There are those saying Dec. 31, 2017, could mark the end of an era.
The Seattle Seahawks’ season may come to a close Sunday, depending on how results unfold in the NFL’s final week. Seattle needs a victory at home against Arizona, combined with an Atlanta loss at home against Carolina, to extend its streak of making the playoffs to six years.
And if the Seahawks don’t make the playoffs, some pundits are ready to read the eulogy for Seattle’s defensive domination. The Legion of Boom era, they say, is over.
But while many are caterwauling about the Seahawks’ defensive future, I urge you to take a moment to appreciate Seattle’s defensive present. No, the Seahawks’ defense has not been as dominating as it was the previous five seasons, but in its own way Seattle’s defense has been every bit as valiant.
I acknowledge the numbers aren’t encouraging. Seattle put together the best defensive stretch in the modern NFL, leading the league in scoring defense four straight seasons from 2012-15. The Seahawks took a small step back last year in finishing third, but were still elite. However, Seattle ranks a modest 13th in scoring defense going into Sunday’s regular-season finale, and anyone who witnessed the Seahawks’ capitulation to the Los Angeles Rams two weeks ago at CenturyLink Field must at least be questioning whether Seattle’s defense has been sucked into the black hole of decline.
Then there’s the apparent disintegration of the Legion of Boom secondary. The Legion of Boom has been the personification of Seattle’s defense, and the three players who make the Legion of Boom what it is are cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Two of those, Sherman and Chancellor, suffered season-ending injuries, with some asking whether Chancellor’s injury history or Sherman’s salary-cap number will mean either or both won’t be back with the team next season. Then Thomas, who’s entering the final year of his contract next season, threw more gasoline on the fire last week with his, “Come get me,” comment to Dallas coach Jason Garrett following last week’s victory over the Cowboys.
Add in the possibly career-ending injury suffered by defensive end Cliff Avril, and Sunday could be the last time the core of Seattle’s historic defense ever plays together. For those seeking to hammer the last nail into the coffin of the Seahawks’ defense, there’s certainly no shortage of ammunition.
But amid all the drama, it can be easy to overlook what Seattle’s defense has accomplished this season, and given the adversity the Seahawks have faced the defense has held up admirably well.
First, there’s the injuries. In Sherman, Chancellor and Avril the Seahawks lost three Pro Bowl-caliber defensive players for the season. What other NFL team could survive the loss of that much defensive talent and not suffer a complete meltdown?
Seattle’s defense hasn’t just survived, it’s often thrived. Since losing to Atlanta in Week 11, the Seahawks have been fighting for their playoff lives. Each of their three victories since — against San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas — have largely been due to the defense, which turned in grade-A performances on each occasion. Last week against the Cowboys, Seattle managed just 136 yards of total offense, becoming the first team since 1966 to win a game despite having more yards in penalties (142) than offense. That’s all because of a defense that forced three turnovers that led to touchdowns.
And let’s not forget that Seattle’s defense is not confined to the Legion of Boom. In Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright the Seahawks have perhaps the best linebacking duo in the league. When Seattle’s defense crumbled against the Rams, it was with Wright sidelined by a concussion and Wagner playing on one leg because of a hamstring strain. With Wright back in the lineup and Wagner’s health improved last week, the Seahawks’ defense was night and day from the previous week. Those two aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
So while others may be marching the streets carrying their, “The end is near!” signs, it’s perhaps premature to declare Seattle’s defense dead and buried. The Seahawks’ season isn’t done quite yet, and neither is Seattle’s defense.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.