Bobby Wagner is the key to Seattle’s playoff hopes


“He’s one of the heartbeat guys for this club,” head coach Pete Carroll said.

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Who was Carroll talking about?

Not Richard Sherman.

Not Earl Thomas.

Not Kam Chancellor.

He was talking about middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who returned on Sunday from a five-week absence due to a toe injury. Wagner’s return contributed to one of Seattle’s best performances defensively against the NFL-leading Arizona Cardinals.

Drew Stanton and the Cardinal offense looked rattled by the deafening crowd noise at CenturyLink Field. Seattle’s defense only allowed 213 total yards to a Cardinals offense playing without its starting quarterback Carson Palmer. But the renewed defensive performance goes far beyond the crowd noise.

It’s no coincidence that the Seahawks defense turned in one of its best performances at the same time one of its top players and its leaders returned from injury. Wagner was everywhere on Sunday, making a total of eight tackles. He was constantly in the right gaps, making plays and was a large part of why Seattle held Andre Ellington to only 24 yards on the ground.

And it’s worth noting that the Seahawks held the Arizona Cardinals to a season-low three points. It’s the lowest scoring output Seattle has allowed in 2014.

But what does it matter? Even with the win over the NFC West-leading Cardinals, it’s still a longshot for the Seahawks to win the division, right?

Yes, that is true. But the return of Wagner (and I’ll throw in Kam Chancellor) added two highly instinctual defensive players with elite physical tools. It’s what the Seahawks have been missing all year.

“…the return of Wagner (and I’ll throw in Kam Chancellor) added two highly instinctual defensive players with elite physical tools. It’s what the Seahawks have been missing all year.” -Thomas Oide

If the Seahawks defense continues to be at full strength for the rest of the year, there’s no telling what it can do. But that’s where things get interesting.

For the next five weeks, the Seattle Seahawks play one of the more difficult schedules in football. On Thanksgiving, they travel to San Francisco to play their rivals, the 49ers.

Then, it’s a trip to Philadelphia to take on the Mark Sanchez-led Eagles.

After that, the Seahawks return home to play the 49ers again and finish the season with two games against the Cardinals and Rams.

There’s a common theme between all of those opponents and it lies within each teams’ offense. Each of the next five opponents feature highly skilled running backs. For the 49ers, its Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. For the Eagles, its last-year’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. The Cardinals feature Ellington and Stepfan Taylor. And for the Rams, it’s the rookie from Auburn, Tre Mason.

If the Seahawks are to win out and have a legitimate shot at taking the NFC West, their defense will have to be at the top of its game. And with no Brandon Mebane, a successful running game starts with Bobby Wagner.

Everyone knows what they’re getting from the Legion of Boom: physical press coverage with lots of big hits and big plays. What has been less clear is the identity of the Seahawks’ run defense. Jamaal Charles ran all over the Seahawks’ defense last week, and if the Seahawks even want to have a remote chance of winning the NFC West, they will have to win out.

And to win out, poor run defense against quality running backs like Ellington, Gore, Mason and McCoy will not suffice. Wagner has to step up and take control of the front seven.

With the return of Wagner, there should be a renewed sense of hope in Seattle, knowing that the Seahawks are healthy and ready to make a playoff push.

It’s time to execute.