I’m dating myself here, but back in the day there were these devices called cassette tapes, on which music was recorded and distributed. One of the things music aficionados could do was buy blank cassettes and make their own recordings, whether that meant creating a mix tape, or “borrowing” your friend’s album, or trying to catch a song off the radio.
There was one maker of blank cassettes that claimed the quality of its recordings was so good that it asked the question: “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”
That was the question being asked of the Seattle Seahawks’ defense Sunday when they faced the Los Angeles Rams. Was Seattle’s defensive improvement the honest-to-goodness reality? Or was it just a cheap reproduction that was a product of the schedule?
Well, Sunday’s 20-9 victory over the Rams at Lumen Field, which clinched the NFC West championship for the Seahawks, answered that question. This is no scratchy recording of a song captured from Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. This defense has been fully remastered.
“For everybody out there, they gotta start putting respect on this defense’s name, because this defense is playing lights out,” strong safety Jamal Adams said.
If Seattle’s defense were a pop song, then the first half of the season it was something like Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.” In other words, a candidate for the worst of all time. Through eight games the Seahawks were giving up more than 30 points per game, and Seattle was on pace to shatter the NFL record for most passing yards allowed in a season.
But beginning with Week 11’s 28-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals things started to change for Seattle’s D, and in the four games from Nov. 30 to Dec. 20 the Seahawks allowed no more than 17 points and held three of their opponents under 300 yards. This is more in the territory of The Beatles’ “Yesterday.”
The problem with moving Seattle’s defense too far up the charts is that the Seahawks played four truly terrible offenses in those four weeks. We’re talking two teams that came into the week last and second-to-last in the NFL in both points and yards. All four teams ranked in the bottom six in FootballOutsiders.com’s offensive DVOA ratings. And two of those teams were forced to use back-up quarterbacks against Seattle.
So the Rams, whose offense is not a juggernaut but at least is competent, were the litmus test. Has Seattle’s defense actually improved, or was it made to look better than it is by the quality of the opposition?
What Seattle’s defense did was boot L.A. straight back into 70s AM radio. Rams quarterback Jared Goff is the epitome of Jekyll and Hyde, capable of both championship-caliber brilliance and fatal self-destruction, and against the Seahawks he had his moments that left one shaking one’s head in bewilderment. But Goff and the Rams also had a lot of the things they wanted to do taken away. Seattle sussed out all the bootlegs and misdirection running plays, as if defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was tuned into Rams coach Sean McVay’s headset. And the Seahawks gave Goff small windows to throw into, meaning Goff had to be near-perfect, and he wasn’t.
The signature moment came in the third quarter. Seattle opened the second half with a touchdown to take a 13-6 lead. L.A. answered by driving inside the Seahawks’ 10, and another tie score seemed inevitable. But between Adams tracking Darrell Henderson down from behind to prevent a sure TD and linebacker K.J. Wright blowing up the play on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Seattle produced a five-play goal-line stand every bit worthy of the defenses that took the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
”This defense is good,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “They’ve shown it and they’ve declared it. This is the kind of defense we played in years past when we had really good trams.”
Wright, the 10-year veteran who is the longest-tenured member of the Seattle defense, said the defense’s turnaround “is everything, man.
“We figured it out,” Wright added. “Guys are being accountable, we’re communicating like no other, just to hear guys voices each and every play is truly special. Defense wins championships.”
And Seattle’s defense may now be championship worthy.
After the game was over Adams, clad in a vibrant multi-colored sweater, concluded his postgame video by lighting up a victory cigar at the podium to celebrate the Seahawks’ division title.
While it may not have been accordance with building codes, the symbolism seemed appropriate? Seattle’s defense had just passed an important test. And with the Seahawks needing to get past the likes of Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers and Drew Brees’ New Orleans Saints on the path the Super Bowl, this defensive performance is what everyone needed to see before the postseason began.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.