Capitals

Seahawks far different from 2010 playoff team

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Seahawks far different from 2010 playoff team

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Pete Carroll was thrilled to be in the postseason but knew it was a mirage.

Two seasons ago, in his first venture back in the NFL from the college game, Carroll guided the Seattle Seahawks into the postseason with the dubious distinction of being the only team in NFL history to win a division title with a losing record. Seattle at least showed itself worthy of the playoffs by upsetting New Orleans, but was quickly dispatched at Chicago in the second round.

He knew the Seahawks needed to be younger, faster, more athletic and deeper. A makeover was needed.

``We're just so much deeper now and we've raised these guys in the program and I just think there's a common feel that we're on the same page,'' Carroll said Monday.

When the Seahawks (11-5) face Washington in Sunday's playoff opener, they'll do so with 33 new faces on the 53-man roster from just two seasons ago. The moves were drastic in some areas and subtle in others.

No matter what the changes were, it's made Seattle a far better and more deserving team for this postseason trip. Carroll said he believes the type of success the Seahawks found in reaching at least 11 wins for just the third time in franchise history should have come sooner.

Ultimately, it was the decision to draft Russell Wilson in the third round that finally made them a legitimate contender.

``I feel like I wish so much that we had got it done last year. We didn't capture it quickly enough. It just didn't come around like we wanted it to. But we'll take it. We'll take it where we are. It's been three terrific years for us in retooling the program and the roster and the staff and getting everything right. We really feel the momentum in the youth and the hopefulness for the future is there.''

When that 2010 playoff appearance came the Seahawks' way, they were a flawed team, fortunate to play in the worst division in football at that time. Carroll's defensive philosophies were still being implemented and the offense was a jumbled mess. There was little continuity on the offensive line. Marshawn Lynch had arrived in a trade from Buffalo but Seattle had yet to figure out the best ways to use its new bruising back. Most importantly, the quarterback position was unsettled with Matt Hasselbeck the entrenched veteran and Charlie Whitehurst the upstart.

They were rarely competitive, losing by an average margin of 21 points in their nine losses. Only one of their seven regular-season wins came against a team that finished with a winning record.

Fast-forward and while still having some flaws, this Seattle team is far more complete. The defense finished the season the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL, giving up just 15.3 points per game. They were No. 4 in the league overall, the highest year-end ranking for Seattle in team history.

Offensively, the Seahawks have morphed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's system around what Wilson does best, using his athleticism and quickness as a threat to complement Lynch's violent running. Lynch's success is largely because of the zone-blocking schemes implemented by assistant head coach Tom Cable and finding linemen who fit what Seattle wants to do.

From the playoff win over New Orleans in 2010 to now, the Seahawks will have 15 different starters on the field against the Redskins.

``We're young and we're fast and we're tough and we've created a physical nature about us that we're really proud of. It goes from offense to defense to special teams,'' Carroll said. ``We're just going to try to keep getting better. We've got a long ways to go.''

Wilson tied Peyton Manning's rookie record with 26 touchdowns on a third-quarter scoring pass in Sunday's win over St. Louis. He had a chance to hold the record himself, but instead ran for a 1-yard TD with 1:39 left to give Seattle a 20-13 win over the Rams.

Wilson finished the season with a 100.0 passer rating, the highest in franchise history. He threw for 3,118 yards, added another 489 rushing, had 30 combined touchdowns running and passing, and became the first rookie QB in NFL history to go 8-0 at home.

``Did Peyton go to the playoffs his first year? No,'' Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said after Sunday's win. ``OK. Then you know who I think is better.''

Notes: Seattle placed CB Walter Thurmond on injured reserve Monday, opening a roster spot for the addition of CB Brandon Browner, who is eligible to return this week after serving a four-game suspension for banned substances. Thurmond started initially in place of Browner, but suffered a hamstring injury before Seattle's Week 15 game at Buffalo and aggravated the injury last week trying to get back for the season finale. ... Carroll said he expects LB Leroy Hill to practice this week and be available. Hill missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury.

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4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

It all starts Monday!

The Vegas Golden Knights will host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as both teams look to take early control of the series.

Can the Caps steal one on the road to start? Here are four keys to winning Game 1.

Win the first period

The Golden Knights have not played a game since May 20. While rest can benefit a team at this time of the year, there is such a thing as too much rest and over a week would certainly qualify. If there is absolutely any rust in Vegas’ game to start, the Caps need to take advantage.

T-Mobile Arena and the Vegas crowd have already built a reputation in year one. The atmosphere is going to be electric, but the Caps can combat that with a good start to the game and by scoring first.

Vegas is 10-1 when scoring first this postseason. If they are able to come in and get on the board right off the bat in the first period after seven full days between games, that does not bode well for the Caps’ chances.

Don’t allow Marc-Andre Fleury to pick up where he left off

Fleury is having a postseason for the ages, but it’s hard to believe momentum is simply going to carry over to a new series after such a lengthy break. Players are not simply going to pick up where they left off and play as if there’s no rust to shake off. The need to get to Fleury as early as possible.

What that means is getting traffic in front of the net, making him move, contesting rebounds, making him feel uncomfortable as much as possible and generating quality offensive chances.

The Caps can do is starting flinging pucks at the net and giving him easy saves. Getting 12 shots in the first period would be great, but not if they are all perimeter shots for easy saves that help bring Fleury's confidence back to where it was in the Western Conference Final.

Limit the turnovers

Turnovers are blood in the water for Vegas. The high-effort, high-speed style of play of the Golden Knights has caught several players off guard at points this postseason. No one can afford to be casual with the puck at any point in this game because Vegas has a knack for turning those turnovers into goals.

Winning Game 1 on the road will be hard enough without giving the Golden Knights at any help.

Shut down the top line

Only three players have reached double digits in points for the Golden Knights in the playoffs: Jonathan Marchessault (18), Reilly Smith (16) and William Karlsson (13). What do these three have in common? They all play on Vegas’ top line. To compare, the Caps have seven players in double digits.

Much has been made of Vegas’ offensive depth and their ability to roll four lines, but the play of Fleury in net has really masked how much this team relies on its top line for offense. The Caps need to get Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against them and focus on shutting them down. Force the Golden Knights to win with their other three lines and see if they can.

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Need to Know: Redskins will have a lot of starter stability in 2018

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Need to Know: Redskins will have a lot of starter stability in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, May 28, 15 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Stability at the top of the depth chart

This post was originally published on March 23 Note that this was prior to the draft.

A Redskins defense that ranked 27thin total defense and was dead last against the run is likely to return nine or 10 of the players who were the primary starters in 2017. The Washington defense, which was 16thoverall and 27thrunning the ball, will certainly return seven starters and could have eight the same as last year. 

I’m sure that this will alarm many Redskins fans, but it shouldn’t. Before getting into that, let’s look at the changes. 

On defense, the nine starters who are assured of returning are DE Stacy McGee, DL Jonathan Allen, OLB Preston Smith, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, ILB Zach Brown, ILB Mason Foster, CB Josh Norman, S Montae Nicholson, and S D.J. Swearinger. 

As of right now, a tenth returning starter has to be penciled in at nose tackle. Yes, if the season started today it would be Ziggy Hood at nose tackle again. More on that in a minute.

The only starting spot that is certain to turn over is the cornerback opposite Norman. Even though Bashaud Breeland’s contract agreement with the Panthers fell through due to a failed physical he is much more likely to lad on another NFL team than he is to return to the Redskins. 

It is impossible to think that the Redskins will not do something to address the nose tackle position, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency. Then again, it’s impossible to believe they have run the 3-4 defense since 2010 without coming up with a long-term solution at the nose. (Udate: Of course, they did this in the draft when they took Daron Payne and Tim Settle).

On offense, the seven starters certain to return are WR Josh Doctson, WR Jamison Crowder, OT Trent Williams, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses, and TE Jordan Reed. RB Samaje Perine could be an eighth returning starter depending on if the Redskins take a running back early in the draft. 

The new starters will be QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, and someone at left guard. 

Having between 16 and 18 returning starters from a team that went 7-9 in 2017 may not be enough turnover for some fans. That’s not a completely unreasonable point of view. However, there is a such thing has having too much churn in your starting lineup and some stability for the Redskins may be a good thing this year. 

They had five new starters on defense last year and a new defensive coordinator. They also had a new coordinator on offense along with two new wide receivers and, by midseason, changes in the starters at running back and center. This is not counting all of the on-the-fly changes that had to be made due to injuries. 

Continuing to make changes in the starting lineup is not always a recipe for success. Sometimes you just need to pick a group of players and, to the extent that you can in the free agency-salary cap world of the NFL, stick with them. Sure, you have to address weakness like nose tackle and possibly running back and fill holes created by free agency departures. However, it is often better to give a player time to acclimate to a system and, especially with a rookie, time to learn the fine points of the game.

Tearing things down and starting over again after a mediocre season is a recipe for, well, more mediocre seasons. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler