From the moment the confetti filled the Meadowlands and engulfed the Seahawks, ever since Pete Carroll hoisted the Seattle’s first Super Bowl trophy 71/2 months ago, the Seahawks’ biggest challenge has been managing the hype and enlarged egos that come from winning it all.
“That’s a big part of what goes on at all levels. Doesn’t matter whether you’re in the NFL or not,” Carroll said two games into leading this title defense as Seattle’s coach and vice president. “It’s keeping things in balance and humility. It’s so powerful when it’s governed well and the guys understand it.
“I think everybody in coaching deals with that, particularly when you have success. So it’s a big issue for all of us.”
Last week the San Diego Chargers helped take care of that “big issue” for Carroll heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl rematch between the Seahawks (1-1) and Denver Broncos (2-0) at CenturyLink Field.
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It’s only the sixth game between Super Bowl foes in the following regular season, and the first in 16 years. The champions are 3-2 in the previous encores.
And the Seahawks are far hungrier, far angrier, far more “serious,” to use their coach’s refrain all week, for the Broncos than they were even a week ago. Until then, all the chips for this game were on Denver’s shoulders — as tends to happen to teams that lose championship games by 35 points.
But the 30-21 defeat last weekend in which Seattle basically melted into the San Diego turf, just the Seahawks’ sixth defeat in 31 games, had All-Pro safety Earl Thomas saying he got his “championship spirit” back this week.
As intense as he already is, he seemed ready to run through the gates of CenturyLink Field — on Thursday.
“We’re ready to play right now,” Thomas said that day. “I love when we have something to prove.
“And a lot of times when we’re on top like this, we’ve got to protect what we have. This is not a one-person game, this is a team sport and we have to capture every moment.”
Thomas and the Seahawks would not be thinking that heading into this Broncos challenge had they beaten the Chargers. They wouldn’t be, well, humbled just two games into their title defense.
“It definitely helps,” said wide receiver Percy Harvin, who again will have a prominent role catching passes, running fly sweeps and option pitches and returning kickoffs as Seattle’s most supersonic threat. “It lets you know that you can get knocked off at any given time. … It let us know we need to get a lot better on third downs.
“It let us know we’ve still got a lot of work to do.
“Anytime you can learn a lesson, losing one, that’ll give you a kick. … It’s still early in the season. I’d like for us to have the bumps now instead of further on down the road.”
Asked if he felt his Seahawks may be more mentally sharp for Denver than they would have been if they were 2-0, the always-glass-half-full Carroll said: “It could be.
“We’re hopefully making this into a positive and we’re going to get a little bit better and we’re going to improve in the areas that will make a difference. In that regard, we’ll try to take advantage of it.”
Of course, it will take X’s and O’s and real football beyond these intangibles to beat the Broncos.
Denver is a more equipped, more talented team than the AFC champion Seattle trounced in the Super Bowl, 43-8. The Broncos have added rush end DeMarcus Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib in free agency. How valuable were those upgrades to two major areas of need? Denver is spending about $16.5 million in salary and bonus on those two for this season alone.
Von Miller is back to rush off the edge. Brick-wall left tackle Ryan Clady has returned. Both missed the Super Bowl because of injuries. And deeper threat Emmanuel Sanders has replaced Eric Decker at wide receiver.
So the Broncos have shored up two of the areas Seattle exploited most in the Meadowlands: , a battered, slower offensive line and a neutered pass rush unable to get to quarterback Russell Wilson. As an added bonus, Denver’s gotten faster outside on offense.
If the defense is even somewhat decent on third downs — better than the Chargers’ 10 for 17 conversion rate last week — expect the Seahawks’ offense to get more than the mere 40 plays it ran last week. That left 1,200-yard rusher Marshawn Lynch with just six carries in San Diego — “not at all what we want,” Carroll said. Count on offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to go with Lynch early on runs Sunday, to get him re-established in the big picture and to slow down Denver’s improved pass rush that will be targeting Seattle rookie right tackle Justin Britt.
For the Seahawks, it’s a Catch-22 — more specifically, a 22 they need to catch. Since they acquired Lynch in a trade with Buffalo during the 2010 season, the Seahawks are 16-2 when Lynch gets at least 22 carries in a game.
On defense, the Broncos figure to go with three- and four-wide receiver sets far more Sunday than they have while beating Indianapolis and Kansas City by seven points each to begin this season. That’s because slot receiver Wes Welker is making his season debut after a four-game suspension for amphetamine use was reclassified under the NFL’s new drug policy.
That, in turn, will mean more five-defensive backs sets for Seattle. Marcus Burley is the man on the spot for Seattle’s defense. The fill-in nickel back for injured Jeremy Lane has been with the team for just three weeks. He will be covering Welker the slot, knowing Peyton Manning will be looking his way on nearly every key play.
If Seattle’s four-man defensive line led by Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril can get past Clady and affect Manning even remotely like they did in the Super Bowl, that will free seven Seahawks (including linebackers) into coverage to help Burley on Welker and others on Sanders and deep-threat tight end Julius Thomas.
“Oh, yeah,” Burley said, “Definitely, I am up for the challenge.”
He’d better be.
Carroll thinks his humbled, angry Seahawks are too.
“I’m feeling fine about the way it’s come along to us,” the Seahawks’ fifth-year coach said. “I think our attitude, the direction and the focus of how the guys have talked and handled themselves has been really, really sharp. So I think we’re in position to handle that well.
“We’ll find out.”