By Danny O'Neil
The two quarterbacks in Saturday's playoff game share a mutual respect and a similar perspective as the two shortest starters in the league.
Drew Brees and Russell Wilson also play a similarly pivotal role in their respective offenses, but it is the differences that best explain the unique challenge that Seattle's quarterback faces as he embarks on his second playoff run.
The Saints threw more passes than all but three teams in the regular season, and their postseason success will depend upon Brees' arm. There's a bit of freedom that is inherent in all that responsibility, because while Brees will be asked to power the team's offense, he'll also be given the latitude necessary to operate one of the NFL's most pass-happy attacks.
Same goes for Peyton Manning. And Tom Brady. And now Andrew Luck.
The job description is quite a bit different in Seattle, and while Wilson may not have to do as much as his counterparts for Seattle to succeed, his margin for error is significantly smaller. Once you wrap your head around that contradiction you can begin to understand the unique challenge facing Seattle's second-year quarterback as he begins his second playoff run on Saturday against New Orleans.
And run is the appropriate word given coach Pete Carroll's ground-bound preference for his offense.
|• Pick'em | 'Pete Carroll Show' | John Clayton||• O'Neil: Hawks mantra: They deal with us||• O'Neil: TE Jimmy Graham is the mismatch||• O'Neil: FS Earl Thomas is the equalizer||• O'Neil: WR Percy Harvin is the wild card||• Moore: Don't expect another blowout win||• Moore: Harvin should be turned loose||• Huard: Seahawks should be able to run||• Henderson: Wilson hopes for pressure||• Henderson: Carroll stressing right mindset|
That pedestrian nature translates to fewer passes and often fewer possessions, which means efficiency becomes that much more important. That brings us to Wilson and the keys to winning in the playoffs.
"Same way as always," Wilson said Wednesday. "Protect the football. Be great on third down. Be relentless in the red zone."
So all he has to do is excel in the two areas that are typically most challenging for a quarterback. Third down is when the defense is ratcheted up, frothing at the possibility of getting off the field while the red zone is where everything gets compressed, the room for maneuvering minimized as the stakes rise.
And as important as those two areas are for Seattle's success, avoiding turnovers is far and away the top priority.
That's not to say that other teams encourage turnovers, but there is a little more tolerance. Brees was picked off twice in the first half last week at Philadelphia while Luck struggled for much of the first three quarters against Kansas City before leading one of the all-time great comebacks in NFL postseason history.
Those are teams that depend on their quarterback to be both the engine that powers the offense and the rudder that steers it.
The Seahawks want most of their horsepower to come from the ground game, trusting Wilson's steering touch to navigate the most tricky spots.
Wilson will get fewer chances than most of his quarterbacking counterparts, which makes those opportunities he does get all the more pivotal for Seattle.
He doesn't necessarily have more responsibility than other quarterbacks, but he has less room to make any mistakes.