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“Like I’ve always said, I like guys that have special, unique dimensions.”
If Pete Carroll has said that once, he’s said it dozens of time since being named coach of the Seahawks in January of 2010.
And the defense that has been paved the way for the team’s two-game winning streak and will lead the Seahawks into Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins at CenturyLink Field on Sunday is a classic example of what Carroll is talking about – and has been talking about.
From front to back.
At the ends, there’s 330-pound Red Bryant, who has the size of a tackle (which he used to be) but also the athletic ability to run down plays; and 254-pound Chris Clemons, who is explosiveness enough to lead the team with eight sacks but also disruptive enough to be a big factor against the run.
In the middle, there’s 6-foot-4, 246-pound K.J. Wright, the rookie who is starting at strongside linebacker because he was simply too good and too savvy to be used only on special teams and in a situational role on defense.
At the corners, there’s 6-4 Brandon Browner, who is big enough and physical enough to play linebacker but also fast enough to run with just about any receiver in the league; and 6-3 Richard Sherman, a rookie who is the third option on the left side after injuries claimed Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond but not playing like it.
Put them all together – which, with the exception of Bryant, Carroll and general manager John Schneider have done in the past 22 months – and you get a unit that ranks 11th overall in the league, eighth against the run and third in average yards allowed per carry (3.5).
And a unit that only seems to be getting better by the game as these uniquely special parts continue to form one formidable especially unique defense. The last time the Seahawks ranked this high in total defense this late in the season was in 2007.
“They’re really sound with their coverages. That’s the main thing that I look at,” Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman said this week. “They’re rarely out of position and they read routes well, so they drop into their zone reading the route concepts.
“They do a really good job of just playing sound football. They’re well-coached and they can test everything by playing man-to-man coverage; or in their zone coverages, they don’t just drop into random areas. They do a good job of reading what you’re trying to do.”
Last week, before the Seahawks’ 24-7 victory in St. Louis, Rams QB Sam Bradford looked at the defense from the other end.
“They’re really good up front,” he said. “They do a great job of stopping the run.”
Added Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, “They are very stout, active and aggressive up front. I think that’s how you play good defense.”
That is how the Seahawks have been doing it – from front to back. Stuff the run, then rough up the receivers in the passing game. With an odd collection of seemingly misfit parts comprising one puzzling predicament for opposing offenses.
“I think it’s unique that way,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said of how his unit has been put together. “I don’t know how other teams compare, but I know our philosophy here – right from the start when Pete got here – was get big up front, make sure we do everything we can to stop the run, shore up things, make sure they understand their fits and take it from there.”
Where this unit has taken the Seahawks after the team’s disappointing 2-6 start is to a two-game winning streak, with the possibility to build on that with the 3-7 Redskins, 4-6 Philadelphia Eagles and 2-9 Rams coming to CenturyLink Field in the next 17 days.
“We’ve got a long ways to go here,” Carroll cautioned. “We can see the style, though. We can see the formula fits fine for what we’re trying to do, so we weren’t off base on that.”
At times, however, it was difficult to see just what Carroll and Schneider were thinking when they moved a little-used tackle to end (Bryant); and brought in a corner from the CFL that no other team in the NFL was interested in (Browner); and traded for an undersized end who had never been a fulltime starter in the league (Clemons); and went so big (Chancellor) and so small (Thomas) at safety.
“You know what? It’s crazy, but it’s all come together,” nickel back Roy Lewis said. “Players may not see what coach’s vision is, but the coach understands completely how he wants to put guys and different pieces of the puzzle together.”
“When it all comes together and it all clicks and every piece is accounted for, it’s a force to be reckoned with.”
Lewis has had a front-row seat for this building process because he’s one of 11 players left from the pre-Carroll roster.
But Carroll and Bradley also are using those holdover pieces, as middle linebacker David Hawthorne shares the lead in tackles with Thomas; weakside linebacker Leroy Hill is second in tackles; and nose tackle Brandon Mebane ranks sixth in the league in tackles by interior linemen.
“We really do have everything under the sun,” Lewis said. “We’ve got aggressive guys. We’ve got cover guys. We’ve got big hitters. We’ve got sure tacklers. We’ve got who fits the roles.
“And as (safety) Atari Bigby always says, ‘If you’re going to play a role, why not win an Oscar for it.’ ”