Seahawks’ defense steps up in second half

SEATTLE — After allowing 331 passing yards and a game-winning touchdown drive a week earlier, the Seahawks usually-stingy defense was ready to make a statement Sunday.

Seattle’s defense, which had, by its standards anyway, a poor outing in Detroit was back home and ready to prove its doubters wrong; ready to show that it is in fact an elite unit; ready to. … Oh crap, there goes Adrian Peterson.

Yes, on an afternoon when Seattle’s defense wanted to make a statement, that initial statement was, “We can’t stop the NFL’s leading rusher either.”

But fortunately for the Seahawks, the game wasn’t over when Peterson ripped off a 74-yard run on the second play of the game. Or when he punched it in for a touchdown two plays later, or even when he scored his second touchdown early in the second quarter on his way to the best game for a running back against Seattle since 2009. And when the dust had settled, a Seahawks defense that had struggled to come up with critical stops in Detroit, and that had been run over by Peterson for two quarters, was back to looking like one of the best defenses in the league by the time the game ended.

Russell Wilson’s three-touchdown first half set the tone in Sunday’s 30-20 victory, but it was the second-half performance of the defense that allowed the Seahawks to win comfortably without leaning on their rookie quarterback in crunch time like they have had to so many times this year.

“It was kind of a nightmare in the first half, to tell you the truth,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. “But the cool thing is the guys settled down, (defensive coordinator Gus Bradley) made his adjustments and we stopped them. … That’s a great turnaround for us. I love the way we responded.”

The Seahawks led 20-17 at halftime, but unlike most games this season, Seattle was in the game because of its offense, not its defense. Peterson had 12 carries for 144 yards and two scores in the first two quarters, and the Vikings had 226 yards of total offense. Nobody had to tell Seahawks defenders that things weren’t going well when the team went to the locker room at halftime.

“At half time we were like, ‘Look, we don’t need the coaches to tell us (Peterson’s) kicking our ass,’” said defensive end Red Bryant. “We focused up and paid more attention to details and I love the way we were able to finish the game off in the second half.”

And finish they did. After getting gashed by Peterson and the Vikings for two quarters, the Seahawks gave up only 59 yards and three points in the second half. Peterson rushed for 38 yards in the second half, and quarterback Christian Ponder was just 4-for-9 for 21 yards and an interception.

“We know we’re a special defense, but with any defense, it’s attention to detail,” Bryant said. “We were able to play with more attention to detail, get key stops in the second half and really do a better job of containing Adrian Peterson. The offense helped us out a lot as well by putting points up so we knew they were in passing situations. … Everybody just stepped up the second half and made sure we finished.”

It might still be too soon to call this defense elite. Elite defenses don’t give up game-winning drives like the Seahawks did last week, or allow big plays like Peterson had in the first half, but Sunday’s second half showed that Seattle’s D is pretty darn good now despite room to improve in the second half of the season. After struggling on third down last week, the Seahawks held the Vikings to a 3-for-10 conversion rate, including 1-for-5 in the second half. After being torched by Detroit quarterback Matt Stafford last week, Seattle made Ponder a non-factor, and didn’t allow a passing play longer than 14 yards. And yeah, Ponder is hardly considered a huge threat, but he has shown the ability to make plays this year, particularly with weapons like Peterson and Percy Harvin at his disposal.

After a bad game-and-a-half stretch, the Seahawks defense got back to playing like the Seahawks defense, and whether you want to call it elite or not, it was a very good sign for a team that wants to lean on its defense and running game this year. The Seahawks’ defense was looking for a bounce-back game Sunday. Instead Peterson was bouncing off of and running away from defenders. But in the second half, the Seahawks rediscovered their defensive identity. It was a response every bit as impressive as the clinic put on by Peterson in the first half.

“We just got back to the basics and doing what works well,” said safety Earl Thomas. “… We made adjustments after halftime and they worked.”

Herald Writer John Boyle:

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