Seahawks defined by toughness

SEATTLE — It’s not a motto as much as it is an expectation.

Take them to a point they’re unwilling to match.

That’s the exacting standard of this Seahawks offense. And though it’s not preached as much in other meeting rooms, you could still say the entire team has the same aspiration. More than athleticism, more than skill, more than desire, the Seahawks are defined by their toughness.

They aim to take every football game to a physical and mental brink. Can the opponent go there? Or rather, will the opponent go there? This season, the answer has often determined whether the game will be a competition or an endurance challenge that only suits the Seahawks’ stamina.

It’s not about deception. The Seahawks have advanced to the NFC divisional playoff round in the most transparent fashion of any team in the NFL. Their schemes are simple. Their game plans are detailed, but not complicated. Their ingenuity lies in the way they use their personnel and their flexibility to look behind prototypes and put players in the best positions to succeed. But the Seahawks have few tricks. They’re coming straight at you, at maximum speed, again and again and again.

Can you match it? Will you match it?

“We’re going to be physical and consistent,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “And we’re going to do it until the other team can’t do it anymore.”

Tom Cable teaches this level of tenacity, naturally. The Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line guru can be a menacing mastermind in that regard. He and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell rebuilt the offense around that mentality, but it’s not just about bruising. It’s about executing, limiting mental mistakes, making sacrifices for the team and competing until the play is over.

When Cable and Bevell came to Seattle before the 2011 season, they knew the defense played that way, and they knew that, on offense, running back Marshawn Lynch played that way. The rest of the offense had to rise to a persistent level, and, in terms of running the ball, they’ve been there since the second half of last season. Since then, the offense has become more explosive and more precise, partly because it found its quarterback, Russell Wilson, and partly because the entire unit has matured.

In the second half of this season, the offense has made its biggest leap. Over the past nine games, including Sunday’s 24-14 wild-card game victory over Washington, the Seahawks have averaged 32.9 points and 396.2 yards. Put that against the franchise’s gold standard, the 2005 offense that led Seattle to the Super Bowl.

In 2005, the Seahawks averaged an NFL-best 28.3 points and 369.7 yards per game, which ranked second. That team remains the most efficient and imposing offense in team history. The current Seahawks would have to dominate like this over 16 games to compare, but nine games is enough of a sample size to prove that this new Seahawks’ way is impressive and dangerous.

“What we’re striving for is unquestioned effectiveness, every single play,” Pro Bowl center Max Unger said. “It’s about being efficient. It’s about being tough. It’s helping the running back up after plays. It’s pushing the pile. At the same time, it’s not totally about being physical; it’s about execution, too. It’s doing everything necessary to succeed. It wears on people.”

The Seahawks admit they’re not completely there yet on offense. They still have moments of struggle, but you’ve seen the style come through as the season has progressed. You saw it during that three-game span in December, when the Seahawks outscored Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco by a combined score of 150-30. And you saw it Sunday, when the Seahawks recovered from a poor first quarter, pounded the Washington defense for 371 yards over the final three quarters and set a franchise playoff record with 224 rushing yards.

The Seahawks’ mantra against Washington: Do what you do—better. It figures. No gimmicks, just grit. No special playoff tactics necessary. Just bow up.

“Keep plugging away,” fullback Michael Robinson said. “Keep doing what we know.”

They’re developing an offense that is almost as much a pain to play as their defense. There are few breaks when going against the Seahawks right now. It’s always a brawl.

“We want to take it to the edge,” Carroll said. “We’re trying to find a level that we can take it to, that gets everything that we can possibly get out of the moment. We’re ready to battle to that, but it’s composure and poise that allows you to make the right decision at the right time, and our guys do a great job of that.”

Can the opponent match their fight? Will the opponent match their fight?