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Originally published December 28, 2014 at 8:00 PM | Page modified December 28, 2014 at 11:03 PM

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Seahawks’ confident defense says it’s even better than last year

Seahawks ride defense’s second-half electricity past St. Louis Rams, into playoffs.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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Michael Bennett calmly established the framework for dissecting a unit that always seems to find a new peak.

“We’re the best defense of all time, so the confidence level is always up high,’’ he said.

Somehow, it didn’t sound boastful, or even hyperbolic. Not after a game in which Seattle’s defense took the game by the throat and shook out a 20-6 victory over St. Louis.

Not after a run of games in which the Seahawks have forged a defensive dominance every bit as staggering as the one that fueled the championship run last year.

Even more so, when you factor in the meteoric lift of their game at a point when it looked like the magic of last year was going to elude them. The turning point is easily identifiable: The soul-searching week following a dispiriting loss to Kansas City that left the Seahawks with a 6-4 record, their playoff future teetering on the brink.

“It has really been the elevation of the defense for the most part,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after the game Sunday. “We were lagging behind our performance level. We’re better than that.”

And over the past six weeks, all wins, they’ve transformed the narrative by demonstrating exactly that. The victory Sunday, giving Seattle all the good things it hoped for heading into the playoffs, was merely variation on a theme: the Seahawk offense struggling in the first half, until the defense took the game over.

Five times in the past six games, Seattle has held its opponent to a touchdown or less. The Seahawks led the NFL in scoring defense for the third consecutive year, a feat not accomplished since the Vikings’ fabled Purple People Eaters from 1969 to 1971.

Heading into the playoffs, the Seahawks are riding a wave of defensive electricity that crackles with just as much intensity as it did a year ago.

“No matter what we do, we’re going out there with a swagger that we can’t be touched or we can’t be moved,’’ Bennett said. “We feel like Muhammad Ali, Jack Johnson, whoever it is. We go out there and we know we can’t be beat.”

What seemed for much of the first half Sunday to be an uneasy recipe for a damaging loss instead was transformed by the defense into another dominating victory for Seattle.

Jordan Hill’s skillful shoestring interception turned the momentum Seattle’s way. Bruce Irvin’s dazzling pick-six made it decisive, and Earl Thomas’ forced fumble just as the Rams were going to score their first touchdown provided the emotional exclamation point.

“Colossal,’’ Richard Sherman said of the last play by Thomas.

Even if the Rams had scored in those waning minutes, it likely wouldn’t have changed the outcome — precisely why Thomas’ effort resonated with his peers.

“That was a colossal play,’’ Sherman reiterated. “It just shows who he is as a person, as a player, his effort, his unwavering commitment, his unwavering effort every play to the last inch, till there’s only an inch left.”

Somewhere along the line, the Seahawks had lost that indomitable will, until the Chiefs’ game spawned a spill-their-guts meeting of team leaders designed to coax it back.

“This game is so emotional,’’ Carroll said. “It’s so tied to the energy of the game that it calls for. That connection, that chemistry. … We understood it last year. We just kind of got waylaid along the way. We had things going on in this team that we needed to overcome and grow through, and we did.”

The difference since then has been palpable, and the primary reason why the Seahawks remain the team to beat for the Super Bowl.

“This was an emotional change,’’ Carroll said. “You can look at all the X’s and O’s and all the other stuff you want to look at. This was an emotional shift that took place, and these guys did it. All the credit in the world goes to the leadership of this team. It made sense to them we had to make a shift, and they just proactively got it done. I just kept yapping at them, and they had to take it and run, and they did.”

The Seattle defense once again is playing at an optimal level, though to a man they’ll insist they have yet to reach their pinnacle. That precise knowledge is why there seems to be such a quiet confidence that something special is about to unfold again.

“We have a lot of steam rolling into this playoff run,’’ linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “It’s going to be scary for whatever team comes in here.”

You’ll still hear a lot of touchy-feely stuff coming from the Seahawks about brotherhood and love and togetherness. That’s juxtaposed against the violent truth of Kam Chancellor’s fierce hit on the first play of the game that set the physical tone, and Wagner’s blow that jarred the ball loose for Irvin to pluck out of the air.

For the Seahawks’ defense, love is manifested in every bone-crunching tackle.

“I’ve said it every week and I’m going to keep saying it: Right now, we’re playing better than ... all of last year,” Irvin said. “Guys are putting their egos to the side, guys are buying in and playing for one another. You don’t find that around the league.”

But you find it in Seattle, which is why the Seahawks are precisely where they want to be, and need to be, when their real season starts in two weeks.

NFL playoff field
The Seahawks are the top seed in the NFC and will play the lowest winning seed of the wild-card round.
Top 2 AFC teamsSeedW-L
Patriots112-4
Broncos212-4
Top 2 NFC teamsSeedW-L
Seahawks112-4
Packers212-4
Other AFC playoff teamsSeedW-L
Steelers 311-5
Colts411-5
Bengals510-5-1
Ravens610-6
Other NFC playoff teamsSeedW-L
Cowboys312-4
Panthers47-8-1
Cardinals511-5
Lions611-5
Source: nfl.com
Defensive comparison
The Seahawks’ defensive stats in 2014 are comparable to last year’s. Here’s a comparison of average points and yards allowed, total sacks and turnover ratio (with NFL rank):
2013Statistic2014
14.4 (1)Points16.5 (1)
273.6 (1)Total yards267.1 (1)
101.6 (T-7)Rushing yards81.5 (3)
172.0 (1)Passing yards185.6 (1)
44Sacks37
+20Turnover ratio+9
Source: NFL.com

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry



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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives his take on the local and national sports scene.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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