Seahawks’ Carroll says NFL rule changes are a sign of ‘respect’

RENTON— The Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl in large part because of a stifling defense. Now — and it’s probably not a coincidence — it appears the NFL may be taking another step to help passing offenses.

But if the Seahawks are upset about the possibility of the NFL making it harder for the “Legion of Boom” to play its style of defense, they’re certainly not showing it. In fact, head coach Pete Carroll smiled when asked about the report that the NFL is going to make defensive holding and illegal contact a point of emphasis for officials this year.

“That’s a beautiful thing,” Carroll said. “That’s respect, to me. If that’s the conversation, which I don’t know that it is, then that’s a sign of respect.”

Mike Pereira, the former VP of officiating for the NFL who is now an analyst for FOX, was at an NFL official’s clinic earlier this month and reported that the league plans to crack down on those defensive penalties. It’s similar to when, a decade ago, the league did something similar in response to the New England Patriots’ physical play against the Indianapolis Colts. Apparently when Peyton Manning’s offenses are stifled, the league takes action.

Asked if he thought the rule change was the direct result of Seattle’s defensive dominance, Carroll coyly replied, “I think we’ve contributed to that.”

But even if the league plans to crack down on Seattle’s style of play, defensive backs say nothing changes this season.

“At the end of the day, defense dictates the pace of what’s going on, we proved that,” said free safety Earl Thomas. “You know, we are who we are. Of course people understand that we’re very aggressive. The corners like to do their thing and (strong safety) Kam Chancellor and me, we do the same thing. We can’t worry about that, we’ve got to stay true to who we are.

“We can’t change who we are. So if they call it, they call it. But we’re not playing timid, we’re going to stay on the attack. If you wait to get hit, you’re gonna get knocked out.”

Despite 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh’s constant protestations — or whining, depending on your point of view — the Seahawks don’t feel like the way they play is illegal.

Seahawks defensive backs are aggressive, they’ll even admit they test the boundaries, but they don’t buy into the notion that they, as some have suggested, simply commit so many fouls that officials give up on calling them all.

“I don’t pay any attention to that,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “Illegal contact has always been a rule in the league, it doesn’t change this year. It was a rule last year as well, it doesn’t matter to me.”

And Carroll doesn’t think any change will be too over-the-top, saying, “The adjustments that they’ve made, they’re palatable.”

Seattle’s most physical corner, Brandon Browner now plays for the New England Patriots. And while everyone else in the secondary plays physical as well, it’s inaccurate to attribute the defensive success to rule-bending play.

Many of Sherman’s interceptions or pass breakups come when he makes no contact, or only gets in a legal jam at the line of scrimmage, then runs stride for stride with a receiver down the sideline.

On the defining play of Seattle’s Super Bowl run, Sherman’s NFC championship-clinching pass breakup, there is little if any contact between Sherman and 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree before Sherman tipped the ball to teammate Malcolm Smith.

And those tone-setting hits made by Chancellor, such as the one he put on the Broncos’ Demaryuis Thomas early in the Super Bowl? An emphasis on illegal contact would do nothing for a player already holding the ball.

And even if the Seahawks do draw more flags this year, they can always take comfort in this: when the league made this a point of emphasis a decade ago, New England won the Super Bowl again, marking the last time an NFL team has repeated as champs.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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