RENTON — The plays came less than six minutes apart.
The Seattle Seahawks were clinging to a 6-3 lead over the Miami Dolphins late in the third quarter of this past Sunday’s game at CenturyLink Field. Miami had reached Seattle territory, but on third-and-7 from the Seahawks’ 49-yard line, Jeremy Lane knocked a pass away from Jarvis Landry to force a punt.
On Miami’s next possession early in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins were first-and-goal from the Seattle 5. That’s when DeShawn Shead caused a pass to Arian Foster to go incomplete. Miami was eventually pushed back to the 9, and the drive ended with Cassius Marsh blocking a 27-yard field-goal attempt.
Shead and Lane may be option Nos. 2 and 3 for the Seahawks at cornerback, but their contributions are key in making Seattle’s secondary second to none.
Original Legion of Boom members Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor get all the accolades. But it’s Shead and Lane who provide the Seahawks an embarrassment of riches at defensive back, helping make Seattle’s secondary the envy of the entire NFL. In Sunday’s game the pair combined for seven tackles and three passes defensed as the Seahawks limited the Dolphins to 186 yards passing.
“I thought the corners played really well and really consistent,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Their coverage, their technique, the consistency of their play and the consistency of the challenge that they posed, it was really good and it’s looked like it was coming that way through the offseason and through camp, that these guys might be at the best they’ve been. It was a really good start for them. Jeremy was particularly effective. I know that there are some numbers out there about DeShawn’s game, he had the best game of all the corners or something like that. It was really good play by those guys and we really needed it.”
It’s taken some time for Shead and Lane to reach this level. Shead was an undrafted free agent in 2012 who spent his early years with Seattle as a safety. Lane was a fifth-round draft pick in 2012 who has had to deal with injuries in his career, most recently the torn ACL in his knee and broken arm that occurred in Super Bowl XLIX. When the 2015 season started Shead was a backup safety and Lane was on the physically-unable-to-perform list, as free-agent signing Cary Williams was Seattle’s starter at right corner.
But Williams was eventually found wanting, being released in early December. Shead and Lane were asked to fill the void, and they capably handled the position down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Now Shead and Lane have elevated their play even further. It’s rare that teams are able to unearth one elite cornerback, but according to Sherman the Seahawks now have three.
“They’re incredibly valuable,” the All-Pro Sherman said about Shead and Lane. “I wouldn’t even call them Nos. 2 and 3, I’d call them 1, 1, 1 across. Those guys can play anybody and play with anybody. I don’t think they really care who they’re matched up against, and I think that’s what allows them to play with such confidence. Obviously Jeremy wanted (Jarvis) Landry pretty bad for some reason, I don’t know if they had some kind of previous encounter, but he played a great game against him, he was physical, he was fantastic. And Shead did a great job with whoever he was matched up against whenever he was matched up. I think those are the kind of guys we need to thrive down the line.”
It was iffy whether the Seahawks would have both Shead and Lane at their disposal this season. Lane became an unrestricted free agent following last season and drew interest in the market, but Seattle was able to bring him back on a four-year, $23 million deal. Meanwhile, Shead barely missed being eligible to be a restricted free agent, meaning the Seahawks were able to retain his services on the cheap for one more season.
Shead and Lane continued their competition for the starting position opposite Sherman throughout the offseason and preseason, with the two alternating starts in preseason games. The Seahawks went with Shead for the game against the Dolphins, but the starting designation means little. Seattle spent 81 percent of the game against Miami in its nickel defense, when both Shead and Lane were on the field, with Shead playing on the outside and Lane matched up against the receiver in the slot.
It’s an advantageous configuration for the Seahawks because Shead and Lane have differing styles. Shead, at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, is the more physical corner, capable of jamming receivers at the line and matching up with taller targets. Meanwhile, the 6-foot, 190-pound Lane is the quicker player and better suited to matching up with possession receivers who tend to line up inside.
The formula certainly worked against the Dolphins.
“I think we played really well,” Shead said. “I think we did well, we did our job, went out there and took our preparation to the field. We’re planning to prepare this week and try to mimic the same thing as last week.”
For more on the Seattle sports scene, check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at www.heraldnet.com/tag/seattle-sidelines, or follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.