A perfectly special effort

Posted Sep 18, 2012

The Seahawks’ special teams didn’t just set the stage for an upset against the Cowboys with two quick turnovers on Sunday, they cranked their performance to an unprecedented level of 12.

A twelve. A twelve? A twelve!

The performance of the Seahawks’ special teams in Sunday’s upset victory over the Dallas Cowboys wasn’t just perfect, it was unprecedented.

Perfect? Special teams coordinator Brian Schneider has 12 goals for his units in each game – from 100 percent effort, to penalty free, to eliminating big plays by the opponent. Achieve one, a Seahawks logo is placed next the category on the large board that hangs in the hallway between the locker room and the training room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. Achieve all 12, as Schneider’s units did on Sunday at CenturyLink Field, and it’s Seahawks logos all around.

Unprecedented? It’s a first not only for Schneider since he joined Pete Carroll’s staff in 2010, it’s the first time any of his special teams have pitched a 12 – including his time with the Oakland Raiders (2007-08) and college stints at USC (2009), Iowa State (2006), UCLA (2003-05) and Colorado State (1994-2002).

“First time,” Schneider said on Tuesday, allowing himself a slight smile of satisfaction even though he already was studying video of the Green Bay Packers – the Seahawks’ Week 3 opponent on “Monday Night Football.”

And it’s also a first for two of his veteran players.

“This is a first for me,” said punter Jon Ryan, who played two seasons with the Packers before coming to the Seahawks in 2008. “We had a couple of 11’s last season, but a 12? Unbelievable.”

Added special teams co-captain Heath Farwell, who played six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings before joining the Seahawks last season and leading the NFL in coverage tackles, “Never seen that before. A 12, that’s pretty impressive.”

And it actually was a 13, if you take the board literally. One of the categories is “score or set up a score.” Sunday, the Seahawks did both in the first five minutes. Michael Robinson forced a fumble on the opening kickoff that Earl Thomas recovered to set up a field goal by Steven Hauschka. After the defense forced a three-and-out, Malcolm Smith blocked the punt. Jeron Johnson took the ball on a hop and ran 3 yards for a touchdown.

“The guys are playing well,” Farwell said. “It’s a group effort and there are a lot guys flying around, putting a lot of passion into it and taking a lot of pride from it. So it’s pretty impressive.”

And it’s from one end of the roster to the other.

Thomas? Robinson? They ended their 2011 seasons by playing in the Pro Bowl, at free safety and fullback. Starting linebacker K.J. Wright? “He plays on every defensive snap, and he’s running down on punt (coverage) for us,” Farwell said.

Then there are the core special teams players. Farwell. Chris Maragos. Smith. Mike Morgan. Johnson. While they might not get a lot of snaps on defense, they put the snap, crackle and pop into that too-often overlooked other third of the game.

As for the specialists on these special teams, Ryan is ranked among the Top 10 in the league in average (50.0 yards) and net average (42.6) after two games this season and already has broken just about every club record in his first four seasons with the Seahawks; Hauschka has made 29 of 35 field goal attempts since being claimed off waivers last September, with three of his “misses” coming on blocked kicks and another on a 61-yarder; Leon Washington is one kickoff return for a touchdown from tying the NFL career record of eight; and snapper Clint Gresham has brought stability, and dependability, to a task that is not as easy as he makes it look.

“We’ve got a great group,” Farwell said. “We’re happy where we’re at. We’ve just got to keep it going.”

Again, words that could have come directly from Schneider’s mouth.

“That’s over,” he said when asked about savoring the rare 12. “We’ve got to start over again this week.”

But it’s the effort that went into the 12 that pleases Schneider.

“They’re playing really, really hard,” he said. “That shows up.  And when you can get that done, you’ve got something.”

Just like Carroll knew he had something when he hired Schneider in what would be his last season at USC – and Schneider’s only season with the Trojans, as he followed Carroll to Seattle in 2010.

“To have guys in OTAs screaming around and hustling and fired up and capturing them the way Brian did then, I just thought that was an amazing accomplishment for that time of year,” said Carroll, who first saw Schneider on the practice field when he visited the Raiders during a spring session.

“Brian does a terrific job. What is really exciting for me is the way we have linked up philosophically. We’ve been together enough now, so my message and his message is the same. So he’s a great advocate of what we’re doing, and it comes through in every phases of what he does. So we’re really tied together very tightly.”   

And now, it’s a bond of 12.