The question was posed to Pete Carroll 30 minutes or so after his Seattle Seahawks had finished pummeling the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The reporter wanted to know about Seattle’s No. 1 defense so thoroughly dominating what, statistically speaking, was the most productive offense in NFL history, and before the question was finished, the Seahawks head coach flashed the sort of grin that only a 43-8 Super Bowl victory can produce.
“Well all those people who like to say defense wins championships can go ahead and gloat for a little while,” Carroll said, “because that sure turned out today.”
The story of how the Seahawks became an NFL powerhouse, and eventually champions by employing an old-school school approach of tough, hard-hitting defense and balanced offense has been told and oversimplified a million times by now. And Seattle’s rise to the top using that formula began years ago, so the way they did things on their way to a title was hardly surprising.
But with the NFL draft kicking off on Thursday, we may start to see just how much Seattle’s success under Carroll and general manager John Schneider affects the decision making of other NFL teams.
The NFL has long been known as a copycat league, and certainly other executives take notice when a team completely stifles the highest-scoring offense in history.
So can the Seahawks’ blueprint for success be copied? Is it as simple as drafting big, physical cornerbacks, focusing on run-heavy offensive attack, and not being afraid of drafting a short quarterback?
To put it simply, no, Seattle’s formula isn’t likely to be replicated by another team. In fact, even if the Seahawks go onto to win more titles, they may never quite duplicate the magic of the team that battered the Broncos into submission; not when paying their young stars means they can’t make luxury offseason additions like they did in 2013.
Besides, to say that there is a formula of player acquisition to be copied would be an insult to Seattle’s coaching staff, which has developed more than its share of mid-to-late round picks. And which through Carroll’s philosophy of competition has allowed young players, even late-round picks and undrafted free agents, to win starting jobs. Schneider, who deserves plenty of credit for building Seattle’s young, talented roster, is quick to also credit the coaching staff, especially when it comes to explaining the success of so many late-round picks.
“They don’t have a preconceived notion that you need a veteran,” Schneider said. “The easiest thing to do is sign a veteran. The hardest thing to do is sign a young player and coach them up and spend extra time with them and develop them and get them ready to play. And this staff has shown an ability to do that year in and year out and that commitment was part of the partnership with Pete and I that we were going to accentuate the strengths of these players. We’re not going to harp on the negatives, we’re going to try and do whatever we can as an organization help them compensate for their deficiencies, and we’re going to do whatever we can to coach them up and develop them and get them to reach their ceiling as quickly as they can.”
In other words, it’s one thing to draft quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round, it’s something entirely different to give him a legitimate shot at winning the starting job as a rookie after paying big money to sign another quarterback in free agency.
Yet even if the Seahawks’ formula can’t be replicated, that doesn’t mean their success won’t have some affect on this week’s draft.
Most notably, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who checks in at a shade under 6-feet, owes Wilson a huge thank you. Manziel said himself that Wilson opened the door for a talented, athletic, albeit undersized, quarterback to be on the radar of NFL teams. While Wilson’s size caused a first-round talent to slide two rounds, Manziel is all but a lock to go in the first round, and quite possibly in the top 10.
It’s quite possible we’ll see more tall, long-limbed cornerbacks drafted this year as well after Seattle had so much success with Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. But other NFL teams looking to get bigger at corner have to consider that they don’t have free safety Earl Thomas patrolling the middle of the field. And on top of that, there’s a difference between being a talented, tall cornerback and a big stiff who can’t cover anybody.
It’s not as if the idea of getting bigger at a particular position is revolutionary, it’s just rare to find players like Sherman who can have the right combination of size, speed, agility and ball skills.
“No,” Carroll said at the NFL scouting combine when asked if he thinks teams will try to all go big at corner. “Because they don’t exist. Big, fast guys are the (rarest) people around. Everybody would like to get longer, taller guys that run 4.4 (seconds in the 40-yard dash). But there just aren’t many humans like that in the world.”
“So it’s rare when you find them, and then you have to develop the guys. The perfect guys aren’t there.”
The perfect guys aren’t there, or they’re at least incredibly rare, but perhaps a few NFL teams will try to find them after watching the Seahawks roll to a championship in February.