SEATTLE — In this NFL era of prolific offense, the Seahawks have been at their eccentric best. They haven’t just ignored the trend. They’ve gone the opposite way and succeeded in stunning fashion.
The Seahawks have built the league’s best defense with preposterous brilliance. They’re so unconventional that they’re ideal. Across the league, great defensive minds and teams with great defensive traditions are succumbing to the changing times and copying the cats who devise video-game offenses.
Not Pete Carroll. Not the Seahawks. They’ve invested in a throwback strategy, updated it and made it their own.
Consider what is happening on Sunday, when the Seahawks’ No. 1 defense faces New England’s No. 1 offense. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is the greatest NFL defensive mastermind of his time, and even he is doing the trendy offensive thing, complete with a gimmicky no-huddle attack.
This Seahawks defense is the epitome of Carroll’s nonconformist virtue. It’s also proof that general manager John Schneider is already among the best front-office executives in the league. The Seahawks have matched the innovation of the high-powered offenses they face by building a defense that is every bit as creative.
“They play a unique system that’s really exclusive to the Seahawks,” said Jon Gruden, the Super Bowl-winning coach who is now a “Monday Night Football” analyst, during a recent interview. “They can dominate you on defense if you’re not ready. They can hand it to you.”
Defense always carries the burden of reaction. You hear more about offensive ingenuity than cutting-edge defense because offense is supposed to be more imaginative. Before a defense can stop a team, it must know what to defend. Offenses create. Defenses stifle.
But on occasion, there are special defenses that start to do as much dictating as reacting. You see glimpses of that with the Seahawks, but they’re young, and they’ve only been together since last season. They need more time and polish to achieve such a lofty status. Nevertheless, the potential is there.
“Two or three years from now, we’ll see,” Carroll said. “I know people in the league don’t think two or three years down the road very well. They think two or three weeks. But you’re going to have guys playing in their third and fourth and fifth years together by then. That’s not old guys. That’s just guys who have really grown up together. And that’s when you really benefit.”
As the Seahawks shuffled their roster the last two seasons, Carroll wouldn’t commit to having the same personnel for two or three games. Now, Schneider has equipped him with the kind of young defensive talent that he expects to retain and develop.
The Seahawks have a standout defense now. But with continuity, health and continued focus, they could become something unforgettable.
“We’re not going into games thinking, ‘Oh my god, we’re facing this big offense,’ “ defensive tackle Jason Jones said. “We go into every game thinking that, if we do our job, we can’t be beat.”
You often hear about how difficult it is to prepare for a good offense. With New England, the pregame conversation involves the Patriots’ tempo, Tom Brady’s accuracy, Rob Gronkowski’s big plays, Wes Welker’s ability to move the chains and the increasing effectiveness of running backs Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden. The Patriots have the scheme and the talent to befuddle any defense. That’s why they average 33 points and 439.4 yards per game. The Seahawks have plenty of challenges to account for in this game.
But the Seahawks’ defense doesn’t much care about whether it’s causing headaches in the Patriots’ meeting rooms.
“I wouldn’t say we’re difficult to prepare for,” linebacker K.J. Wright said. “We keep it pretty simple. What’s difficult is when you get out on the field and see how good we are.”
How does an offense prepare for the tallest, most physical cornerback tandem in the NFL? How does it prepare for a defense that is big yet speedy and hunts turnovers without gambling too much? How does it counter the kind of length and athleticism that no other team has?
The Seahawks have a solid, diverse defensive scheme. But their defensive innovation lies within their eclectic personnel, which made cornerback Richard Sherman once refer to the Seahawks as a “melting pot” defense.
They’re doing their own thing, for sure. Innovation requires a willingness to be different. Soon, the crazy, nonconforming, defensive Seahawks might be the envy of this pass-happy league.