Nobody on the team is going to be interested in talking about it now, but legacies are at stake for the 2016 Seahawks.
It’s particularly so for the defense, which already has earned consideration among the greatest in NFL history.
Another big year and it could cause all objective observers to delete the “among” from that assessment.
This is no small thing, and it’s worth addressing before the season gets started.
At some point in the not-distant future, analysts will look back at the Seahawks of the Teens and compare them to Super Bowl-era powerhouses like the Steel Curtain of Pittsburgh, Da Bears under Ditka and Buddy Ryan, the Ravens of the Oughts and a small handful of other clubs that have strung together strong defensive seasons.
Already having led the NFL in fewest points allowed for four straight seasons has lifted the Seahawks’ defense to among the historical elite. Only the Cleveland Browns of the mid-50s have bettered that, leading for five straight seasons.
But that was when the league had 12 teams and played 12 games each season.
The degree of difficulty in sustaining any streak in today’s NFL is higher than it’s ever been, given free agency, the salary cap and rules favoring offenses.
As early as 2014, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was asked how the team would stack up against some of the legendary predecessors.
“The only difference is we play under all these different defensive rules,” Sherman said. “The Steel Curtain Steelers, the ’85 Bears, the Ravens, those are hard-hitting defenses. But they were allowed to play defense the way it’s supposed to be played.”
In addition to leading the points-against rankings from 2012 through 2015, the Seahawks also led the total defense (yards) standings in 2013 and 2014, before finishing No. 2 to Denver last season.
None of this seems to be ending anytime soon, as the five returning Pro Bowlers from last season are all still in their prime. Michael Bennett is the oldest at 30, but Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman are 28, Earl Thomas 27, and Bobby Wagner 26.
Another couple Seahawks from the core group probably have deserved Pro Bowl recognition — K.J. Wright and Cliff Avril.
“We’ve got a lot of great players and a lot of people who one day will be in Canton (Pro Football Hall of Fame),” Bennett said Monday after practice. “We never look too far ahead in the season. Our legacy is just one game at a time, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to be at the top of the game. We’re going to let the writers determine if we’ve got that legacy or not.”
Okay, Michael, I’m saying that you do. But it will be enhanced with another season of dominance.
A couple reasons why they’ll achieve it:
Bennett, for one, has had a fire under him the entire preseason. After outplaying his contract last season, he’s seems even more heavily motivated to take it out on opposing offenses.
Thomas already has five Pro Bowls in six seasons (as many as Kenny Easley), Sherman has three first-team All-Pro honors and Chancellor has four Pro Bowls. When Bennett mentions trips to Canton, those three stand the best chance as it stands.
I think big-time players like them have that long-term goal in the backs of their minds as their careers progress. And it keeps that intense drive alive for them.
Most of them also must realize that last season was not as dominant as they’ve been in several ways. That, too, should keep their focus intact.
After three consecutive years of choking off opponents in the final quarters of games (68, 60 and 67 combined points surrendered in fourth quarters in ’12, ’13, ’14), the Hawks gave up 91 points in the last 15 minutes of games last season.
That included double-digit fourth-quarters that led to losses to Green Bay (11 points), Cincinnati (17), Carolina (13) and Arizona (14).
That kind of opponent rally had been unheard-of during this stretch.
It left the Hawks ranked fourth in points-against going into the final week of the season.
As Seattle throttled Arizona 36-6, Cincinnati’s defense gave up 16 points, Kansas City’s gave up 17 and Denver was outscored by 20.
Shutting down the Cardinals left the Seahawks with 277 points against, two fewer than the Bengals.
Sherman admitted to a little scoreboard-watching in the last game against Arizona, and knew exactly what the Hawks had to do to get that scoring title again.
Clearly, this kind of thing is meaningful to this team.
And that’s another reason I think the level of domination is going to continue for at least another couple seasons.