The league’s top-ranked defense might be stifling itself when it comes to voting for The Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman are prime candidates for the award. There is a case for each, which might hurt the other.
Thomas is second on the team to linebacker Bobby Wagner with 105 tackles. He’s forced two fumbles, intercepted five passes and has eight passes defensed.
Sherman led the NFL with eight interceptions, tying his total from last season. He returned one for a 58-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans to tie a game the Seahawks were losing most of the day. Sherman also has 16 passes defensed.
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“I would have to give it to Earl,” Sherman said. “I think Earl is having a fantastic year. He’s flying around, tackling everywhere, forcing fumbles, getting interceptions. I don’t think there’s anybody out there playing better defense and I think our defense is No. 1 in the league. So usually the best quarterback with the best receivers isn’t punished for that, so don’t punish one of the best players on the best defense.”
A defensive back winning the award is rare. Since it began in 1971, the Defensive POY Award has been presented to a defensive back 10 times; five times to a safety, five times to a cornerback.
Should Thomas win, he would
be the second safety in the history of the franchise to do so. Kenny Easley won in 1984.
If either Thomas or Sherman win, they would be the third Seahawk to claim the award. Cortez Kennedy won in 1992 when the team was 2-14. Only three times has a player on a team with a losing record in a nonstrike season won the award.
One player Thomas is more and more frequently compared to is Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who won in 2010.
“He and Troy are very similar in their makeup and in their speed,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who coached Polamalu in college at USC. “They both are 4.3 (40-yard dash) guys, not the biggest guys, and really committed football players. I see them very similar in their makeup.
“Troy always played a lot better near the line of scrimmage, Earl can do that, but we left him as the guy playing on the backend for the most part, he mixes all of that. He’s a very special football player.”
Polamalu had 63 tackles and seven interceptions in his winning season.
The trouble, in part, when assessing and considering defensive backs versus other players is the view of statistics. In the case of Sherman and Thomas, teams intentionally avoid passing toward them, naturally lowering their statistical totals.
At San Francisco on Dec. 8, the 49ers sent a receiver to block Thomas, an uncommon practice. The 49ers also threw over the middle, where Thomas starts each play, zero times.
Sherman went through a run of consecutive weeks in coverage when he hardly saw the football come toward him. One of the most notable instances of teams freezing Sherman out was in Atlanta. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan didn’t throw to the right, Sherman’s side, the entire day.
According to NFLsavant.com, which compiles advanced NFL statistics, opponents passed to the deep right, Sherman’s area, 6.43 percent of the time. To the deep middle, where Thomas is located, a scant 1.56 percent of the time.
Their competition plays closer to the line of scrimmage.
Robert Mathis’ league-leading 19.5 sacks for the Indianapolis Colts or the 19 sacks for St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn scream for votes.
Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly had a stunning season, with 156 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and seven passes defensed. He made 24 tackles two weeks ago against New Orleans.
Run-stuffing San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman has 145 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions and nine passes defensed. Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby is also in the mix thanks to his 122 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions.
All told, there is plenty of competition for Sherman and Thomas. Including on their own team.