Seahawks' fast defense provides big challenge

ASHBURN -- Let's start with the obvious: The Redskins are a different offense than in 2011. That's when they went out to Seattle and escaped with a win. But Rex Grossman was at quarterback, the zone read option was a fantasy and no running back threatened a rushing record.

And then there's this: Seattle's defense is better than in that game, too. The Seahawks allowed 416 yards and 23 points in the six-point loss. Nine of their 11 starters from that game will start Sunday. But there are two key additions: rookie linebacker Bobby Wagner, a strong candidate for rookie defensive player of the year, and rookie end Bruce Irvin, who has eight sacks.

The Seahawks are fast. They're physical. They're good, finishing fourth in total yards allowed and first in points.

NFC wild-card game
Seahawks at Redskins
When » Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
Where » FedEx Field
TV » Fox

Here's Redskins coach Mike Shanahan's quick scouting report on their defense:

"They have depth on the defensive line. They're very powerful, very quick. Linebackers are all solid. Two corners that will challenge you. They really have four corners who can play. Safeties, they've got speed, good athletic ability."

That doesn't mean they're perfect.

"Every defense has a hole in them. We just have to find the holes," Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon said.

The Redskins found those holes in the 23-17 win over Seattle last season. Again, neither team is an exact duplicate, but the Seahawks are much closer to who they were in that game than Washington. Consider: The Redskins will start only four players who started that game. None of the receivers who played in that win is with Washington this season.

The biggest change, of course, is having quarterback Robert Griffin III instead of Grossman.

Regardless of who's playing, this will be a test.

"They don't try to fool you," Shanahan said. "That's usually the sign of a great defense. They come out and play and play harder and more consistent than the offense. Very sound, don't make a lot of mistakes. Everybody knows what they're doing, and they have been dominating the line of scrimmage."

Seattle's defense will be difficult to penetrate: Only six teams scored more than 17 points and only two surpassed 23. Here's how the Redskins might be able to succeed:

Use the Seahawks' speed against them » Seattle is a fast defensive front, but it's not as if that has resulted in being a top run defense. The Seahawks tied for 23rd in the NFL in yards allowed per carry. They have been hurt against the run at times, allowing 146 per game in one five-game stretch. Cutback runs hurt them, and that's something Washington does well. The Seahawks flow hard to where the ball is headed; Redskins rookie Alfred Morris (1,613 yards) has been adept at setting up linebackers with patience and vision.

Misdirection » Almost every big pass play last year in the Redskins' win started with play-action. Grossman would fake a handoff one way, fake an end around and then hit a pass on the other side of the field. That led to gains of 20, 31, 21, 18, 17, 11 and 17 yards. That's 135 of Grossman's 314 passing yards. Keep in mind that the Redskins love using zone read play-action passes; Griffin is adept at sucking up the defense this way. Grossman did not sell the straight play-action passes as well.

Attack Brandon Browner downfield » After missing four games for a drug suspension, perhaps the Seahawks corner will be out of sync, at least initially. But one thing the Redskins knew last season was that he struggled to play the ball in the air on deep throws. They tested that on a deep ball in the fourth quarter; it resulted in a 50-yard touchdown catch by Anthony Armstrong. Browner failed to find the ball and then adjust accordingly. It's hard to imagine them not testing this theory again Sunday.