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Friday in Hawkville: Delving into the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense

Posted Jan 3, 2014

The Seahawks made franchise history this season by ranking No. 1 in the league in several defensive categories. It was a matter of trust in the man next to you that led to this unit and its individual players accomplishing so much.

A recap of the activities at Virginia Mason Athletic Center for Jan. 3, when the Seahawks held the second of two bonus practices during their playoff bye week:

WORD OF THE DAY: TRUST

If they were to make a commemorative coin to honor the first Seahawks defense to rank No. 1 in the NFL, it should be engraved with “In us we trust.”

Because it’s the trust factor that pushed the 2013 Seahawks in the right direction to leading the league in so many categories – average points, yards and passing yards allowed, as well as interceptions and turnovers.

“It factors in tremendously, because if you don’t trust everybody, if you don’t have trust in the people around you, you’re not going to play disciplined,” said cornerback Richard Sherman, who was named first-team All-Pro on Friday for the second time in the past two seasons. “You’re going to think you have to do too much, you have to spin to this gap, ‘Oh, he’s not going to be there, so I have to shake and make sure I’ve this one and this gap.’

“When you’re playing sound, disciplined defense, trusting the guys around you, you don’t do that. You just play your guy and know that Red (Bryant) is going to be there, (Brandon) Mebane is going to be there, Earl (Thomas) is going to be there, Kam (Chancellor) is going to be there, I’m going to be there. Whether it’s in the run game or the pass game, everybody has a gap, everybody has an assignment. And if everybody’s doing it effectively, it’s going to be a good game for us.”

This trust thrust is especially important to Bobby Wagner, the middle linebacker and leading tackler.

“You look to the guy next to you and know that he’s going to do his job, it just makes life easier because you know that, ‘Alright, if I can funnel this guy over here, he’s going to be there,’ ” he said. “When you’ve got that kind of trust, it makes you have games where you’re holding people (down).”

SAY GOOD BYE: PETE CARROLL PLEASED WITH PRACTICES

The players put the finishing touches on their bye-week work with a spirited practice that was held on the outside fields along the shores of Lake Washington, and coach Pete Carroll liked what he saw.

YOU DON'T SAY

Brandon Mebane, he’s second to none.”

Defensive end Red Bryant on the Seahawks’ underrated nose tackle

“These were the two best practices we’ve had all season,” Carroll said of the starters getting a chance to work against each other. “So that’s really encouraging going into next weekend.”

The practices were the capper to what Carroll was hoping to get from the bye week.

“These have been good days for us,” Carroll said. “The work days have been great on the field. But really it’s all of the things that happened during this week. We’ve had good rest to get to these two days (of practice). … We’ve had good work. We’ve expanded the installation as we look ahead and tried to fix some things.

“So all of those things were taken at hand and I think we made progress in all areas. So it was a very good week for us.”

ANOTHER BENEFIT OF THE BYE: RESTING THOSE BUMPS AND BRUISES

The Seahawks don’t have to issue injury reports this week because they’re not playing this weekend. But the bye is giving half a dozen players extra time to rest and recover.

“This is a much-needed bye in terms of getting us healthier,” said Bryant, the defensive captain. “A few of us, we’re dealing with a couple of nagging injuries. So we’ve got an extra week to get healthy.”

STATS ’N STUFF: RICHARD SHERMAN, BOBBY WAGNER LEAD THE LEADERS

On a Seahawks’ defense that ranked No. 1 in the league in so many categories, Sherman led the unit in interceptions (eight) and Wagner was the leading tackler (119). All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas finished second in both with five interceptions and 100 tackles.

What’s the significance of being a statistical leader on the league’s top statistical defense?

STAT DU JOUR: EARL THOMAS, RICHARD SHERMAN JOIN ELITE GROUP

Free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman have been voted first-team All-Pro for the second consecutive season, it was announced Friday. That puts them in select company, as only the fourth and fifth Seahawks to earn first-team honors in back-to-back seasons:

Player All-Pro
SS Kenny Easley 1983-84-85
DT Cortez Kennedy 1992-93-94
OT Walter Jones  2004-05
FS Earl Thomas 2012-13
CB Richard Sherman 2012-13

Note: Jones also was voted All-Pro in 2001 and 2007

Sherman’s eight interceptions were part of the Seahawks’ league-leading 28, and he also became only the second player in franchise history to lead the league in interceptions.

“I think they go hand in hand,” he said of his league-leading total helping the defense compile a league-leading total. “The defense did a great job pressuring the quarterback with our front seven and they got a lot of sacks (44). And their sacks coincided with the number of picks we got. It’s a lot of guys out there doing their job.

“When everybody’s playing well like that, you’re going to have a lot of opportunities to get hands on balls and I just happen to be the one who caught the most this year.”

As well as last year, when Sherman also had eight interceptions.

The Legion of Boom secondary had 22 of the team’s 28 picks – Sherman’s eight, Thomas’ five, four by cornerback Byron Maxwell, three by Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor and one each by nickel back Walter Thurmond and suspended cornerback Brandon Browner. The linebackers added five – two each by Wagner and Malcolm Smith and one by Bruce Irvin. Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald had the other one.

As for the sacks, 32.5 of the 44 came from linemen – Michael Bennett (8.5), Cliff Avril (eight), McDonald (5.5), Chris Clemons (4.5), Tony McDaniel (2.0), Bryant (1.5), Jordan Hill (1.5) and O’Brien Schofield (1.0); while the linebackers contributed 9.5 – Wagner (5.0), Irvin (2.0), K.J. Wright (1.5) and Smith (1.0). The other two came from Thurmond and “TEAM.”

Wagner got his team-leading number of tackles despite missing two games with a sprained ankle, and Wright (80) finished fourth behind Chancellor (93) even though he missed the last three games.

“It’s just beating all the fast dudes to the ball,” Wagner said with a smile of being the Seahawks’ leading tackler for the second time in his two seasons with the team. “Earl is fast. Kam is fast. Everybody wants to make tackles, but I’m faster to it.”

And Wagner didn’t miss the opportunity to needle Thomas, whose energy drives this defense.

“I did get to talk a little trash to him, because I tried to give him a two-game (cushion),” Wagner said, smiling again. “I told Earl, ‘I gave you two games and I still passed you.’ ”

Thomas’ reaction? “He didn’t care at all,” Wagner said. “This is always fun and games. You’ve always got to compete, right?”

UP NEXT: A WEEKEND TO WATCH

The players are off over the weekend, when the Seahawks will find who which team they’ll host in their divisional playoff game next Saturday at CenturyLink Field. It will be the No. 6-seed New Orleans Saints, if they beat the No. 3-seed Eagles in Philadelphia on Saturday. If the Eagles beat the Saints, it will be the winner of Sunday’s game in Green Bay between the No. 5-seed San Francisco 49ers and No. 4-seed Packers.