RENTON, Wash. -- It’s no secret that the Seattle Seahawks' offense has sputtered at times down the stretch. Can the Seahawks do enough now to win against the rugged San Francisco 49ers defense with a Super Bowl trip on the line?
The formula for success hasn’t changed all season. The Seahawks have played stone-cold defense, steamrolled opponents on the ground with powerful running back Marshawn Lynch and done just enough through the air to win 14 times in 17 outings.
That last part, the just enough passing, has been a little off down the stretch. Seattle has averaged only 145 yards passing in its last five games. That would have ranked last in the NFL in the regular season.
Quarterback Russell Wilson is coming off a career-worst 103 yards passing. He passed for fewer than 110 yards in two of the last three games.
The Seahawks scored 100 points total in the last five games. A 20-point average would rank 25th in the regular season. But the Seahawks also didn’t have a turnover in the past two games.
“If we keep taking care of the football, it will give us our chance to get the wins,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We would like to make it easier and see the yards there, but as long as we’re playing within the formula, then we’re OK.”
Carroll thinks people are making too much out of the team’s lack of explosiveness on offense. And he has no problems with Wilson’s performance.
“He’s doing what we need to do in these games,” Carroll said. “We can always do better, but he’s very concerned about leading us in the way that keeps our philosophy intact, which is take care of the football. He’s done a great job of that, and he’s done that all year long.”
In four career games against the 49ers, Wilson has completed 53 percent of his passes (47 of 88) with six touchdowns and four interceptions while averaging 158.5 passing yards per game.
Wilson, however, has played well in the two home games against San Francisco, completing 23 of 40 throws for five TDs and only two interceptions. The Seahawks outscored the 49ers 71-16 in those two games.
But the fact remains that the Seahawks' offense hasn’t produced an efficient passing game over the past month.
“We’re trying to make things happen,” Carroll said. “But I’ve attributed some of that to the teams we’ve played that were really loaded up on the other side of the ball.”
Seattle faced four of the top 10 defenses in yards allowed over its past five games -- San Francisco, the New York Giants, Arizona and New Orleans.
“We’ve played some really good defenses, and they’ve made some big plays,” Wilson said. “But there are tons of throws I can make and I know I will make. I have no worries about that.”
There was also the factor of gale-force winds in the Saints game that changed how the Seahawks approached play calling.
“We didn’t throw as well as we like to, but there were reasons why,” Carroll said on his 710 ESPN Seattle radio show. “We did have to play differently with the weather and the wind. Throwing and catching the ball was an issue.
“We played it the way we imagined playing it in those conditions, with the focus going to the running game. It was what we planned to do, but there always are things you’d like to do better.”
Wilson threw only 18 passes against New Orleans, completing nine.
“When the wind is severe, you have to be smart," Wilson said. “There were circumstances where I have to be conservative throwing the football, making sure I’m not taking shots down the field.”
Former Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, now a radio analyst at Seattle’s KJR (950 AM) radio, believes the Seahawks defense this season is so good that it can cause the offense to play too conservatively.
“There’s a danger,” Holmgren said. “It can affect your offense. You don’t have to be reckless. You know you can play conservative and you’ll be fine.”
Wilson believes there's a difference between being cautious and playing scared.
“I’ve never played scared," he said. “I never have, and I never will. I always try to make the smart decisions and keep the play alive. But I’ve learned over the years that there are certain situations in a game where you can lose by not playing it safe.”
Seattle turned to its workhorse in Lynch, who rushed for 140 yards on 28 carries while scoring two touchdowns against New Orleans.
“We needed to run it, and we did," Carroll said. “Marshawn gave us the game we needed. He was cranked up out there. He was in command and wanted the ball again and again.”
Lynch also was the mainstay of the Seahawks' offense in both games against the 49ers this year, rushing for a combined 170 yards on 48 carries.
“We’re winning a lot of football games, and that’s the most important thing," Wilson said. “I can always do better. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I’m expecting to play a great game Sunday."
If receiver Percy Harvin returns from his concussion, he can make a difference as well. He had three receptions in the first half and was targeted five times before leaving the game.
“We’re always looking for more, and [Wilson] is too,” Carroll said. “But as long as our team is playing well, playing within the formula, playing good defense, running the football and taking care of the ball, we’re going to have a really good chance to win. It’s not about the stats.”
Wilson doesn’t think passing yards should define the success of Seattle's offense.
“There are a lot of factors that go into winning a football game,” he said. “We just need to execute one play at a time. That’s what it really comes down to.”