NEW YORK — The Seattle Seahawks defense this season has not set historical records in the way that the Denver Broncos offense did, but it’s still a darn good unit.
First in points allowed (14.4 per game). First in total yards allowed (273.6 per game). First in passing yards allowed (172.0 per game). First in interceptions (28), red-zone opportunities allowed (a mere 36), opposing quarterback rating (just 63.4), and a host of other categories, some major and some more obscure.
Cornerback Richard Sherman is the face — and the mouth — of the defense, but he is far from the only one who makes it the toughest group in the league to score on. Two other members of the secondary, the fan-named Legion of Boom, were named All-Pro and Pro Bowlers with Sherman, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
The front seven may be anonymous in comparison, but they are the ones largely responsible for teams getting just 101.6 rushing yards on average, and recorded 43 of the team’s 44 sacks on the season. Without the pressure they get on quarterbacks, the secondary’s job would be tougher, and it likely would have allowed more than the impressive passing yards per game total it did.
The Legion of Boom may get the headlines, but they are fully aware they aren’t the only ones on the field.
“The secondary, we always get our talk here and there about how we’re a good unit and you have to live up to the expectations and go out there and play hard, but our defensive line, they’re savages,” Chancellor said. “I can say that hands down. Every time I watch film, I watch our D-line, I watch the guys up front, and see how their motors are going. Our D-line has a motor, a crazy motor, and they just go until the guy is done, until the whistle stops.”
“The biggest strength [of the Seahawks defense], I would say, would be all 11 of us,” defensive end and cocaptain Red Bryant said. “We’ve got arguably one of the best secondaries in the league. We’ve got some of the most athletic linebackers, and our defensive front is so multiple and has so many different schemes in it that it really allows us to put a stranglehold on different offenses when we’re playing at the top of our game.”
In two games against New Orleans this season, in Week 13 and in the divisional round, both of them in Seattle, the Seahawks held them to just 7 and 15 points. The Saints averaged 27 points per game in their other 16 games.
The Seattle front seven, and the line in particular, rotates players in and out, which means no one player has superstar stats — Michael Bennett led the team with 8½ sacks, but Cliff Avril totaled 8, and five others had at least two.
“I think that’s what makes us good,” Bennett said. “At this moment, our guys are fresh. At some teams, guys are beat up at this point. We’ve done a great job at rotating guys.”
Playing multiple linemen and linebackers isn’t novel in today’s NFL, but the way Seattle plays defense is: Things are kept simple. There’s no exotic scheme, nothing overly complicated, nothing even that different from week to week.
The Seahawks line up, they run their defense, and they dare you to beat them.
“We don’t vary or disguise coverage over anybody,” Sherman said. “We play a pretty simple defense. For the most part you know what we’re going to do every play and you’ve got to line up and play it. I think that’s how we’ve been all season and it’s the last game of the season, there’s no time to change it now.”
While other teams believe they need to rewrite the playbook heading into a game against Peyton Manning because he’s seen it all and is better at presnap reads than maybe any quarterback in history, Seattle goes into Sunday’s game strong in the belief that what’s gotten it to this point will carry it through.
“They are a smart defense,” Manning acknowledged. “They communicate well, they do a good job presnap and postsnap. Their intelligence, their ability to play together and communicate — that shows up just on the game film alone. I know that will carry over when you actually get to play against them. You are playing against a smart, athletic defense.”
As the Seahawks gather for one last time before kickoff, players expect to hear a familiar speech from defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who drew interest from several teams in search of a new coach last month, most notably Cleveland.
“The same message he’s been telling us since Week 1,” Thomas said. “Fast and physical, run and hit.”
For all the attention Manning and the Broncos’ record-setting offense have received, the Seahawks are looking forward to showing that the old adage remains true: defense wins championships.
“This is something that we’ve been looking forward to,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Us being the No. 1 defense, them being the No. 1 offense, I think it’s fitting.
“It’s our time to prove when we’re the No. 1 defense.”