In 2011, the Seahawks’ special teams weren’t all that special, ranking No. 16 in the NFL. But the units coordinated by Brian Schneider jumped to No. 3 last season, and entering today’s game against the Tennessee Titans at CenturyLink Field the Seahawks are No. 2.
What’s been the secret to this sudden and then continuing success? It all depends on who you ask. Schneider will tell it’s the players making the plays, while the players will tell you it’s Schneider’s schemes and teaching that allow them to make those plays which make the Seahawks among the best special teams units in all of football.
“What we’ve done, what we’re doing, that’s a testament to coach Schneider,” said
But Schneider, who was hired as part of Pete Carroll’s initial staff in 2010, says schemes are only as good as the players performing them.
“I think it’s just the consistency of the guys being around,” Schneider said. “Most of our core guys are going on their third year of being here. So I think it’s the familiarity of what we’re doing and also playing with the same guys.
“We’ve been doing the same drills, same technique, same stuff. So I think everyone just keeps improving that way, and it’s the familiarity of just being together.”
Whatever the reason, the numbers that really count for Schneider and his core special teams players are those posted after each game on the huge board that’s in the hallway between the locker room and training room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
The fine-line difference on that one play against the 49ers and the two against the Colts are equal to the fiber-optic thin line that often separates arms-raised success from forehead-slapping failure on these anything-can-happen plays that backup safety and special-teams front man
“As crazy as special teams is, you need all 11 guys doing exactly what they need to do and buying into the whole philosophy,” said Maragos, who has been among the leaders in coverage tackles in each of his three seasons with the Seahawks.
“That’s why, to me, special teams are so unique, because one guy just doesn’t make a play. It’s a gunner going down there and making a returner stop his feet so another guy can come in and make a tackle. It’s a guy running down on a kickoff and cleaning up for another guy. Or it’s another guy creating a key block that springs a returner free.
“And that’s another thing that makes special teams so cool. It’s such a group effort and when you have a lot of selfless guys, you see a lot of success.”
Another element that separates the Seahawks’ special teams is how many players are part of them, and how many of those have big special-teams plays on their resume.
“That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about how important special teams are around here,” said Maragos, who always seems to find a way to be right in the middle of everything good these units come up with.
“We have the stability and we kind of have the groundwork laid. Then as we just keep adding pieces to it, you see things just keep rolling. Guys buy in. They work hard. They play hard. And you see the results on Sundays.”
Then there’s that lineup of the special teams players who have made special plays:
Heath Farewell – A co-captain of these units last year, his teammates voted him the captain this season. And why not? Schneider has referred to Farwell as a coach on the field, and his teammates can seemingly talk forever about everything he brings that help make their units so special. Signed midway through the 2011 season, Farwell led not only the team but the NFL with 21 coverage tackles in 11 games. Last year, when he was an alternate to the Pro Bowl, he again led the team with 15 coverage tackles. This season, he’s tied for the lead with four.
Jon Ryan – All he’s done since joining the team in 2008 is break most of the franchise punting records, and in 2011 he led the league with 34 punts inside the 20-yard line. This season, opponents have 8 return yards on his 20 punts.
Chris Maragos – The backup safety always is around the ball – and the ball carrier. This season, Maragos is second with three coverage tackles. Last season, he was third with nine. In 2011, he tied for second with 11. That’s the kind of consistency Schneider was talking about.
“You can’t say enough about Jeremy Lane,” Farwell said. “They’re doubling him out there at the gunner spot and he’s splitting them and making the tackle, drawing penalties and still making the tackle.”
“Coleman has done a great job. He’s fit right in,” Schneider said. “He just does things right. And that’s really what we’re all about.”
Added Farwell: “Derrick Coleman is playing as well as anybody in this league.” And that comes from someone who has made his nine-season career by playing special teams as well as anybody in the league.
And, of course, Hauschka, who provides the points that underline just how important special teams are to the Seahawks – and how much importance they put on them. Hauschka is 12 of 13 on field goals and 13 of 13 on PATs. But where his efforts have really improved is on the long balls, as 21 of 31 kickoffs have been touchbacks. He had 26 touchbacks in 2011 and 36 last season.
“It’s been a great group for us,” Carroll said.
Not to mention special. “We’ve just got so many good players – so athletic and so talented and so fast,” Farwell said. “It’s hard to match us athlete for athlete. It’s a special group.”