RENTON — As much as Pete Carroll preaches the importance of treating every game the same, the Seattle Seahawks head coach couldn’t help but wonder if the excitement of a Super Bowl helped his defense take its game to a higher level.
After all, the Seahawks spent four quarters last February pummeling what had been the highest scoring offense in NFL history, holding the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos to just eight points. Even Carroll, Mr. “We Treat Every Week as a Championship Week,” was curious if that kind of effort could possibly be replicated.
He got that answer on Sunday, when Manning and the Broncos came to Seattle and for 59 of 60 minutes, the Seahawks again dominated one of the NFL’s best offenses, holding Manning and company to 12 points prior to that 80-yard, 41-second drive that tied the score at the end of of regulation. Prior to that drive, which saw the Seahawks concede a touchdown basically because of two coverage breakdowns, the Broncos had scored nine of their 12 points largely because their defense and Seattle’s offensive miscues, most notably a safety and an interception in the fourth quarter.
In the week leading up to Sunday’s game, linebacker K.J. Wright said of the Super Bowl performance, “I believe that was the best game we played. I didn’t see any missed tackles, I didn’t see too many explosive plays. We were on it from the first play to the last.”
Yet this defensive performance, except one admittedly bad final drive, was even better, according to Carroll.
“We played really hard on defense,” Carroll said. “I was anxious to see if we would play and look like we did back in the Super Bowl against these guys as far as breaking on the ball and running and hitting, and I thought we did better.
“I thought we played routes better, and some things they threw at us, the perimeter screen game that’s really just phenomenal for them, we just really eliminated it. The guys just did a fantastic job and gave us chance to really play a dominant day of defensive football, and unfortunately we had the last drive that we gave up. But I was really excited about that, because we weren’t happy with what we did the week before, and we came roaring right back against a fantastic offense.”
As Carroll notes, it was a night and day difference between what his defense did against the Broncos and what happened on a hot afternoon a week earlier in San Diego, when Philip Rivers picked the Seahawks apart on the way to a 30-21 victory. And what those contrasting performances shows is just how fine the line can be between a good and bad day for the Seahawks defense, and really any unit, offense or defense, in a parity driven league.
The Seahawks didn’t overhaul their game plan after a loss and they didn’t replace personnel, but they were quicker in pursuit and they made sure tackles after having 12 missed tackles the week before. That in large part was enough to make a huge difference.
Throughout Sunday’s game, a common complaint voiced by Denver fans or just fans of exciting football was that the Broncos were being too conservative. Manning wasn’t taking shots down field, he was checking down or handing the ball off. Well sorry folks, that’s exactly what Seattle’s defense does to teams.
With Earl Thomas patrolling the middle of the field, and with Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell on the edges, teams just don’t take shots deep. Seattle’s scheme is specifically designed to stop those big plays. What Seattle will concede are short passes, and the Seahawks do so because they trust Thomas and Kam Chancellor and their linebackers to quickly make punishing tackles that limit the gains.
Dink and dunk successfully enough, and sure you’ll get some yards and points, but you’re not going to score on big plays or put together touchdown drive after touchdown drive if the Seahawks are doing things right, not to mention that eventually the defense is likely to force a turnover or two along the way. In San Diego, those short passes turned into big gains. In the Super Bowl, then again last weekend, they went nowhere.
The good news for the Seahawks is that they’ve faced three of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, and twice played very well. The bad news is that the Chargers served notice that even the best defense in the NFL can be vulnerable if it has an off day.
“We have had tremendous tests,” Carroll said. “We’ve had just about the best three that you could throw at us, quarterback wise. We learned that when we don’t fly around the field like we normally do we can have a bad day like what happened in San Diego. We couldn’t get our game going the way we wanted to play it. It didn’t look anything at all like what you saw against the Packers or against Denver. We have to maintain that tempo. Our guys tried really hard, they just didn’t have it against San Diego. It didn’t show up. We have a real style that we play to. We have a real mentality that we play to and when we do it, we can control football games. I think we felt that throughout the Denver game.”
Going forward, if the Seahawks can replicate that performance, their defense will again be the best in the league, and good enough to potentially carry them back to the Super Bowl.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.