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Earl Thomas the hornet in Seahawks’ swarming defense

Posted Oct 14, 2013

Monday metatarsal musings: Earl Thomas, the Seahawks’ All-Pro free safety, was once again in the middle of everything good that the defense did in Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans.

Earl Thomas wasn’t just feeling it, he was flaunting it.

The All-Pro free safety was in the middle of all the good things the defense did in Sunday’s 20-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans that pushed the Seahawks’ record to 5-1 and kept them atop the NFC West. And as if he needed any help standing out at CenturyLink Field, Thomas was decked out in bright pink (is there any other color of pink?) leggings to go with the pink arm sleeve he wore the previous week in Houston to show his support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Thomas intercepted an overthrown pass in the first quarter, his third of the season to momentarily take the team lead before All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman picked off his third pass in the fourth quarter – on a play where Thomas helped dupe Ryan Fitzpatrick into throwing Sherman’s way after the Titans’ quarterback had avoided Sherman most of the afternoon.

Thomas also had a team-high five solo tackles and an assist, upping his club-leading total of the season to 41 tackles.

He was, as we said, in the middle of everything. But that should not come as a surprise, because that’s also where you’ll find Thomas on the practice field, in the locker room and even the meeting rooms at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

Described recently as the hornet in the middle of the Seahawks’ No. 2-ranked defense, Sherman laughed and offered, “You got that right. That’s definitely Earl.”

And Earl definitely was Earl on Sunday. He made tackles near the line of scrimmage. He made tackles as the last line of defense, preventing long gains from becoming even longer gains. He tackled receivers. He tackled the running back, and the quarterback when he ran. He even covered the slot receiver on occasion, allowing the Seahawks to remain in their base defense when the Titans went to three-receiver sets.

The Seahawks came into the game worried about giving up big plays to Titans running back Chris Johnson. But they reduced Johnson to a no-worries element in the Tennessee offense, as he averaged 2.8 yards on 12 carries to finish with 33 yards. That’s because the Seahawks did not allow Johnson to get outside. Why was that important? “The burst that he has, it shocks you,” is the way coach Pete Carroll put it last week. It’s a burst that has ignited Johnson’s six career rushing touchdowns of 80-plus yards, the most in NFL history.

“We were able to set the edge and crowd the lanes,” Thomas explained in the locker room. “I feel like when he doesn’t have enough space he tiptoes. And when he’s tiptoeing, we were just trying to cap-off on him all day.”

Then there was Thomas also doing something opponents have been unable to do – knock 6-foot-3, 232-pound extra-strong safety Kam Chancellor off his feet. It happened while the two were celebrating a play in the fourth quarter.

“It was just adrenalin pumping. Excited. You’re enjoying your teammates. Stuff like that happens,” Thomas offered. “But he’s way too big to be falling like that. He’s got to stay up.”

With that said, here’s a look at three other things that worked against the Titans and three things that need work in this short week as the Seahawks prepare for their nationally televised game on Thursday night against the Cardinals in Arizona:

What worked

Feeding the BeastMarshawn Lynch had 25 touches and produced 155 yards – 77 rushing on 21 carries and a career-high 78 receiving on four catches. That’s a 6.2-yard average. And there’s nothing average about that.

“That’s the type of player that we know him as,” wide receiver Golden Tate said of Lynch, who remains third in the league in rushing (487) and now is fifth in total yards (661). “He’s going to come up big when you need him. He had some great runs. He played hard through the whistle, gaining those extra yards with his offensive line pushing him.”

Sherman – Three interceptions this season. Eight last season. Fifteen since stepping into the lineup midway through the 2011 season, as an injury replacement for an injury replacement.

“Sherm’s technique kills,” Thomas said. “I don’t think anybody has better technique than Sherm.”

This one-game-at-a-time attitude – Another week, another win. Another chance to put this week behind you and start all over again. It has worked five times in six weeks. And it was never more apparent than when Thomas was asked how it feels to be 5-1, tying the best start in franchise history.

“I’m really not paying attention to that,” Thomas said. “I’m just excited that we have a quick turnaround and we get to get back on the field. Practice is fun. But the games? There’s nothing like it.”

What needs work

Third downs – Still. The Seahawks converted five of 13 third-down situations against the Titans. That was an obvious improvement from the two-of-12 showing the week before against the Colts in Indianapolis, during the team’s only loss. But they’re still at 32.1 percent for the season (25 of 78), and only four teams have a lower percentage.

Starting faster – This one is related to the performances on third downs by the offense. It’s difficult to turn possessions into scoring drives when you’re not consistently converting third downs. The Seahawks’ first three possessions against the Titans ended in punts, as they were zero for three on third downs. On their two touchdown drives, they generated three their five third-down conversions.

Trying field goals when your kicker is in the locker room – It happened to the Seahawks at the end of the first half, with near-disastrous results. Chris Maragos was the holder, because holder/punter Jon Ryan was the kicker, because Steven Hauschka had gotten the worst of a collision with Titans’ returner Darius Reynaud.

But Carroll covered this one in his post-game interview session when asked how he could have handled the situation differently.

“Just not put those guys out there,” he said. “Just go ahead and take one more shot with two seconds left, and not make (Maragos) and those guys have to do that. That’s a lot of pressure on those guys, and we didn’t handle it very well, obviously. We couldn’t have handled it any worse, as a matter of fact. I put them out there. They didn’t have to be out there. I shouldn’t have done that.”

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