The NFC West is turning into a division dominated by its defenses. The Arizona Cardinals are expected to have a breakout year, while the St. Louis Rams are set up very well for now and the future. While I like the direction the Cardinals and Rams are going in, I love where the Seattle Seahawks already are.
Pete Carroll may be playing a high-priced game of musical chairs to try and find his quarterback, but there was a much more accurate science used to create his defense.
Last year, the Seahawks defense ranked seventh in the league. They gave up just 19.7 points per game. While the Cardinals defense is set to break out and the Rams defense is only a few pieces away, the Seahawks should expect to dominate games from week to week.
Gus Bradley, the team's defensive coordinator, will be relying on his safety pairing of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor to lead the way. Chancellor and Thomas may both be very young, both will be 24 come the start of this season, but both are also exceptionally talented.
Thomas is entering his third year as a starter while Chancellor became a starter last year after sitting for his rookie season.
The duo are definitely the best young safety pairing in the NFL and make a good case to be the best overall pairing in the league. Certainly they are the two most physically gifted safeties in the NFL entering this year.
Most people know about Thomas after being drafted in the first round a few years ago, but Chancellor emerged last year with some excellent performances. Standing at 6-3 with the speed to cover tight ends, Chancellor showed a knack for making plays last year whether it be big hits on receivers or simply making plays on the football.
He and Thomas are both big enough to hit running backs rather than have fans worry if they can bring them down. With a pair of physically gifted safeties playing inside, the Seahawks defense doesn't have to worry about matchup problems or their run support.
That is vital for the defense's ability to put their cornerbacks in press man coverage—something they love to do with Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Sherman is a rangy cornerback who excelled as a rookie picking off four passes and only making the types of mistakes which he will ultimately learn from.
Physically, he has all the necessary talent to be an elite cornerback.
The team's other cornerback, Browner, somewhat came out of the wilderness last year. Browner spent some time with the Denver Broncos as a rookie in 2005 before fracturing his arm. Browner had impressed the Broncos but was waived in 2006 without ever playing a regular season game. He landed in the CFL before being brought back to the NFL by Carroll last year.
Browner's talent immediately adjusted to the NFL. His six interception season was rewarded with a berth in the Pro Bowl after Carlos Rodgers dropped out. Much like Sherman, Browner is a big physical corner who likes to play press coverage.
Yet Browner is even bigger.
No other secondary in the league can match the Seahawks for physicality. The unique ability of the group allows a lot of flexibility upfront in Seattle.
That is a front which has undergone some relatively extensive surgery since last season.
Bruce Irvin was brought in through the draft to the awe of almost every on-looker. The laughter stopped once people realized that multiple other teams wanted Irvin in the first round. In fact, the Jets were incensed that the Seahawks took him (via NFL.com). Irvin has landed in the perfect spot though, as he will have the opportunity to play with Chris Clemons before taking up his role on the team.
Clemons is one of the most versatile defensive ends in the NFL. Clemons has the ability to track TEs in coverage off the line of scrimmage when he is not chasing down the quarterback. Unlike some defensive ends who receive a lot more recognition nationwide, Clemons is also astute against the run.
With Clemons and Irvin already on the roster, Carroll also added Jason Jones to Bradley's defense in free agency. Jones doesn't jump off the page statistically, but like the other two mentioned, he is very versatile. Last season was somewhat of a struggle as he played defensive end and only notched three sacks, but previously he was at his best playing defensive tackle for the Titans.
From the defensive tackle position, where he should return to this year, Jones can be a very disruptive force for the Seahawks. Pairing him with Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant in the starting lineup gives the Seahawks a very impressive front four.
The biggest worry Seahawks fans should have about their defense is at the middle linebacker position. Barrett Ruud arrived in free agency, but that is a very underwhelming prospective starter. Instead fans will be hoping for rookie Bobby Wagner to step up.
If Wagner steps up, then the linebacking corps will be in great shape with KJ Wright and Leroy Hill.
Hill is a proven veteran who is coming off one of his best seasons. Wright is the more intriguing aspect of the defense. In his rookie season, Wright showed that he could have the potential to be a special player. Whether he can sustain and build upon the success he had last year is another thing, however.
Carroll believed in Wright enough to trade Aaron Curry to the Oakland Raiders. With Wright, you get another very physical presence who has no issues with working in space. With he, Chancellor and Thomas, receivers will need to be brave to consistently run across the field.
Alligator arms will be in full force in Seattle!
While the offense may have question marks over the quarterback position, the offensive line and the health of their No. 1 receiver, the defense in Seattle is as brash and effective as the home crowd is loud.
They may not have the reputations of a Jason Babin, Ndamukong Suh or Bart Scott (they've all got something in common), they do have the talent and abilities deserving of one.
The 12th man is not the only reason teams will be scared to go to Seattle next year....or for many years after that.