For the past two weeks, the talk of the NFL was Peyton Manning, his legacy and the Denver Broncos' record-breaking offense. On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks throttled Denver 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII to win the franchise's first-ever world championship.
Seattle's victory again proves why defense still wins championships.
In an era where teams routinely employ four- and five-wide receiver sets, run the no-huddle and use the running game as a decoy, the Seattle Seahawks are a throwback. Seattle's team is built to play strong defense and run the football. In 2013, the Seahawks ran the ball more 89 more times than they passed it, a rarity in today's NFL.
So much for the devaluation of running backs and the NFL's continued attempts to de-emphasize the hard-hitting style that Seattle is known for.
While many thought the key play in Super Bowl XLVIII was when the game's opening snap sailed over Manning's head into the end zone for a safety, it was actually when defensive back Kam Chancellor hit Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas on the Broncos' opening drive.
That set the tone for the entire game.
Chancellor is one of many reasons why this Seattle defense is the best in the NFL. A fifth-round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2010, Chancellor was viewed as a project by most teams. A big hitter, but undisciplined in the passing game that was taking over the league.
For head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, Chancellor was the perfect complement to fellow 2010 draftee Earl Thomas. Thomas was Schneider and Carroll's first draft pick in Seattle—one of the best decisions in franchise history.
Chancellor and Thomas are just two of Seattle's outstanding homegrown talents on defense. Cornerback Richard Sherman, also a fifth-round pick one year later in 2011, is among the NFL's top cornerbacks—if not the best.
Manning, arguably the best quarterback of all time and coming off the greatest individual season in NFL history, never faced a secondary as good as the one he saw in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos' high-powered offense sputtered and turned the ball over four times. The pressure of Seattle's front four played a major role in Manning's struggles.
The Seahawks didn't have to blitz due to their defensive line consistently winning the battle in the trenches, and the speed of their linebackers made things even more difficult for Manning. Checkdowns to running backs and crossing routes to receivers went nowhere because Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith closed too quickly.
On a historical level, it's tough to say where Seattle's defense would rank. The Bears' 1985 defense and Baltimore's 2000 team are considered the two best ever in the modern era. Seattle is every bit as good, especially against the pass. The Seahawks force turnovers, sack opposing quarterbacks and limit long drives.
For football purists, Super Bowl XLVIII was a delight. With all of the 35-31 games we see these days, we rarely see teams being held under 10 points. And Denver, who broke the NFL record for most points scored in a season, was held to a paltry eight points.
Eight points. Let that sink in for a second, and you can truly appreciate how good Seattle's defense is.
Thanks to Schneider's success in building a bigger secondary, that will be the new trend in the NFL. But not every 6'3" corner will be Sherman. And safeties the quality of Thomas are rare.
Enjoy this defense. It is special. Sherman and Thomas will both be free agents at the end of the 2014 season, per Spotrac, and will be in line to receive extensions that could make each of them the highest paid at their respective positions.
|Seattle's Key Defensive Contributors|
|Player||How Acquired||Free Agent Year|
|Richard Sherman||5th-round pick—2011 SEA||2015|
|Earl Thomas||1st-round pick—2010 SEA||2015|
|Kam Chancellor||5th-round pick—2010 SEA||2018|
|Byron Maxwell||6th-round pick—2011 SEA||2015|
|Walter Thurmond||4th-round pick—2010 SEA||2014|
|KJ Wright||4th-round pick—2011 SEA||2015|
|Bobby Wagner||2nd-round pick—2012 SEA||2016|
|Malcolm Smith||7th-round pick—2011 SEA||2015|
|Michael Bennett||Free Agent—2013 (Tampa Bay)||2014|
|Cliff Avril||Free Agent—2013 (Detroit)||2015|
|Bruce Irvin||1st-round pick—2012 SEA||2016|
|Red Bryant||4th-round pick—2008 SEA||2017|
|Brandon Mebane||3rd-round pick—2007 SEA||2016|
|Contract information courtesy of Spotrac|
Can Schneider keep this defense together? Attrition strikes every team each year. Especially successful ones. But Schneider, who came to Seattle from Green Bay, understands the role of drafting and developing players. He and Carroll are more in tune with one another than any coach/GM duo in the NFL.
Some players will stay. Others will go. The Seahawks will identify the most important elements of their defense and systematically lock each player up to long-term deals. The ones they let go, they'll replace with the type of player Carroll wants. Schneider, unlike most GMs, understands that type of player.
Fortunately for Seattle, it has a billionaire owner in Paul Allen. The Seahawks can and will dabble in free agency, too. Just this past year, they signed defensive linemen Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett on two- and one-year deals, respectively.
Bennett led the team in sacks in 2013, while Avril was in Manning's face all night in Super Bowl XLVIII. Avril's two-year deal was for only $13 million—he was Detroit's franchise player in 2012.
Between Bennett and Avril, the Seahawks paid them just over $11 million combined in 2013 and got a total of 16.5 sacks. Bennett's ability to play both end tackle was valuable for Seattle all year.
What's next for the Seahawks? It will be a busy offseason of trying to lock up their own players, but this team is here to stay and will compete for multiple Super Bowls in the next several years.
And remember, just as Carroll and Schneider have reminded us: Defense still wins championships.
All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac.