Seahawks like their rough reputation

RENTON — Go ahead, tell the Seattle Seahawks defensive backs that they’re too physical, that they hold, that they’ve mastered the art of pass interference. They’ll just keep playing their game, and if you’re not careful, take your ball and go home.

All those shots, the accusations; they’ve become something of a badge of pride for the NFL’s best secondary. Whether it’s 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh saying last year that he planned to “take that up with the league” in regards to the way Seattle’s cornerbacks play, or New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride telling the Wall Street Journal that the Seahawks have “perfected the art” of persistent pass interference, the Seahawks see this as the ultimate validation of their aggressive style of play.

“Yeah, we love it,” safety Earl Thomas said. “We love when a coach is on the sideline and, ‘Hey, look at him, he’s holding.’ We love that because their energy is not in the right place. It’s just a great feeling. Obviously, me in the middle of the field … if (the cornerbacks) are locking somebody out, I don’t even go that way, because I can just feel it.”

The Seahawks did tie for the league lead with 13 pass interference penalties against them, and they’d never try to convince you that they don’t push boundaries with their physical style of coverage, but few teams, if any, play as much press coverage as Seattle, so the Seahawks are bound to draw more flags than average. (The Seahawks also had 10 defensive holding calls go against them, the second most in the NFL.)

However, the notion that the Seahawks game-plan is to hold/interfere every play because the officials won’t throw a flag every time is a huge stretch.

“We want to get up there, we want to be physical, we want to utilize our size and our strength to our advantage,” Seahawks cornerback coach Kris Richard said. “We’ve got five yards, we play within the rules, and we just let it go from there.

Like his players, Richard likes hearing teams complain about a defense few have found a way to exploit.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I think maybe they’re just not used to tight coverage anymore. It’s something a lot of people have gone away from. We coach that technique. We want to get up there, we want to press, we want to be physical, we want to be aggressive, and that’s how we play.”

And whether or not the Seahawks test the limits of physical coverage, it’s impossible to argue with the results. They led the NFL in passing yards allowed (172.0), interceptions (18), and held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 63.8. The gap in opponent passer rating between Seattle and the next best pass defense, Cincinnati, is the same as the gap between Cincinnati and No. 19 Detroit.

So yeah, Harbaugh is sure to complain to officials before and during Sunday’s game, and yes, the Seahawks very well may draw a flag or two, but they’re not about to change, nor apologize for their style of play.

“That’s an old-school brand of football,” Sherman said. “I don’t know how old the rules were, but since these rules have come, you look up and every receiver, every play they could drop a wide-open pass and turn around and look for a flag. I think that kind of ruins the game. That kind of ruins the intensity, the whole DNA of football and what it is if you see flags every single play.

“So I think DBs playing physical is the way football should be. A lot of people want to see great offense; you see great offense all the time — people running through zones and guys not being able to cover them. We stand up there and have a dog fight every play. You know, there is going to be some pushing off and grabbing here and there, and that is the game of football. That’s how it is. That’s how it’s always been. Ask the Michael Irving’s of the world, the Jerry Rice’s who had to deal with those before these rules coming up. That is real football.”

If anything, the Seahawks physical defense might have another advantage in the postseason. During the wild-card round of the playoffs, officials called 4.5 fewer penalties per game than they did in the regular season. That number spiked back up to regular-season levels during last week’s games, but there is the thought that officials tend to let more go in the playoffs, so as to not have a huge game decided by them rather than the players.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll isn’t sure if that will be the case Sunday, but either way, it’s far too late to change, either way, how his defensive backs play.

“Right now we’re so far into it, we play the way we play,” he said. “Our guys are on the line of scrimmage. That’s where we play. So we’re closer to guys than most when we start. That doesn’t mean anything else is allowed or expected or anything. We go play football. We don’t want any penalties, we want none. We’re trying to play penalty free and we don’t want to give our opponents any. How that factors into this time of the year, we’ll wait to see. I don’t know.”

Sherman, who led the NFL with eight interceptions this season despite being targeted less than any other starting cornerback, doesn’t think he and his teammates will do anything different this weekend than they have all season. As for Gilbride, whose Giants were shut out by the Seahawks at home? Sherman has a theory on that.

“I think we cover more than we hold,” Sherman said. “I think he’s a guy who’s a little bit bitter. His team didn’t score any points that game, so you’d find a way to explain that, too, to save your job.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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