PHOENIX — Despite what you might have heard from Seattle cornerback Jeremy Lane last week, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has the undivided attention of the Seahawks heading into Super Bowl XLIX.
“Today I went back to a cut-up of Rob just to check him out, to see if there’s some things we could help our guys out on, because he’s such an effective player,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said Monday.
“He really has all of the elements that you’re looking for from a big-time tight end, every aspect of it. I was looking real close again just to see if there’s a way to find some approach that we could slow him down. … They will get the ball to him, it’s just how effective will it be? And we’ll try to do a terrific job of it, because if we don’t, he can control the football game.”
One of the best matchups in a Super Bowl full of them figures to be Gronkowski against Seattle’s strong safety/damager of souls Kam Chancellor. But while I hate to be the one to ruin a juicy storyline, Sunday’s game won’t really be a matchup between “Gronk” and “Bam Bam” unless the Seahawks go way off script.
Yes Chancellor will cover and/or try to tackle New England’s All-Pro tight end plenty, but so too will linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wanger and free safety Earl Thomas, to name a few. Think back to Seattle’s playoff game against New Orleans last season; there was no single player responsible for taking Jimmy Graham out of the game, it was a group effort.
It has been discussed so often now it’s almost easy to take for granted as the Seahawks once again were the best defensive team in football. But part of what makes Seattle’s defense so dominant is its simplicity. With very few exceptions, Seattle’s defense isn’t out to fool you; instead the Seahawks line up, either playing Cover Three or man-to-man coverage, and just try to out-execute and out-hit you.
Even when they’re facing one of the most dominant players in the NFL this season.
“It’s clear cut, it’s basic, it’s simple,” Chancellor said. “Whether it’s me playing in the box, whether it’s me playing man-coverage, whether it’s me playing robber, whether it’s Cover Three, it’s just plain and simple rules. Beyond that, it’s just reading and reacting, studying film, it’s how teams are going to attack you. That’s it.”
And make no mistake, the times Chancellor, arguably the best strong safety in the game, and Gronkowski, who had 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, do face off, it will be must-see TV.
Asked what would happen if those two physical players collided at full speed, Richard Sherman said, “I don’t know, but I’ll be sitting there with popcorn.”
Or as Wright puts it, “It would be a classic matchup. Our best against their best.”
But what it won’t be is a matchup that is forced on Chancellor down after down. That’s not how the Seahawks operate. In the eyes of Carroll, one of the best defensive minds in the game, the best defense is a fast, physical and disciplined one that doesn’t require too much thinking in the heat of the moment.
“We have a simple scheme that we play with on defense, because we found that it allows these guys that we have to really demonstrate the wonderful stuff that they can bring to the football game,” Carroll said. “So that’s why we’ve done it and how we’ve done it in all phases.”
As for Lane’s “I actually don’t think he’s that good” comment about Gronkowski, it obviously wasn’t the smartest thing to say. Well, unless Lane’s goal was to earn some notoriety before the Super Bowl, in which case, mission accomplished. But I don’t think Lane was saying it to be malicious, but rather that he was just reflecting the extreme confidence — the borderline arrogance, if you prefer — that helps make this historically great defense tick.
It isn’t that the Seahawks don’t think Gronkowski is a good player — “great” was the word repeatedly used by just about every member of Seattle’s defense besides Lane — it’s that the Seahawks truly believe they are better than any offense they’ll face if they are taking care of their business.
The way these players see the world, if everyone just does their job, whether that’s Chancellor or Wright or Thomas or anyone else dealing with Gronkowski, that will be enough.
“We worry about what we have to do,” Thomas said. “We worry about our job and it is just the personnel and the matchups. We match up very well in this game, so we are going to focus in our job and own our role. I want to be the best free safety for the Seattle Seahawks and we will see what happens at the end of the game.”
Herald Columnist John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org