The Seahawks are practicing right now. Max Unger and Byron Maxwell are on the field with them -- and will be for the NFC title game Sunday against Green Bay.
Unger "feels fine," in the words of coach Pete Carroll. The two-time Pro Bowl center played last weekend for the first time in seven games following a high-ankle sprain -- then got that ankle rolled on late in the divisional-playoff win over Carolina Saturday night and didn't finish the game. He initially feared it had re-injured the ankle worse than he did.
Maxwell is "great," and seems to have "turned a corner," Carroll said. The starting cornerback missed the Carolina game after getting what he said was a flu going around the team last week, then was short of breath and missed all but nine snaps on special teams against the Panthers.
"It was definitely tough," Maxwell said of watching the Panthers roast fill-in Tharold Simon repeatedly for big plays.
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I asked Maxwell if he expected Green Bay to throw at Richard Sherman at least once this time, after Aaron Rodgers and the Packers didn't do that once in 36 dropbacks and went after Maxwell in the teams' Sept. 4 game in Seattle the Seahawks won 36-16.
"I would think it'd be different," Maxwell said: "We beat them by 20 points last time."
Carroll said rookie Kevin Norwood, Ricardo Lockette and, yes, former practice-squad and Canadian Football League receiver Chris Matthews will all fill in for Paul Richardson being out as the No. 3 wide receiver. Matthews is 6 feet 5. The Packers' starting defensive backs are 5-11, 5-11, 6-0 and 6-1. They don't have a defensive back on their roster taller than 6-2.
Richardson announced this today via Twitter:
Carroll talked about how Russell Wilson has developed a strong trust with Lakewood's Jermaine Kearse in these championship games over the last year. Kearse, undrafted out of Washington in 2012, caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Wilson in last January's NFC title game. In the Super Bowl he had four catches for 65 yards.
"He's a very poised guy. Where other players it might affect, it doesn't affect him," Carroll said. "He plays like he's capable. He's got big plays in him. He's got great catching range and he has a knack, too, to make a play. Just shows who he is. And when it comes to game time, I know Russell does count on him a great deal to make some plays and make some catches when maybe he's not open but he'll give him an opportunity to because he trusts in him."
--Yes, B.J. Daniels is a great athlete. But Carroll going on and on about this week's practice-squad promotion and No. 3 quarterback as a potential kick returner/wide receiver/running back/even defensive back seems just a tad or three like gamesmanship, too. Can't see a ton of the game plan invested in a guy who hasn't been active for a game in the season and a half since the Seahawks claimed him off waivers from San Francisco in October 2013. More likely that Daniels is on some kickoff- and punt-coverage teams Sunday.
--The dominoes continue to fall on head-coaching vacancies around the league -- the Jets hired Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, the Raiders hired Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and the 49ers hired some guy named Jim Tomsula -- no, not Donshula. Atlanta's and Chicago's jobs are still open, though reportedly the Bears are interviewing former Broncos head man until yesterday John Fox today. The Falcons' job is lining up for Dan Quinn, if the Falcons are willing to wait for the Seahawks' defensive coordinator's season to end here in Seattle.
Here is what Carroll said today:
HEAD COACH PETE CARROLL
NFC Championship Press Conference
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
PETE CARROLL: What a great time this is. It's a great time for coaches and players and fans and all that. Playoff time, championship time, and we're really looking forward to this opportunity. Our guys are tuned in. They can't wait to get on the field today, and the coaches feel the same way.
I know this is an extraordinary match‑up for us, and you know that. We're playing a great team, coaches and leadership and quarterbacks and receivers and running backs, they've got it all, defensive highlight guys all across the board. It's just the way it should be. It should be just like that right now, and so we expect to have ‑‑ we have a great opportunity. We expect to play well in this situation. We're going to try and do everything like we've been doing it and we're not changing anything. We have tremendous regard for these guys, and we know we'd better play our best game to have a chance.
With all that, we're really excited for it. What do you got?
- You talked about the other guys, great team, great coaching, all that, but how much of what you do is about you and not about the other team as you prepare for this game?
PETE CARROLL: Yeah, well, we understand that it's how we play. We can't control them. We can't control anything about them. And so our focus has always been on the things that we do control, which is our preparation, the way we practice, the focus, the rest that we get, the way we take care of ourselves, and of course the plan we can put out there.
We expect, like I said, they're going to be a great championship team out there, and we need to be at our best, so that's what we focus on. We do focus on us.
- Much like last week you will be facing an opponent that you saw earlier in the year. In what ways does Green Bay look different than in week one?
PETE CARROLL: They've had a big turnaround. They've had a real obvious statistical turnaround. You guys probably have picked up on it from the first eight games to the second eight games. Their rushing stats have flip‑flopped, and that's a big change in their approach, what they can count on and all. Their defensive numbers have flipped, and their offensive numbers have flipped to the point where if you're giving up 80 yards a game rushing and you're rushing for 150, that's a real powerful message that you send about what you do at the line of scrimmage, and they've been able to accomplish that. That's something we would be very proud of in our style, as well.
I think that's what's obvious. Their younger players have had a lot of opportunity to be engaged, and they've developed into guys they're counting on. Just look at what Davante did last week; you can see the factor he played. Like we should be right now, we should be at our best. This is what we're playing for, and they certainly are.
- On Packers OLB Clay Matthews playing inside, because that seems to coincide with the Packers running the ball better…
PETE CARROLL: It sure did, yeah. It's fascinating that that switch would help them run the ball better. I'm not sure how Clay did that, but somehow it's worked out. Mike, he was saving that, I think, for midyear or something. They have a number of packages. Dom Capers is a great coordinator. He's been around the league forever and he knows everything there is to know about coaching defense. He gives his opponents a big problem with the different substitution packages that he uses, and you don't know how he's going to do it or how he sees us, and we're going to have to wait and see at game time.
And they've moved Clay around. He's played behind the line of scrimmage and they've utilized him for all of the great ability that he has and the aggressive nature that he has, shows up when he plays off the ball as well as when he's on the ball. We have to wait and see. We don't know how they're going to use him. We know how they have and anticipate some stuff, but we're going to have to wait until game time to see how they do it. But it's interesting how that has coincided with their turn. I think it was at the nine‑game mark or whatever when he came in. Great coaching, obviously. It's made a big difference.
- Rodgers was obviously struggling a little bit with the calf. He was limping, didn't seem like he was escaping out as much as possible. How much does that change what you do?
PETE CARROLL: Yeah, he only threw for 316, geez. That's a tremendous accomplishment. He's been a great player for a long time, and the great players have a way of figuring it out, you know, and how to adapt and get it done and still play. That's part of why they're great, whatever it is, the resourcefulness, to figure out the situations. They adapted. He did fine. Yeah, he didn't take off, he didn't have to scramble, but he moved beautifully on the touchdown pass that he threw, both of them as a matter of fact, he moved well on. He looks hampered somewhat, and we've seen him at his best over the years that we've known him. You know, they figured out a way to make him effective, and we're counting on him to be right on the money with all their offense and all the things they want to do, and if it's different, we'll adjust from there.
- When you talk about the experiences your guys have had together and how that shows up on the field, is there an example that kind of jumps to your mind right away where having that experience of playing together all these years has really shown on the field?
PETE CARROLL: Oh, every game, from series to series there's stuff. I don't have the best one, you know, but there's so many examples of our guys talking to one another. It's illustrated like what happened on offense with Max [Unger] coming back and the really, the excellent adjustments we made on protections a couple times with a combination of Russell [Wilson] and Max identifying problems. That's an example of just being together in the background, and they communicate well.
I think really obvious linebackers. Those guys are talking. They have a tremendous language that they can talk about what's going on, and sometimes they don't even have to say stuff, they look, they make a little signal, just a little wave, and they know what's up.
The DBs are really fantastic at communicating. Those guys have really dug in. There's so many times when Earl [Thomas] will give a look to Kam [Chancellor] and he will pass it to Sherm [Richard Sherman] or Maxie [Byron Maxwell] and they know what's up and what's coming, the route, the alignment, the split that tells us something, and that's what we're talking about, and those things happen readily throughout.
- Kam Chancellor coming off a big game vs. Carolina - he seemed to kind of pick up his game in the postseason last year, as well. When he's at his best what does that do for the defense?
PETE CARROLL: Well, we saw ‑‑ I don't know how you can play a better game than he played last week. You saw the impact that he can have. A few players. A few players have that obvious impact of the physical nature that when they demonstrate it, it picks everybody up and lifts them up. Part of that is when you know the guy can do that and you anticipate it and then he does it. It just is one of those things that you can see it coming, and then it just ‑‑ it affects a lot of people, and that's what he's doing right now. That's what we would hope he'll be able to continue to do, and we want to play so tough on defense. We need to play so physically engaged to play at the level we play at, and we look for those kinds of moments of leadership, you know, and he's one of the guys that they're leaning on looking forward to, and he doesn't disappoint them. He's in great shape, he's ready to go again, and we'll expect him to play really well again this weekend.
- Any word on Byron Maxwell and Max Unger since Monday?
PETE CARROLL: Yeah, Max Unger is going to practice today, and he's fine, feels fine. And Maxie, Maxwell, he should be fine. He feels great. He got through the weekend and has made a good turn, and he seems to be ‑‑ without any reversal, he's in great shape to go.
- How many times have you had a cornerback like Richard Sherman never thrown on in a game like the Green Bay game and what does that do as far as the rest of the defense?
PETE CARROLL: Yeah, that's pretty rare. That's pretty rare when that happens. I've heard their comments about that, which were guys weren't open or available when they wanted them to be, and it wasn't such an intent to not throw it that way. And so that's a real compliment to Richard in that game.
But that's pretty rare. Usually what would happen is if you have a brand new player, a guy that's off the street that you had to play, I've been in that situation more than I'd like to admit, but that's where the ball will really go to one side more than stay away from the guy. Very few players ever have that kind of a factor where the ball just won't go there. We saw that a little bit early, and it turned out to be very normal for the season. I think they still steered clear of Richard in general, but the ball has got to go both ways. I would expect and we expect that it's not going to be the same thing where the whole game goes the other way. I don't think that'll happen.
- How does that help you in that first game?
PETE CARROLL: I don't think it did necessarily. You know, I don't think it helped that much. We didn't do anything different about it. We didn't change anything. People want us to switch Richard [Sherman] and flip him around and stuff like that. That's not how we play. There's times we do it if we have issues, but we're not changing anything. It doesn't really factor in I don't think.
- You mentioned how Aaron Rodgers moved in the pocket when he couldn't run. How does that make a quarterback kind of a different threat, and how has Russell improved in that regard this year, just moving in that little area?
PETE CARROLL: You know, I don't know that it makes it a different threat for them that we would change anything at all. There's not much that we can do differently because we don't know when he's going to do what he does. He's an extraordinarily creative player. He comes up with great things at great times. We have to play him like he's going to get out, so we can't change that until we see something different.
With Russell, you know, he's as creative a football player as you can find. He's going to figure out what's necessary on a moment's notice to escape to make a unique throw, to just sit in the pocket and gun it down because he has the opportunity. He has everything from one end of the spectrum to the other. I don't think Russell has improved at that. I think he came here like that. I think he grew up, he probably scrambled as much as anybody in the history of the game in his lifetime as a quarterback, and he's very comfortable and very gifted at that. We just learned to adjust to that and look forward to it. We understand that how dynamic that is when he does create like that. I don't think he's changed much, though.
- When Kam Chancellor came back healthy, how much of a difference did that make for your defense this year?
PETE CARROLL: Well, it certainly has added to it. Like you said, we see the factor when he plays as he has the whole second half of the season. I think it was somewhere back like San Diego might have been the game where he really wasn't right but he was still out there playing and trying ‑‑ it wasn't the same guy. He was hampered. He had a problem with his foot but he got through that. Somewhere game 6 or 7 or something he started really coming around, and he's been on it the whole time since.
- Without Paul Richardson, how much do you target Kevin Norwood and what does his role look like?
PETE CARROLL: Kevin will jump in. He'll be part of the rotation. Ricardo Lockette will be part of it. We expect Chris Matthews to play, as well, and be in there. Everybody is going to just contribute. It's not going to change us that much, but we'll miss him. Wish we had him.
- Can you talk about what TE Luke Willson has been able to add and his growth this year as he's been needed more?
PETE CARROLL: Yeah, we've been talking about that just because it's shown up. He's been a bigger factor. He's gotten downfield and caused some problems for opponents, big plays, because he's a big, fast kid. He can really get downfield and stretch it out, and Russell [Wilson] has a great sense for him now, and it just looks like the chemistry has really connected in the last month or six weeks or so, and so it's a big deal. It's a big deal to have another weapon that can strike you like that, and hopefully we'll be able to find him a couple times in this game.
- What were you expecting from Kevin Williams when you saw him, and what have you gotten from him?
PETE CARROLL: Well, we had lost some. We had lost Red Bryant, who was a factor for us as a big guy, and we thought that we needed a really good technician, a guy that could play well. From the moment we started talking to Kevin we talked about playing half as many plays as he played. He played a thousand plays last year, I think, and we talked about playing half that much and role play for us. We never talked about him playing nose tackle. We talked about him playing 3 technique and 5 technique. He is fantastic technician. He really understands the game and his savvy and instincts really shows up, and that's what's really allowed him to adapt to playing under center, and he's done a fantastic job. He's really been a big surprise that he could adapt to that. We never went into the season thinking that could happen when we lost Brandon [Mebane].
Really since then ‑‑ he struggled a little bit in Kansas City just figuring it out, but from then on he'd been on it and been a really positive aspect of the defense up front.
- People talk about the noise at CenturyLink Field. Does that ever take an adjustment from your defense so they can learn how to communicate?
PETE CARROLL: Yeah, some, sure. They do have to ‑‑ they're not able to communicate normally out there, you know, but it's an adjustment that we welcome. We're all for it, and they've gotten it done.
- What's realistic to expect out of B.J. Daniels Sunday?
PETE CARROLL: He's going to ‑‑ he has had such a fantastic year servicing the offense, and the defense, excuse me. He's worked on both sides. He's worked all over the field for us. We've seen him be a guy that's multitalented. He's run the ball for us, he's caught the ball as a receiver, of course he plays a bunch of quarterback for us, he's played defensive back for us, he's played corner and safety. All of that has just given him an opportunity to show us how valuable he is to us, and so we're really excited about that. In this game he's going to be a special teams guy if he's in there, and we could play him at quarterback if we needed, and if we had to spot him in there, he could be an emergency running back and he can play the zebra spot for the receivers. That's a lot of stuff. We're really grateful that we can reward him for just battling all year and competing so well and get him on the roster here at the end.
- Does special teams include returning kicks?
PETE CARROLL: He is one of the returners, yeah. He's worked at it all year long.
- It looks like Green Bay lined up Randall Cobb a lot in the backfield the second half last week against the Cowboys. How much do you anticipate they'll do that against you guys, and what's some of the impact that will have?
PETE CARROLL: Yeah, he has great versatility, and being the QB and all that in the old days. They've used him like that really throughout the years they've had him. There was a drive in the Dallas game where they stayed with that personnel and they kind of just highlighted him in a number of ways.
You know, we don't know. We don't know how much they're going to use that. We're ready for them to use it quite a bit because they're very effective when they did. He's a terrific football player, and he gives them all kinds of options that he can carry out. We'll be ready for all of that. I don't know, maybe it was a dozen plays or something in the game. We need to be ready for that kind of number, or more.
- Your defense has been really stingy in the second halves the last several games. What's been the key to that stinginess especially in the fourth quarter?
PETE CARROLL: I think it's just good team play. I think it's all away the across the board. It's field position has been a part of it, kicking game has given a lot of long fields which really helps our guys. Our ability to finish is something we take great pride in. These guys know they can kind of smell the finish line that's coming, and they just seem to just get sharper.
We have a smart group that communicates really well, and so as the things happen in the game and we see what an opponent is doing, I think by the time we get to halftime, we're able to make adjustments, and I think Dan [Quinn] does a great job in communicating with the fellows to make sure that they know what we need to focus on to stop somebody in the second half, so we use all of that information. I think all of that being at our disposal helps us play better.
- You talked about Russell Wilson getting rid of the ball quicker in recent weeks. What was the reason for the emphasis on that? Why was emphasis placed on that? Was it about the defenses that you guys were playing?
PETE CARROLL: No, it's something we've always tried to highlight. We want that as a part of our game. It's really just come to light in the second half of this season, and he's really championing the cause. He gets the advantage that he gives us and kind of the variety of ways that we throw the football. It really adds to it, and he's just kind of taken off with it, and it's a beautiful part of our game as it starts to emerge, and I really love that aspect of it. He's just finding his way to utilize the really quick rhythm stuff even more. I'm not just talking about the quick game where you throw just short little routes. I'm talking about getting the ball out on all kinds of things, and it's just a big part. We'll grow with this for years. For the next few years we really could continue to grow in big ways and make a difference for us.
- Jermaine Kearse has had a few big touchdown catches in the postseason. Is there anything to having a knack on the big stage for him?
PETE CARROLL: He's very, very calm. He's a very poised guy. Where other players it might affect, it doesn't affect him. He plays like he's capable. He's got big plays in him. He's got great catching range and he has a knack, too, to make a play. So I just think he's just ‑‑ shows who he is, and when it comes to game time, I know Russell does count on him a great deal to make some plays and make some catches when maybe he's not open but he'll give him an opportunity to because he trusts in him all and that.
- Eddie Lacy has been running the ball pretty well for Green Bay. What's your thoughts on him and how he can impact the game?
PETE CARROLL: He's a fantastic football player. We loved him coming out and just being a brute in college, and he's continued that. He's got great style about him. He's a big‑bodied guy. He bounces off guys. He has a fantastic knack for spinning and making guys fall off the tackle. He runs with a great attitude. It's exactly like we would cherish. We've got our guy that does the same, and we love that about him. He adds a real style to them. I think he's been a great addition. And then catch the football and all that, he can do everything. He's a big factor.
- How do you view the NFL's system of reviewing plays in New York and all that? Are you in favor of how it's done?
PETE CARROLL: Yeah, it hasn't been ‑‑ I don't think it's been that much different timing‑wise. That's always the thing we would be concerned about. I think they act pretty quickly on the thing. I always figured it would be three‑ or four‑minute time, but that doesn't seem to be happening. You would think it would happen during the regular season game days. Seems like it's going all right.
- Are you surprised at how much you're getting out of your backup D‑linemen like O’Brien Schofield and Demarcus Dobbs?
PETE CARROLL: No. They're fitting in – O.B. has been around here for a while, so we know what he can do. For Demarcus to fit in, that's a surprise that he's been able to adapt to quickly, but not so much ability wise, it's just fitting him in and utilizing them properly. They've given us some real flexibility. O.B. Schofield is a dynamic player that can do a lot of things. He's a terrific special teams player, as is Demarcus, and he's a good special teams player for a defensive lineman. You rarely get as much out of a guy that plays up front, so he's got nice versatility. I'm not really surprised as much as we're just happy to have them.
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