SEATTLE — It’s the question that’s been hanging over the Seattle Seahawks since the moment Richard Sherman limped off the field three weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals:
Are the Seahawks, deprived the services of the Legion of Boom, still a contender?
The past three weeks for the Seahawks have largely been about trying to address that question, and Sunday’s 24-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field went a long way toward answering it.
Since 2012, Seattle’s secondary, colloquially known as the Legion of Boom, has been the NFL’s best, becoming the primary source of the Seahawks’ identity during their five years as the NFC’s winningest franchise. The three pillars of that secondary were cornerback Sherman and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. But Sherman suffered a season-ending Achilles injury against the Cardinals. Chancellor also hasn’t played since then because of a neck injury and is going to miss the remainder of the year.
Suddenly Seattle’s identity was gone.
But Sunday’s victory over the Eagles, who came into the game with the NFL’s best record at 10-1, showed that there is life after the Legion of Boom, both for Seattle’s secondary and for the Seahawks as a whole.
Seattle’s secondary was expected to be challenged by Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz, who came into the game having thrown 28 touchdown passes against just five interceptions and was one of the frontrunners for league MVP honors. Would the no-names be able to emulate the All-Pros they were forced to replace? On Sunday we found out.
There was Bradley McDougald, the offseason free-agent signing, looking for all the world like Chancellor with the way he attacked the line of scrimmage to make plays in run defense. He finished the game with 12 tackles and a pair of passes defensed.
There was Byron Maxwell, recycled off the scrap heap in the wake of Sherman’s injury, doing his best Sherman impersonation, making important open-field tackles and intercepting a pass in the end zone. He added seven tackles and two passes defensed.
And there was Shaquill Griffin, the third-round draft pick, returning from a concussion and being a rock in coverage as he further established his worthiness of being a starter as a rookie. Griffin had five tackles and two passes defensed.
Wentz may have finished with 348 yards passing, but much of that production presented little real danger, and the only time he got the Eagles in the end zone required two unbelievable throws on the run.
No Sherman? No Chancellor? No problem.
“I think they’ve taken it personally, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said about his makeshift secondary. “They’ve got a lot of pride, too. They’re getting stoked all the time by Richard and Kam to kind of make their own noise here, and I thought they played really well.”
But the secondary wasn’t the only area where the Seahawks were being questioned.
When Seattle went to the Super Bowl in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons, the offense was predicated on a power running game spearheaded by Marshawn Lynch. But that power running game has been missing in action since Lynch’s departure. That remained the case this season, with Seattle cycling through a series of running backs, none of whom were able to gain much purchase.
As a result, Seattle’s offense has become heavily dependent on quarterback Russell Wilson. But Wilson has been up to every challenge, and Sunday’s performance was yet another step. With the Seahawks facing the league’s top run defense, Wilson conducted a Seattle offense that found a way to control the ball without being dependent on rushing yardage from the running backs. Once he drew the Philadelphia defense in, he beat it deep, finishing the game with three touchdown passes. And then there was his spectacular option quarterback moment when he made a downfield lateral during a scramble to convert a key third down late in the game.
“Tonight was pretty special against a really good football team,” Wilson said. “We played lights out, we can’t play much better than we did tonight.
“You always want to have this constant progressions, you always want to have this growth,” Wilson added. “It’s always great to start undefeated or something like that. But the key is, ‘Can we get better? Can we get better fundamentally, can we get better as a team, can we get better with our chemistry on offense, defense and special teams?’ That’s where we’re continuing to head. We’ve done that for five, six straight years.
“December does matter, that’s what championship teams do.”
That’s right. Not good teams, championship teams. And the Seahawks sure looked like one Sunday.
So does Seattle have what it takes? Without Sherman and Chancellor, as the Seahawks still contenders? On Sunday we got the answer.
The answer is, “Yes.’”
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.