RENTON — Pete Carroll claims it was the first thing he said to the Seattle Seahawks when he took the job.
Not hello, pleased to meet you, or I’m jacked/amped/pumped to be here.
But, “it’s about the ball.”
And, as it turns out, he’s been right. Getting the ball and keeping it. Maintaining custody when it’s yours, and absconding with the ball when the other guys have it.
The three top teams in the NFL’s turnover ratio rankings this season (Kansas City plus-9, Seattle plus-6 and Chicago plus-6) are all 3-0.
“We have preached it from the first thing I ever said to these guys from the first day I walked in here,” Carroll said Monday. “And they hear it every week and it’s a constant emphasis that hopefully makes the point that you’ve got to be great at taking care of (the ball) and you’ve got to go after if you want to determine wins, (because) it usually works out that way.”
Since Carroll showed up in 2010, the Seahawks are 20-3 in games when they have an advantage in the turnover ratio.
Three games into this season, they’ve forced 10 turnovers (five interceptions and five fumbles) while committing four (two interceptions and two lost fumbles).
They forced 31 turnovers in 16 games last season and are at nearly a third of that total in just three games. Factoring in their own turnovers, their plus-13 mark last year was good enough to be fifth in the NFL.
Against San Francisco two weeks ago, they pilfered three passes from quarterback Colin
Kaepernick, who threw just three picks in 2012.
Seattle took two more from Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne on Sunday, including an impressive diving grab by linebacker Bobby Wagner and a probable point-saving pick in the fourth quarter by safety Kam Chancellor, who returned it 32 yards.
Not only are they getting the ball more often, they’re more efficient at returning interceptions, too, averaging 20 yards per return this season to 14 yards in 2012.
When the ball is in the air, or bouncing loose on the ground, the Seahawks’ defense is trained to attack. It’s the theme of Thursday practices, when sessions stress getting to tipped balls and knocking it loose from ballcarriers. Even linemen spend time diving on fumbles and recovering the ball.
“It’s how we want to play,” Carroll said. “Taking care of the football and getting after it. To us, it’s the biggest factor that determines winning and losing.”
Cornerback Richard Sherman last week put it in more colorful terms. “It’s like throwing meat out to wolves sometimes … everybody wants the ball.”
Carroll said it reflects the personality of the team.
The Seahawks won by a 45-17 score, but the defense was upset that Jacksonville finished with so many points.
“I don’t feel the happiest right now,” Chancellor said after Sunday’s game. “That’s too many yards (214 passing by the Jaguars).
“We were upset they had like, what … 200 passing yards?” safety Earl Thomas asked. “I don’t think that’s us.”
Carroll liked that his defenders were dissatisfied with their performance.
“It’s good, their standards are set very high,” he said. “We love the attitude of our guys. We’ve been together long enough now they know what they want to get done and how they’re going to get it done. That shows you where their heads are … they want to do great stuff.”
Offensively, meanwhile, quarterback Russell Wilson threw his second interception of the season and lost a fumble when he was sacked.
“We’re trying to throw no-hitters every time we go out in terms of turning the football over,” Carroll said. “It’s the deciding factor so often we’re going to continue to champion that as our No. 1 emphasis.”
They travel to Houston for a Sunday showdown with the 2-1 Texans, who have very similar statistics and rankings thus far.
Except in one area: They’re minus-3 in takeaway differential.
And that is enough to have the wolves salivating this week.