It has been a long time since we have seen a secondary dominate the way the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom has. In a season in which the passing game has run amok, the Seahawks secondary has gone counter trend and played at a considerably higher level than every other secondary in the league.
That makes the Legion of Boom historically impressive.
How are they doing it? Personnel is a part of it. Long, strong Richard Sherman, with five more interceptions than any other player in his three years in the league, probably is the game's best cornerback. Nobody is playing free safety like Earl Thomas. Kam Chancellor is an old-school strong safety who lights up ball-carriers. This is a young, passionate, committed group of ballplayers.
But there is more to it. The Seattle defensive backs play with unusual physicality and confidence. There is no trepidation in their backpedals. They don't appear to fear failure as much as they anticipate making game-changing plays. And the funny thing is that little changed when Byron Maxwell stepped in, or when Walter Thurmond was playing. The newcomer takes on the characteristics of this powerful group.
Their success is a testament to the players. It's a testament to Pete Carroll, the old defensive backs coach whose brand is on each of these corners and safeties. And it's a testament to secondary coach and Carroll disciple Kris Richard.
"What we do goes back to the purist's form of the game," Richard told Bleacher Report. "It's an awesome expression of the purity of the old-school nature of football."
We will see it Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. It would be a treat to see it again in the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos' magnificent passing game. It would be strength against strength.
You may know the Seahawks allowed the fewest passing yards in the NFL. They also had the lowest opponent passer rating at 63.4. The next closest was the Bengals at 74.2, and the league average was 84.1. The Seahawks were best in the league in yards per completion allowed (9.87), yards per attempt allowed (5.82), interceptions (28) and completions of 20 yards or more allowed (30).
The Seahawks secondary plays with a marked aggressiveness that is more and more rare in the era of player safety emphasis. "They might catch a pass, but who says it doesn't have to hurt when they catch it?" Richard said. "We have to stay true to our principles, and part of that is being dominant, physical players. At the end of the day, who doesn't want to be known as a player who goes out and kicks a lot of butt?"
This is how cornerback Richard Sherman put it when he spoke with reporters earlier this week: "I think DBs playing physical is the way football should be. A lot of people want to see great offense. You see great offense all the time. People running through zones and guys not being able to cover them. We stand up there and have a dogfight every play."
The Legion of Boom aspires to be a clean secondary that plays within the rules. For the most part, they have been. Seattle DBs have been fined twice this season—Chancellor for a late hit and Sherman for a hit on a defenseless player. They have been penalized 13 times for pass interference—which is tied for most in the league (one of their PIs was called on a linebacker). But the occasional PI call has not had major consequences for the Seahawks, and they are more than willing to trade a few penalties for a lot of big plays.
Richard said the group works hard on knowing where the line is and trying not to cross it. "We are well aware we get five yards to get all those things done in bump-and-run coverage," he said. "We're also well aware of our strike zone."
The Seahawks use chest shields in practice to help teach DBs where to hit. Receivers run routes holding the shields, which go from neck to mid-thigh. Corners and safeties get on course with the receiver and make the shield their aiming point.
The Seahawks coaches drill techniques hard, so it wasn't a surprise to see Sherman and Thomas named to USA Football's All-Fundamental team this week. Playing with sound fundamentals explains how the Seahawks' big corners aren't beaten often by quicker receivers.
"Ultimately it comes down to technique," Richard said. "You don't know where the wide receiver is going, but if you put yourself in position, you give yourself a chance to be successful. And you also can neutralize quickness with strength."
The Seahawks aren't doing anything complicated in the back end as a rule. It's a lot of Cover 3 with the 6'3", 232-pound Chancellor coming down in the box. Matt Bowen breaks down some of what the secondary does from a schematic standpoint here.
Having Thomas to clean up any mistakes in the deep middle is a great advantage. Confidence in the All-Pro safety engenders self-confidence in the other defensive backs, and it leads to all taking reasoned chances.
The Legion of Boom is what the NFL is supposed to be—football played at its highest level—and it is something to see.
• New Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay will only turn 28 years old on Jan. 24, but people around the league say he is a rising star who is destined to become a head coach. His grandfather John McVay, the former 49ers executive, may have opened doors for him, but Sean McVay has kept them open. McVay is considered to be a lot like Jon Gruden, for whom he once worked. In fact, he is considered to be more like Jon Gruden than Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is.
• Former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was impressive in his interview with Ravens coach John Harbaugh and remains in play for that position. The Ravens like the idea that Shanahan could bring fresh ideas to their offense.
• Look for Bill Kuharich to land a spot on the Dolphins' new front office staff, perhaps as personnel director. Kuharich has been out of the league for four years, but he is responsible for a good chunk of the Chiefs' roster. His former boss in Kansas City, Carl Peterson, is an adviser to Ross. Kuharich also worked closely on the Chiefs with Ray Farmer, who may be the front-runner for the general manager job.
• One of the selling points of Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in interviews for head-coaching positions is he had his offensive coordinator all lined up. Quinn told teams he'd bring Mike Mularkey with him to run the offense. The two worked together as assistants on Nick Saban's staff with the Dolphins in 2006. Some teams found Quinn impressive in interviews, and he may still be in play for the Browns' coaching job.
• Why are the Browns pulling for the Patriots on Sunday? Those who know Browns owner Jimmy Haslam believe he does not want to pull the trigger on a head coach until he gets to interview Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Some believe Gase is likely to get an offer, but he may be inclined to stay put for a year.
• Gunther Cunningham could have a future in personnel if he doesn't land a good coaching job this season. The Lions value their former defensive coordinator's ability to judge talent, and general manager Martin Mayhew could create a spot for him.
No front office executive has a bigger footprint on the championship round of playoff games than Seahawks senior executive Scot McCloughan.
During his time heading up the 49ers front office from 2005 to 2010, McCloughan acquired 16 players still on their roster, including Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Joe Staley, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and NaVorro Bowman. Since coming to the Seahawks as general manager John Schneider's right-hand man, McCloughan has had a hand in the acquisition of 26 players on the roster, including Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
McCloughan has influenced the acquisitions of 39 percent of the players who will be on the field in the NFC Championship Game.
Many of the best players in the Broncos lineup were acquired when Brian Xanders was their general manager. Xanders, who currently is a senior executive with the Lions, drafted, signed or traded for 34 of the current Broncos. Among the players acquired during his tenure: Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and Von Miller.
Is it any wonder the Dolphins wanted to talk with McCloughan and Xanders about their general manager opening?
Other executives who left fingerprints on the championship game teams' rosters before moving on include Scott Pioli (helped acquire Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Stephen Gostkowski and others in New England), Tim Ruskell (acquired Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Jon Ryan, Max Unger and Bennett the first time in Seattle) and Ted Sundquist (the Broncos picked up Champ Bailey, Chris Kuper and Matt Prater under his watch).
Scout Talk: All-Star Games
A number of front-office men said they were disappointed with the structure of practices at the East-West Shrine game this week, but they still reported a number of players helped themselves.
Two quarterbacks who performed well were Jeff Mathews of Cornell and Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois. A couple of linebackers who made impressions were Tyler Starr of South Dakota and Prince Shembo of Notre Dame.
Small-school players who stepped up in competition and looked like they can belong at the NFL level were Furman offensive tackle Dakota Dozier and Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir.
Wisconsin defensive tackle Beau Allen intrigued one personnel man. He liked Allen's explosiveness and strength and said a conversion to offensive line could be possible for him.
The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl had a lesser roster, but one scout estimated there could be a dozen players from the game who make NFL teams this fall.
One who is almost assured to play in the NFL is Kansas State offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas. He was a standout at the game because of his size and mobility. Lucas measured 6'7.5" and weighed 329 pounds. His wingspan was 87.125", and he had 36.5" arms. His hands measured 10.125". "He is a good athlete who can move his feet," one national scout said.
Others who fared well at the NFLPA practices were Syracuse linebacker Marquis Spruill and Newberry wide receiver Corey Washington.
• Deion Sanders claims he is playing in the Pro Bowl. Can't wait to see him try to cover Raymond Berry.
• Hard to imagine, but Peyton Manning has become a more valuable resource for the city of Omaha than cows.
• Scouts told me a long time ago Ryan Tannehill had a big gun, but they didn't say anything about his wife having one.
• Roger Goodell indicated the use of medicinal marijuana might eventually be allowed in the NFL. As a result, some would like to see Goodell drug tested.
• Jim Harbaugh's wife revealed Harbaugh shops at Walmart. That's all the more reason for the 49ers to continue to have Trent Baalke do the shopping while Harbaugh does just the cooking.
• Texans owner Bob McNair calls Jadeveon Clowney "remarkable." Others around the league say if McNair can sucker someone into paying a ransom for a pass-rusher who had three sacks last season, that would be truly remarkable.
Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.