When Dan Quinn returned to Seattle as defensive coordinator before this season, he sat with coach Pete Carroll to develop a philosophy for the 2013 defense.
Two words captured it: fast and physical.
If it sounds like the title of a series of action-adventure movies highlighted by violent collisions, it’s appropriate.
And there have been sequels released almost every week this fall.
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“The big thing that we wanted to say, No. 1, we’d like our tape to look fast and physical,” Quinn said of their shared goal. “That’s one of the things that we started from the very beginning. That’s when we’re at our best, so those two words (are ones) we come back to a lot.”
Opponents have made similar assessments as the Seahawks have risen to No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense and interceptions with two games remaining in the regular season.
The Seahawks have never finished as the top statistical defense in the league, making it fair to say that this edition, at 12-2, is on its way to standing as the best defense in franchise history.
“Like any season, there’s some games that’ll go up and down, and calls you would like to have back, but for the most part, when we play our best football, we out-hit guys, we’re able to take the ball away and we’re fast and physical,” Quinn said.
The conjunction “and” in the fast-and-physical mandate is important. Many teams have physical fronts and fast secondaries. Carroll and general manager John Schneider have sought players who combine those qualities from front to back.
“I think we’re finally getting close to playing up to our potential in every phase, all three levels of the defense,” said All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. His six interceptions are tied for most in the NFL. “The defensive line is playing outstanding, the pass rush is getting there, and the run defense is there. The linebackers … are good in run defense and pass coverage. In the secondary, we’re playing top-down and trying to eliminate the explosive plays. I think all of that together helps create a very sound and stout defense.”
The Hawks led the NFL in scoring defense last season (245 points), and, with 205 now, could surrender 20 in each of the final two games and still match that.
The franchise best in total yards (full 16-game season) was 4,583, in the somewhat remarkable 1992 season. That year, the Hawks had the worst scoring offense in NFL history (140 points), but had a top-10 defense that featured the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Cortez Kennedy, with 14 sacks and four forced fumbles.
With 3,913 yards given up this year, the defense could break that mark with fewer than 670 yards in the final two games.
Although the Seahawks lead the league in interceptions with 22, there’s no chance to break the franchise mark set by the Kenny Easley-Dave Brown-led 1984 team that had 38 interceptions and 63 total takeaways (second in NFL history).
Although injuries and suspensions to K.J. Wright, Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner have limited the depth down the stretch, the defense has held opponents to fewer than 200 yards in two of the past three games.
Quinn pointed to an interesting source of the defense’s consistent performance – the Seahawks’ offense.
“We get to practice against a really good offense every day, so we have a competition on Wednesday and we get to go good-on-good, when we’re working against our own offense; I really think it’s something that makes our team better,” Quinn said. “And then the second thing is just the physical nature that we want to play with. Having that, being able to recognize that, having the good practice weeks, I think those are the important things to us.”
The Seahawks have the depth and versatility to arrange positive matchups regardless the opponent. At times they go fast up front with speedy blitz packages, or they can bring stout safety Kam Chancellor up as almost a fourth linebacker to stymie opponents’ run game.
Perhaps most critical, though, is the attitude, and expectation of a dominating performance.
“There’s definitely room for improvement,” Sherman said, citing some missed coverages or “explosive” plays given up this season. “Perfection is what you strive for. You shoot for the moon and land on a star. You always want to be perfect. Nobody is perfect, but you can always strive for excellence.”
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440