing 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,118 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Wilson’s passer rating of 100.0 was No. 4 in the league among starting quarterbacks, and he rushed for 489 yards and four scores, a team record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Griffin has been more consistent for the duration of the season.

Running backs

Both these players are workhorses who can carry the load for an entire game. Alfred Morris finished No. 2 in the league in rushing with 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch was No. 3 in the NFL, totaling 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lynch is more elusive and has done it longer.

Receivers

Josh Morgan leads Washington in receptions with 48 for 510 yards and two touchdowns, but Pierre Garon (44 catches, 633 yards and 4 TDs) makes the Redskins’ passing game go. Washington is 9-1 when Garon is in the lineup. Seattle’s Sidney Rice and Golden Tate have 95 catches combined, but they also have seven touchdowns each and are capable of making big plays.

Offensive line

Washington’s five guys up front, led by Pro Bowl selection Trent Williams, have paced the league’s top rushing attack (169.3 yards a game). The Redskins also do a good job of protecting Griffin. But Seattle has two Pro Bowl players in center Max Unger and tackle Russell Okung, and the Seahawks also are a top-five rushing team.

Defensive line

Washington is solid up front, with nose tackle Barry Cofield anchoring the team’s 3-4 alignment. The Redskins are No. 5 against the run (95.8 yards a game) but have to blitz to get consistent pressure. The Seahawks have 36 sacks this season, with Chris Clemons (11.5) and Bruce Irvin (8) combining for 19.5. The Seahawks also have done a better job against the run lately, holding teams to an average of 73 rushing yards the last four games.

Linebackers

Washington’s London Fletcher is still a playmaker, even at 37 years old. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan leads the Redskins with 8.5 sacks, and the other outside linebacker, Rob Jackson, with four interceptions and 4.5 sacks, has been solid in replacing Brian Orakpo. Seattle rookie Bobby Wagner set a team record with 140 tackles, and second-year pro K.J. Wright has played better of late.

Secondary

Washington’s secondary has played better in the second half of the season, but the Redskins are ranked No. 30 in the league in pass defense, giving up an average of 282 passing yards. The Seahawks get back starting cornerback Brandon Browner after a four-game suspension for taking a banned substance, adding experience to a unit that already is playing well. The Seahawks have allowed 15 passing touchdowns, while the Redskins have given up 31.

Special teams

Seattle’s Pro Bowl kick returner, Leon Washington, gives the Seahawks the chance to break any return for a score. Washington is averaging 29 yards per kickoff return. The Seahawks’ kick coverage units are among the best in the NFL. Steven Hauschka has been accurate on 24 of 27 field-goal tries, with all three misses from 50 yards or more. The Redskins switched kickers from Billy Cundiff to Kai Forbath at midseason. Sav Rocca has had two punts blocked.

Coaching

Shanahan has the experience in the postseason, with an 8-5 record in the playoffs, including Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998 with the Broncos. Carroll, who has his team peaking at the right time, has a 2-3 mark in the playoffs.

The Pick

The Seahawks are 3-point favorites on the road for a reason. Seattle defeated four playoff teams during the regular season; the Redskins defeated two teams now in the postseason during the regular season.

Eric D. Williams, staff writer

Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 eric.williams@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @eric_d_williams

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