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5 keys to Seahawks repeating as Super Bowl champs

Russell Wilson holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy alongside coach Pete Carroll & GM John Schneider after Seattle blew out Denver in the Super Bowl
Russell Wilson holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy alongside coach Pete Carroll & GM John Schneider after Seattle blew out Denver in the Super Bowl
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As the Seahawks get ready to host the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 NFL season opener Thursday, the big question is whether the Hawks can become the first team in a decade to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Recent history says they won't even get out of the first round of the playoffs -- if they make it at all.

The last team to repeat as Super Bowl champs was the New England Patriots of 2003 and 2004. They went 14-2 in each season and eked out Super Bowl wins over Carolina and Philadelphia.

The Patriots were also the last champions to win a playoff game the next season -- the 2005 Pats beat Jacksonville in the wild-card round and then lost to Denver in the divisional game.

Since then, no Super Bowl champ has won a playoff game. Four teams have not even made the playoffs the next season, and four were bounced in the first game.

So how do the Seahawks avoid that pitfall?

DON'T BACKSLIDE

Six of the last nine champs have gotten worse in some major statistical way.

The Patriots went from the No. 4 scoring team in 2004 to No. 10 in 2005, and their defense fell off even more, going from second in scoring and ninth in yards to 17th and 26th.

Pittsburgh's defense took major plunges after both of its Super Bowl titles. The 2005 unit that ranked third in scoring and fourth in yards fell to 11th and ninth in 2006 as the Steelers went 8-8 and missed the playoffs. The 2008 defense was first in points and yards, but it fell to 12th and fifth in a 2009 season that ended in a 9-7 record and no playoffs.

The New Orleans Saints were the league's best offense in their 2009 Super Bowl season, but their rushing game fell from sixth to 28th the next year as they got bounced by Pete Carroll's first Seattle team in the famous Beast Quake wild-card game.

Green Bay had a top-notch defense (second and fifth) in its 2010 Super Bowl season but fell to 19th and 32nd the next year. The Packers went 15-1 thanks to the NFL's top-scoring offense and their opportunistic defense (No. 1 in takeaways), but they were bounced in their first playoff game by the New York Giants.

Three champs actually improved their rankings the next season but either didn't make it back or got bounced in the first game anyway.

Like the 2008 Steelers, the Seahawks had the undisputed No. 1 defense in 2013 -- only the third since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to rank first in points, yards and takeaways. It could be hard for them to repeat that rare feat, but if they can stay in the top five in those three categories, that should be good enough.

On the other side, the Hawks were a top-10 scoring offense but just 17th in yards as they struggled to throw the ball without their top tackles against some of the league's top defenses. The way Russell Wilson is playing now, there is no way the offense will be any worse than it was last year -- and it should be much better.

KEEP RUNNING THE BALL

The Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012 due in part to the fact that they were the 11th-ranked rushing team. They fell to 30th in 2013 and ended up 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

The Packers were 15-1 in 2011 because Aaron Rodgers aired it out all season, but the rushing attack ranked just 27th and was no help as Rodgers' receivers dropped passes in a 37-20 divisional loss to streaking New York.

The Saints went from sixth in rushing to 28th in 2010, which is a big reason they were 11-5 and a wild card having to play at the 7-9 Seahawks.

The Steelers went from the No. 5 rushing team in their 2005 title season to No. 10 in 2006, when they missed the playoffs.

In a rare exception, the 2008 Giants led the NFL in rushing but were eliminated in the first playoff game for other reasons.

Part of Carroll's Circle of Toughness is a commitment to the run -- the Hawks have been a top-four rushing team the past two seasons.

"We're an absolutely committed running football team," Carroll told fans at the Seahawks' Town Hall during the offseason. "Tom Cable sets the tone for it. He knows what the message is: We want to run the football whenever we want to. In the last couple of years, we have run the football more than anybody in the NFL, and we like that."

THIRD DOWNS MATTER

In 2008, the Giants were a much better team than the one that won the Super Bowl the previous season. Their offense jumped from 14th in scoring/16th in yards to 3/7 and their defense from 17/7 to 5/5, and they went from 10 wins to 12. They seemed poised to possibly repeat, but then they had a horrible third-down and red-zone day in a 23-11 loss to the Eagles.

The Hawks were a middling 17th on third-down conversions last season, hitting just 37.3 percent.

They put a major focus on third downs in the preseason, knowing that stat can be the difference between winning and losing.

"We’re going to try to be great third-down team and make a big difference," Carroll said recently. "So many games when we’ve talked about in the past that we’ve been frustrated, it’s gone back to not converting on third down. Those drives don’t stay alive and you miss out on that next first-and-10 call and the chance to mix it and all those things that you miss out on. So hopefully we can be a really sharp third-down squad this year."

DON'T TURN IT OVER IN THE POSTSEASON

While the Patriots were cruising to a 16-0 record in 2007, the Colts were right on their heels at 13-3 and seemed destined to meet them in the playoffs.

But three turnovers against the red-hot Chargers doomed Indy to a 28-24 divisional playoff loss.

The 2011 Packers went 15-1 due to the No. 1 scoring offense and No. 1 takeaway defense. But when they dropped passes and turned the ball over three times in their playoff game and were blown out by the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants, 37-20.

Carroll's Seahawks are "all about the ball." They were No. 1 in turnover differential last season, at plus-22, due to a league-best 39 takeaways and just 17 turnovers.

Wilson lost five fumbles in the first seven games while running for his life behind a bad line, but he shored up that weakness in the second half of the season as he did not lose another ball (the offense recovered his one fumble).

In the postseason, the Hawks turned it over once -- Wilson fumbled on the first play against San Francisco in the NFC title game -- and forced eight turnovers. That's how you win the Super Bowl.

HANDLE EXPECTATIONS

Everyone wonders how the very young Seahawks are going to handle success and expectations in the wake of the Super Bowl win.

At the Town Hall, Carroll said the Hawks already have overcome those psychological hurdles.

He said, "Remember last year at this time? What were the expectations? Who was the favorite to go to the Super Bowl going into last season? We were.

"We had to live with that expectation then. I brought it right to the front with the players. I wanted them to know everybody expects us to win and get all the way to the Super Bowl and win the darn Super Bowl if we get that chance. Let's own that expectation. Because if you're going to be good for a long time, you’ve got to get comfortable with that kind of talk. … You have to deal with it properly and not let it affect he important things that make you who you are."

He continued: "We got to start practicing last year for this year as far as expectations. We know that everybody is going to expect us to be at least close, and maybe they think that we're the favorite; it doesn't matter to me. But it is important that we get comfortable with this kind of conversation and this kind of talk so it doesn't throw us off and make us something that we're not and get us all screwed up. It's a tremendous challenge that we have now. It was last year. But here we go again. And hopefully we're better because of what happened."