The Seahawks’ defenders have been serious, focused, “locked in” as they prepare for their anticipated Super Bowl rematch with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
The defense melted down against Philip Rivers in the San Diego heat last Sunday, putting forth probably its worst performance since the playoff loss in Atlanta to end the 2012 season.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Chargers pulled out some tricks that the Falcons used against the Seahawks in that game, and safety Earl Thomas said that is one of the lessons the Hawks learned from their first loss of 2014.
He said the Broncos surely will take note of that chink in the armor of a defense that was the league’s best last season and dominated the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
“Obviously, they’re going to go back and see what we had trouble with in past games and even from previous years,” Thomas said. “Last week, San Diego hit us with some concepts from that Atlanta game we lost. So we’ve got to start thinking like that: How do teams want to attack us?”
Thomas said the Chargers used a “fake bubble backside post” when he was out of the game with cramps and Jeron Johnson had replaced him. He said it was the same play the Falcons used twice in their 30-28 playoff win.
“(The Falcons) had success on it, so (the Chargers) came back, and this is like two years later,” Thomas said. “So we’ve definitely got to be prepared for everything that we’ve messed up since we’ve been a part of the LOB (Legion of Boom).”
Thomas said the Seahawks have to learn not to repeat the same mistakes. Against Manning — perhaps the most cerebral quarterback in the game — that means not tipping their hand.
“He knows so much; he’s been in the league a long time,” Thomas said. “You have to deal with the false stuff he does — the fake audibles — and when he recognizes indicators that we’re giving him. So I think we just definitely have to hold the shell, not show that Cover 3 like we always show. I’m not saying change up what we do, but we definitely have to be more patient.”
Richard Sherman said the familiarity of playing Manning a third time in seven games (counting preseason) can work for and against the Hawks.
“You get some familiarity with his timing, eyes, progression,” Sherman said, “and he gets some familiarity with our defense. It’s kind of like it is when guys play division opponents: You get familiar with division opponents, so you kind of know what they really like to do. You know the plays they go to when they really need something. … They’ll always give you something new; they’ll always give you a new wrinkle just because they know you’re so familiar with them.”
Here are the other things the Seattle defense is focusing on as it looks to redeem itself after the poor game in San Diego:
The Seahawks have missed 12 tackles in each game so far, with Kam Chancellor whiffing on seven. They didn’t reach 24 missed tackles last season until their fifth game (per Pro Football Focus).
“We had more missed tackles than we normally have,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “Credit goes to those guys (the Chargers), but when we have double-digit (missed) tackles, that’s a lot for our group. It’s something that we take great pride in; so, for us to have that many, that was hard for us.
“Each week the emphasis for us is tackling and how we go about the ball,” he added. “And when we can make it about ourselves and our technique and how we play, it’s one of the things that we enjoy about our process of game planning. So, going back to it, that’s a big emphasis again this week in terms of the way we tackle.”
For Chancellor, there certainly is a rust factor. He missed most of training camp while recovering from hip surgery. Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin all missed chunks of the preseason, too.
“We’ve had some guys that haven’t played a lot of football in camp and been out for a long time,” coach Pete Carroll said. “I think they’ll all get better.”
The Seahawks have taken the ball away just once and are minus-1 in turnover differential through two games. By contrast, they already had seven takeaways after two games — both wins — last season.
They had plenty of chances to make game-changing plays in San Diego last week, but they just weren’t able to get to the ball.
“The ball has been on the ground four times — we just didn’t recover,” Thomas said. “I guess that’s sometimes how the ball rolls. All we can do is keep emphasizing it in meetings, keep seeing those moments when the game slows up and you have your opportunities — and you just have to capture those moments. But when they do come, they come in bunches.”
The Seahawks allowed the Chargers to convert 10 of 17 third downs, and Seattle is now the worst third-down defense in the NFL through two games — at 55.2 percent.
“The third-down emphasis was really the story,” Carroll said. “They did a great job on third down against us and (were) able to keep the club moving.”
Quinn said the lack of tackling and turnovers contributed greatly to the Chargers being able to sustain drives.
“I think (missed tackles were) a real factor in why some of the drives got extended,” he said. “We didn’t play as we would have liked to on third downs. Then for us not getting those takeaways that we’re normally accustomed to and then allowing the scores in the red zone at the end … I think it really started somewhere in the tackling and not getting the ball off them.”
Some people tried to blame the lack of a pass rush against the Chargers, but the fact is Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett were all around Rivers for most of the game. And the Hawks blitzed more in the second half as well. Rivers just managed to elude the rush and get rid of the ball — often to Antonio Gates.
Carroll is not displeased with the four-man pass rush, but he wants to see a little more from both ends of the defense.
“We’re coming hard. We’re bringing it,” he said of the rush. “We need a couple more significant plays to complement the secondary play, and then the coverage has got to be there to give the rush a chance.
“So, we really feel like right now we’ve got to just work together a little more effectively to maximize both sides of it. … If you’re out of whack and if you’re not covering and the ball’s coming out, then you’re not getting there. We need to cover to slow down the quarterback, so all that works together.”
The defense was obviously beaten down by the heat and the spectacular play of Rivers and Gates in San Diego. Thomas said he felt like the defense did not fit its gaps properly and felt “out of whack” and out of rhythm.
“But,” he said, “that taught me a valuable lesson: Just to fight those negative thoughts in your head. … I think I definitely got my championship spirit back after that loss — my crave, my hunger and my desire to be unstoppable. … I’ve just been focused ever since and it feels so good just to be feeling like this.
“We’re ready to play right now,” he said Thursday. “I love when we have something to prove, and a lot of times when we’re on top like this we’ve got to protect what we have.”
Carroll said Wednesday that the players are “clued in that they want to put in a really good week right now. We know that we have a terrific championship matchup coming up, and they want to play really good football.
“I think our attitude, the direction and the focus of how the guys have talked and handled themselves has been really, really sharp,” he said, “so I think we’re in position to handle that well.”