What we learned: Seahawks playoff edition

I. Three things we learned

a) Seattle is actually capable of running the ball.
Shocking? Yes. Impossible? No. Never has finishing with the franchise’s third-lowest rushing average ever been as satisfying as it was on Sunday night when the Seahawks gained 119 of their 141 rushing yards in the second half. That gave Seattle’s defense a little rest in the midst of that stalwart effort. Seattle averaged 88 yards, tied for third-fewest in the franchise’s history.

b) Make no mistake, Pete Carroll’s got some defensive coaching chops.
The Seahawks defense in many ways dictated the direction of the Rams offense, prompting St. Louis to put the game on the shoulders of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and into the hands of a problematic receiving corps. The result was the Rams failed to score a touchdown in the game and of their two scoring drives, one of those started on Seattle’s half of the field after Marshawn Lynch’s fumble.

c) That was the perfect start to Sunday’s game.
There’s a compelling argument for the Seahawks to defer if they win the toss at Qwest Field: Put the defense on the field first when the crowd is most amped. Seattle’s touchdown drive to begin the game was the perfect thing for both the crowd and the game plan. Seattle got a lead it never lost, which meant quarterback Charlie Whitehurst had to manage the game rather than putting him in a position where he had to make a throw in order to win it. That was essential because after that 61-yard completion to Ruvell Martin on Seattle’s second play of the game, Whitehurst didn’t complete a single pass longer than 13 yards.

II. Three things we don’t know

a) What compelled Pete Carroll to punt the ball on fourth-and-1?
It was the smart play, make no mistake about that. Seattle had the ball, fourth-and-1 at the St. Louis 40 and when the Seahawks called a timeout it looked like they were going to go for it. Scary, considering Seattle converted six of its 17 fourth-down attempts this season, the percentage that ranks No. 26 in the 32-team league. Well, Carroll decided to punt, and it was a good move because Jon Ryan placed that punt at the St. Louis 9.

b) Why, oh why, Steven Jackson didn’t touch the ball more?
Not that the Seahawks are complaining, but he carried the ball once in the first quarter. Once. The Rams had three first-half possessions in which he never touched the ball. It was very puzzling because for all Sam Bradford’s accomplishments as a rookie, Jackson is their best player on offense. Credit Seattle with showing defensive formations that prompted the Rams to check out of running plays to passing plays, but that doesn’t explain why St. Louis didn’t adjust to make sure Jackson got more opportunities. He had four carries and one catch in the second half.

c) What does Sunday mean for Matt Hasselbeck’s future in Seatte?
Because he was healthy enough to play. He went out and warmed up, and by all accounts wanted to start, and his coach decided that Whitehurst’s mobility and week of practice made him the better choice. He was probably right as Whitehurst’s 30 yards rushing and ability to perform in a moving pocket were crutical. It’s too much to say Whitehurst’s performance displaced Hasselbeck as the starter, but the fact that Hasselbeck was healthy enough to play and didn’t is also quite telling.

III. Three things we’re still trying to figure out

a) Will Matt Hasselbeck return as the Seahawks starter?
Carroll has been quiet on that subject so far. That will depend largely on how healthy Hasselbeck is as Carroll said that a consideration for starting Whitehurst was mobility. But Hasselbeck also passed for 366 yards against the same Saints team Seattle will face on Saturday. After Seattle staked out a 7-0 lead, the Seahawks were able to scale back their downfield passing game. It’s unlikely they could do that against the Saints.

b) Where has the defensive consistency Seattle showed Sunday been hiding?
The Seahawks haven’t shown nearly enough of it recently, but they forced seven three-and-out drives from the Rams. They didn’t give up a touchdown for only the second game this season. Now, it’s not like Seattle’s defense has been an unmitigated disaster for the past month. After all, the Seahawks did keep the Bucs from gaining a first down on any of their first three possessions, but Seattle’s defense has broken wide open — repeatedly — in recent games.

c) Just where Marshawn Lynch’s second half materialized from?
The single most surprising fact of Seattle’s victory was the fact that Lynch carried six times for a net loss of 1 yard in the first half, then fumbled away Seattle’s first play of the second half. After that fumble, he carried 14 times for 76 yards, becoming the single most important factor in Seattle’s offense during the second half.