Just turn on the tape, let it roll and watch these guys compete.
This Seattle Seahawks secondary suffocates opposing offenses with an elite free safety in the middle of the field, aggressive cornerbacks on the edge and a strong safety who consistently drops the hammer on contact.
The Seahawks play fast; close on the ball and they will tackle. Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane: a group that loves to compete, challenge receivers and dictate the overall flow of the game.
“Seattle has done a heck of a job evaluating guys with football character and toughness,” an NFC scout told me this week. “They have length and football instincts in the secondary.”
The “scheme” isn’t exotic, and it doesn’t look complex up on the chalkboard. They show man-free, a three-deep zone and send some pressure at times. Those are basic calls when compared to the multiple looks, creative fronts and combination coverages that we see around the league.
However, the Seahawks play with a unique style in the secondary that caters to the personnel on the field under Pete Carroll. Similar to the great Tampa Bay Buccaneers defenses or Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears during the mid-2000s, the Seahawks have shown that technique and physicality still win when you have 11 guys playing within the scheme.
That’s discipline and belief in the system from a player’s perspective. Buy in. Trust the coach. Trust your teammates. And go play ball.
This unit sees the same routes, every week, designed to beat Cover 1 and Cover 3—three-level combinations, slant-flat, four verticals to put stress on the seams and inside pick routes that create traffic versus man coverage.
But with an athletic front four that gets home, plus versatile linebackers who can run, hit and break on the ball, the secondary continues to beat up receivers at the line of scrimmage while shutting down throwing windows in the back end.
“The secondary is long and full of anticipators. They have a great feel of how people are going to attack them,” an AFC scout said. “They know where the defense is weak, and they all attack the football.
“And Earl Thomas is one of the top defensive players in the game. Top 10 for sure. Maybe top five.”
Thomas is the key piece to this secondary given his range, speed, ball skills and the ability to identify route concepts. He's a true impact player who allows both Sherman and Maxwell to funnel receivers inside while he roams the middle of the field.
Every team talks about “safety help” in the post. We know that. But with Thomas, it’s the real thing. He closes the door in the deep middle while daring quarterbacks to throw the ball over the top.
“Thomas is an eraser,” said a veteran NFL scout.
Sherman doesn’t have low 4.4 speed or electric change-of-direction skills. But with his length, technique, press-man skill set and the ability to make plays on contested balls, he thrives in this system.
Just look at the instincts, the awareness he displays outside the numbers. And don’t forget about the competitive nature he brings to the stadium. That’s why he is a top-tier cornerback in this league. He wants the challenge, the one-on-one matchups.
Chancellor? Good luck trying to replicate his skill set at strong safety—the size, the strength and the natural feel he has as an underneath zone defender. Plus, he isn’t shy about putting a hat on the ball-carrier. Chancellor is a rare talent.
Maxwell was plugged into the lineup during the regular season last year. But nothing changed in the secondary. It continued to play at a high level because of Maxwell’s ability to lean on technique and produce opposite Sherman.
Thomas was a first-round player, a top-15 pick out of Texas. But Sherman went in the fifth round. Chancellor, too. And both Maxwell and Lane were sixth-round picks. However, they all fit in Seattle because of how this team evaluates and develops its own talent in the secondary.
Playbooks, game plans, etc. That stuff all matters for the Seahawks secondary this week as it continues to prep for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. But when these guys take the field Sunday night in Super Bowl XLIX, their production level will go beyond the X’s and O’s of the game.
Scheme doesn’t win in the NFL. Players do. And this group of defensive backs in Seattle is tough, physical and always ready to compete.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.