Salty Seahawks could wreak havoc in the postseason

SEATTLE -- Two games into the season, the Seattle Seahawks were winless, and for as much as they were seeking a victory, they were also in search of an identity.

On a team loaded with youth, it took veterans such as linebacker Bobby Wagner and offensive tackle Duane Brown to remind their young teammates that figuring out who you are takes longer than two weeks.

Judging by the Seahawks' 21-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night, it took something closer to 14 weeks. Once Seattle finally discovered who it is, it was hard to deny that what's old looks new again.

"Great, hard-nosed defense, running the ball as an offense, a very physical group, that's what we tried to create over the season, and we've been able to accomplish that," Brown said. "Tonight was a prime example of that. It was just a grind it out, not very flashy game."

Sound familiar? It should.

These Seahawks aren't the same group that lorded over the NFC in recent years, something Wagner has taken upon himself to hammer home to his teammates. They are, however, following a similar blueprint that has long been a tried-and-true formula for postseason success.

This win was undoubtedly ugly, with yards hard to come by and points even more scarce. That's exactly what should concern Seattle's potential playoff opponents.

Mathematically, the Seahawks have not yet clinched a playoff berth. But barring something catastrophic, the Seahawks will be playing in the games that matter most come January.

At 8-5, Seattle's chances of reaching the postseason jumped to 99.6 percent, according to ESPN's Football Power Index calculations.

In this, the era of golden-armed quarterbacks and scoreboard-busting offense, there's still some room for good defense and a power running game. The Chicago Bears showed it Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams, and the Seahawks doubled down Monday against the Vikings.

For much of this season, the Seahawks' defense hasn't looked dominant. But if the group that showed up Monday night can build on shutting down the Vikings, it will be exactly the type of salty outfit that can wreak havoc in the postseason.

The Seahawks had plenty of fun pushing the Vikings around, limiting them to 276 yards and 4.9 yards per play. At the heart of that success? A defensive wrinkle the Seahawks call "Bandit," which deployed seven defensive backs as a means to change things up and cover Minnesota's multiple receiving threats. Whatever the package, it worked against Minnesota.

It took the Vikings seven possessions to reach Seattle territory, they didn't get to the red zone until the early stages of the fourth quarter, and they didn't score until the game was out of reach with 1:10 to go.

Seahawks cornerback Justin Coleman put the cherry on top of a dominant defensive performance with a fumble recovery for a touchdown with less than three minutes to go.

It was the second week in a row that the Seahawks scored a defensive touchdown. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was the first time since Week 17 of 2014 and Week 1 of 2015 that the Seahawks accomplished the feat. The last time they did that within a regular season? During their Super Bowl championship season in 2013.

That isn't to say that this is the second coming of the Legion of Boom or that Richard Sherman or Kam Chancellor are back, something Wagner reminds his teammates of regularly. It also doesn't mean this group can't build off what it did Monday night.

"I think you just try to let them know that you don't have to be the dudes that used to be here," Wagner said. "You can make the position special yourself. You don't have to be like Sherm. You don't have to be like Kam. Those are amazing players, and they're, like, once in a lifetime players, so you don't have to be that.

"You just go out there and do your job and do what God called on you to do and be whoever you are. You don't got to be anybody else, and I think that's what it is: Guys just going out there, having fun and being themselves."

The ideal complement for a strong defense? A power running game.

For a team that entered Monday leading the league with 148.8 rushing yards per game and calling a designed run play at a 48 percent rate -- unmatched in the NFL since 2014 -- the Seahawks hammered home the blueprint that has them on the verge of another postseason appearance.

By the time this ground-and-pound affair was over, the Seahawks had run the ball a whopping 40 times for 216 yards (not counting kneel-downs) and an average of 5.4 yards per attempt. Chris Carson led the way with 90 yards on 22 carries, but he got plenty of reinforcement from fellow back Rashaad Penny (eight carries for 44 yards) and quarterback Russell Wilson (five for 63).

At one point (above), Penny covered 83.06 yards of ground for a 17-yard gain -- the second time this season he has covered 80-plus yards on a run (the other went for 30 yards against Green Bay).

The Seahawks let the Vikings know immediately that they intended to run the ball and they intended to do so often. There was misdirection in those runs but not much in disguising them.

"We ran it 40-something times," coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't know that it was anything other than just commitment. Our guys are pretty good at staying with it."

On 25 of the first 42 plays the Seahawks ran against the Vikings, the Seahawks lined up in a heavy formation with six offensive linemen. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Seahawks called 17 runs out of that look, gaining 105 yards on those attempts. That package became a staple for the Seahawks starting in Week 5 -- they've used it on 46 percent of their rushing plays since -- and coincided with an overall boost in productivity for the run game.

Of course, for all of that to matter, the Seahawks will need the Wilson who showed up Monday night to give way to the one who normally occupies his spot. Sure, Wilson was without top target Doug Baldwin, but with the running game having so much success, there were opportunities for him to make plays down the field, most of which he was unable to convert.

A glance at the playoff picture shows New Orleans' Drew Brees as the only quarterback as proven as Wilson on any NFC postseason contender. But while the Seahawks' defense and running game have turned back the clock, Seattle will need the Wilson who has led the charge most of the season -- not the one who went 10-of-20 for 72 yards and an ugly interception.

The good news is Wilson's track record would indicate that this was but a blip on the radar, and the Seahawks still managed to win.

"We find a way to win," Brown said. "That's the mark of a great football team. We are dangerous right now."

If Monday night was a precursor to the postseason, then the Seahawks just might be the team nobody in the NFC wants to play come January.