Earl Thomas setting the pace for NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense

Posted Dec 20, 2013

Is the best defensive player in the league playing for the league’s best defense? All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman thinks so, offering, “If there’s anywhere the Defensive Player of the Year should be it should be in Seattle.”

Richard Sherman doesn’t have a vote for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But – surprise, surprise – the league’s co-leader in interceptions for the NFL’s top-ranked defense does have an opinion on who should win the award.

“I would have to give it to Earl,” Sherman said of free safety Earl Thomas, his All-Pro compatriot in the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom secondary. “I think Earl is having a fantastic year. He’s flying around, tackling everywhere, forcing fumbles, getting interceptions. I don’t think there’s anybody out there playing better defense and I think our defense is No. 1 in the league. So usually the best quarterback with the best receivers isn’t punished for that, so don’t punish one of the best players on the best defense.

“So I think he should get it.”

Just as some think Sherman should get it. Thomas? Or Sherman? Sherman? Or Thomas?

“If there’s anywhere the Defensive Player of the Year should be it should be in Seattle,” Sherman said. “Whether it’s myself or Earl.”

Entering Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field, where a 15th consecutive home victory would give the 12-2 Seahawks the NFC West championship, a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage through the postseason, Sherman and Thomas have put up Defensive Player of the Year numbers.

Sherman has more interceptions (six) than Thomas (five). But Thomas has more tackles (89) than Sherman (39). Sherman has more passes defensed (16) than Thomas (eight). But Thomas has forced more fumbles (two) than Sherman (zero).

You get the picture. If not, connect the dots between their numbers and it creates a picture of two players who are worthy of the honor – one that was won by strong safety Kenny Easley in 1984 and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy in 1992, on a 2-14 team.

There’s even been some talk of reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt winning it again. But the Texans are 2-12. And while Kennedy had 14 sacks, 93 tackles and four forced fumbles as the best defensive player in the league on one of the league’s worst teams, Watt’s numbers just don’t add up to a repeat: 9.5 sacks, 69 tackles and three forced fumbles.


Then there’s the fact that might not factor into the decision, but should. The Seahawks lead the NFL in average points allowed, average passing yards allowed, points allowed and fewest explosive plays allowed.

It hasn’t all been Sherman and Thomas, or Thomas and Sherman. But their presence is a factor, especially Thomas. And not just on game day. He has become the metronome by which the Legion of Boom beats in its meeting room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center and the little engine that can in driving the defense on the practice fields – whether outside along the shores of Lake Washington or in the indoor practice facility.

“It’s a mindset we’ve got and we turn it on. You watch Earl, and he has it. He leads by example in that way and it helps,” said Byron Maxwell, who has stepped in as the third option at right cornerback and has three interceptions in his first two NFL starts. “It’s the way we practice. The way he practices, really. He sets the tone.”

That also was a topic of discussion – and amused amazement – at the Pro Bowl in January. Things would be going along at a Pro Bowl practice pace, until Thomas stepped on the field. Then, as Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald put it, “You either pick it up, or he runs you over.”

“That’s just Earl,” Maxwell said when told of that exchange. “That’s just in him. That’s just how he goes about his thing. I watch him a lot, and that’s just how he operates.” 

On the Seahawks’ practice field, even for a walkthrough, while the other starters in the secondary are standing in a group, Thomas is several yards away – locked in on what the backups are doing.

“Earl is just real intense. Real intense,” Maxwell said. “He’s built like no other. Nobody else is built like that.”

But is Thomas building a NFL Defensive Player of the Year season?