Seahawks defense gets its swagger back

SEATTLE — The Seahawks’ Earl Thomas had just finished leveling Titans receiver Damian Williams on an incomplete pass, and the Seahawks safety was so excited he kept running around until he found somebody else to hit, fellow safety Kam Chancellor.

Seeing as Thomas gives up five inches and 30 pounds to Chancellor, it was a bit surprising, not to mention amusing, when Thomas knocked Chancellor to the ground after the two leaped for a chest-bump celebration.

The Seahawks defense, and the Legion of Boom secondary in particular, had its swagger back. Perhaps even a bit too much.

“That was them swaggin’, man,” cornerback Richard Sherman explained. “The swag just got a little bit carried away. It went from Top 10 to Not Top 10.”

So a post-play celebration went a little awry. It beats what had been going on in previous weeks, when Seattle’s usually stingy defense became susceptible to big plays — like a 73-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton in Indianapolis. And big numbers, like the 20 points and 324 yards Houston had in the first half two weeks ago.

On Sunday, however, back in front of a home crowd — and let’s not kid ourselves, facing a backup quarterback — the Seahawks defense went back to looking like the Seahawks defense. The Seahawks intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick twice, they allowed just 223 total yards, and surrendered just two field goals to Tennessee’s offense. After Fitzpatrick hit Kendall Wright for a 32-yard gain early in the first quarter, the Titans failed to have a single reception of 20 or more yards, and didn’t produce a run of more than eight that wasn’t a quarterback scramble (Fitzpatrick gained 11 on one run).

“It was just us being normal,” said Thomas, whose first-quarter interception gave him three for the season. “A loss doesn’t define us. If we have a bad game in y’all guys’ eyes when a quarterback only throws for 220 yards, that’s just high expectations and we appreciate that.”

Well, Earl, 220 yards isn’t necessarily a bad game in our eyes, but you’re the one who three weeks earlier said you expect to hold teams under 115 passing yards per game. Regardless of where we define the cutoff for good game/bad game, this was a much better effort for a defense that wasn’t quite its usual stingy self in two road games. The Seahawks weren’t torched by Houston and Indianapolis, but as Thomas noted, the bar has been set pretty darn high.

“Last week, guys were not themselves,” Thomas said. “This week guys played great. We’ve just got to lock in and stay connected to the process.”

And what stands out most in this defensive performance, one that allowed the Seahawks to win by a touchdown despite playing, as head coach Pete Carroll described it, like the ball was greased, was that nobody was particularly impressed with holding the Titans without an offensive touchdown.

“It’s ordinary,” said Sherman, who also collected his third interception. “It’s what we expect from one another. We expect these kind of plays, this kind of effort. We felt like we just cleaned the plays up.”

Sherman’s interception was a play anyone who has been watching him play over the past couple of years has seen a few times before. With a receiver facing Sherman one-on-one on the sideline, the quarterback took a shot, and as Sherman has done so many times in his career, including against the 49ers this season, he ran a perfect route as if he were the receiver and out-jumped the intended target for the ball.

Asked what the Titans must have been thinking testing him, Sherman joked, “I don’t even know. I think they were trying to give me the ball.”

And while it’s easy to think the Titans fools for testing Sherman like they did on that four-quarter interception, that play was more a reflection of Seattle’s overall defensive dominance than a poor decision. The reason Fitzpatrick threw in Sherman’s direction was because the Seahawks’ coverage was tilted toward the other half of the field, so the shot down the sideline is the right call. Sherman just often ensures a bad result even when the call is right.

“If they see me going that way,” Thomas said gesturing to his right, “it’s one-on-one, so they’ve got to throw on him.”

The other reason Fitzpatrick had no choice but to throw at the NFL’s best secondary was that his offense couldn’t run the ball, save for an occasional scramble by him. Chris Johnson, once considered the best back in the league, was held to 33 yards on 12 carries, and as a team the Titans managed just 66 yards on 20 attempts.

“On defense, we stopped them all day long without giving up a touchdown for the day, which in the NFL is awesome to do,” Carroll said. “… They couldn’t run the ball at all, which was great. It’s a good front and a good offensive line and a committed running team, so that was great to shut them down like we did.”

For a defense that wasn’t up to its usual high standard the past couple of weeks, this was the perfect response. Well, almost perfect. That big-hit celebration could use a bit of work.

“He’d been delivering hard hits all game, that was just one of the hard hits, and leverage wins,” Chancellor said. “You get a little guy get up under your chin, he might knock you out. So you better be careful.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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