How the Seahawks regained trust on defense
The Seahawks began watching film as a defensive unit rather than in separate position groups, a trend that coincided with their season-ending six-game winning streak and their best defense of the year.
Seattle Times staff reporter
RENTON — Deep inside the Seahawks’ facility, something very simple yet very important happened nearly two months ago.
Instead of watching all the running plays of that week’s opponent in separate position groups — linebackers watch with other linebackers, defensive backs with other defensive backs — the Seahawks started watching them together, as an entire defense.
That tradition started sometime before Seattle’s first game against Arizona on Nov. 23, which just happened to coincide with the start of the Seahawks playing their best defense of the season.
“If we watch it separately, we can blame it on each other,” defensive tackle Tony McDaniel said. “I could say it was the linebackers’ fault, and they could say it was the defensive line’s fault. I just got tired of hearing that and was like, ‘All of us need to come together and watch it together.’ I told the coaches we needed to watch it together, and then everybody bought in. It’s been working for us ever since.”
What that subtle adjustment gets at is what the Seahawks have spent the last six weeks talking at length about — a renewed sense of trust and belief in each other that has sparked their defensive dominance.
The Seahawks haven’t allowed more than 14 points in any of their last six games, and they haven’t allowed a touchdown in their last 10 quarters.
The idea that trust could be the root of that turnaround seems trite, but there are very practical applications on the field.
“To run a defense right, you have to trust that the players around you are going to be where they’re supposed to be,” McDaniel said. “When you’re in the heat of the moment and you’re supposed to be in a certain spot and you see that you could make a play literally in your hands, but you’ve got to stay in your spot just so the defense can fit up right, that’s selflessness and discipline and trust. All three of them.”
Linebacker K.J. Wright put it this way: If your assignment in the defense calls for you to set the edge and force a running back to cut back inside, that might not show up in any stats, and it might not get the attention of making the play yourself, but it’s just as important for the success of the defense.
“It allows you to play without having this little voice in the back of your head saying, ‘Will my guy be there for me?’” Wright said.
The Seahawks weren’t totally out of whack earlier this season — they still ranked in the top half of the league in defense — but it felt like they were squandering the wealth of talent they had on the field. They tried to go for the big play, the individual accomplishment, instead of sticking to the more mundane rules of the defense.
It’s probably not much different from your job: Some of the tasks asked of you might not be fun or might not get you much attention around the office, but if you don’t do them, the productivity of the entire company takes a small hit. And if enough people don’t do their jobs, however basic, then the whole system falls apart.
“It gives everybody the clarity to just own their role and try to be the best at their role,” safety Earl Thomas said. “I think everybody’s game is described as different rhythms. People move different, people react better in some situations than others. But what makes up for everybody’s weaknesses are actually everybody’s strengths. That’s when the trust factor comes in.”
What players have talked often about the last two years is how hard it is to make plays in Seattle’s defense. That’s partly a reflection of all the talent the Seahawks have had, but also a reflection of the defense’s structure: Do your job and trust someone else will be in the right spot to make the play.
That sounds as simple as it gets, and conceptually it is. But it is fragile in reality, especially for a defense as young and decorated as the Seahawks. That style of play got away from the Seahawks earlier this year, but by returning to some of the most basic elements of football, they have recaptured all the same shiny attention shined their way a year ago.
“Nobody is worrying about anybody else right now,” coach Pete Carroll said. “They know things are going to work out if we work really hard and that’s the big level of trust that we’re talking about and that’s a really good thing. It’s what really successful teams own. They know that they’re OK.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org