Michael Bennett states his case for the defense

Posted Dec 30, 2013

Monday metatarsal musings: When defensive lineman Michael Bennett hit free agency, he returned to the Seahawks because he wanted to be part of what has transpired this season, and especially on Sunday.

He sacked. And danced. He tackled. And danced. He disrupted. And danced.

And when it was all over Sunday afternoon, Michael Bennett stood in one corner of the bedlam that was the Seahawks’ locker room and smiled. It was one of those smiles of satisfaction that said this is why Bennett is here, even before the defensive lineman could say it.

When Bennett became an unrestricted free agent this year, he could have gone elsewhere and for more money. But the payday he wanted included what had just transpired at CenturyLink Field – the Seahawks are champions of the NFC West and the conference’s No. 1-seed heading into the playoffs, in large part because of Bennett’s contributions.

“I came here to win championships and play in big games,” said Bennett, who was with the Seahawks for a while as a rookie in 2009 before going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 4½ seasons. “I got a chance to do that with all these guys.”

Bennett contributed a sack to the defensive dominance that produced a 27-9 victory over the St. Louis Rams in the Seahawks’ regular-season finale – and the Rams’ season finale. It gave Bennett a team-leading 8.5 for the season. He also had a team-high 25 QB hits while playing primarily on the nickel line used in passing situations.

Just how good was the Seahawks’ defense that ranked No. 1 in so many categories on this afternoon when so much was on the line? The Seahawks held the Rams to 13 rushing yards and 158 yards overall – and 71 came on their way-too-little, way-too-late touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

The Seahawks had two more interceptions, giving them a league-leading 28. The Seahawks also led the NFL in takeaways (39), turnover differential (plus-20), average yards (273.6) and passing yards (172.0) allowed and, most importantly, average points allowed (14.4). That’s a combination that has never been matched in the team’s 38-season history.

And everybody got into the playmaking act, all season and especially on Sunday in what was perhaps the finest three hours by the NFL’s finest defense. From fellow linemen Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Clinton McDonald, Cliff Avril, Tony McDaniel and Chris Clemons; to linebackers Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin; to the Pro Bowl-laced Legion of Boom secondary that features cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, and Byron Maxwell.

“All these guys making plays, it’s just a blessing to be out there with them,” Bennett said.

And on this day, it was the defense that scored first, as Smith returned an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter. It was a tempo-setting play from a next-man-up linebacker who is filling in for injured starter K.J. Wright. Then there was the second-quarter interception by Maxwell, who is starting on the right side because Walter Thurmond was serving a four-game suspension and Brandon Brower also has been suspended. Then there was a fourth-quarter sack by McDonald, who stepped in at nose tackle after Mebane went out with a groin injury.

“That’s the kind of defense we are,” Bennett said. “We’re the kind of defense that can score. We’ve got big-time players at every position and they can make big-time plays.”

But the play that perhaps best exemplified the performance of the defense on this day came when Sherman, Thomas and Maxwell collided in the end zone while trying to grab a fluttering pass from Kellen Clemens, who was hit by Avril as he was throwing.

“How about that play?” coach Pete Carroll said. “It looked like piranha going after the football.”

With that said, here’s a look at three other things that worked against the Rams and something that needs work as the Seahawks head into their playoff bye weekend:

What worked

The defense – Did we mentioned the 2013 unit became the first in franchise history to rank No. 1 in the NFL?

Sticking with the run – Marshawn Lynch had one strange afternoon. He tripped on the first play of the game and still managed to gain 2 yards. His next two carries went for 1-yard losses. On his next carry, he broke a 14-yarder. On the Seahawks’ 11-play, 65-yard drive to a Steven Hauschka field goal in the second quarter, Lynch carried six times for 34 yards – everything from an 11-yarder to a 1-yarder. His final two carries of the first half went for 7 yards and minus-1 yard. His first carry of the second half was a 7-yarder. On the 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with his 2-yard TD run, Lynch carried seven times for 22 yards. His final three carries, in the fourth quarter, went for 9, 0 and 5 yards.

Despite this ebb-and-flow production, the coaches stuck with the run and Lynch finished with 97 tough yards on 23 carries. It primed his pump, and that of the offense, for the playoffs.

“I think the thing we have to do is stay committed to what we do, and that’s handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch – and also play-action, and getting the ball out quick and also throwing it deep when we can,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “We make plays when we do that, and that’s how we have to play.

“We’re a physical football team, and it shows. Our running back – No. 24, Marshawn – he does a tremendous job of setting the tone for us.”

The acquisition of talent – General manager John Schneider and staff, take a bow. Carroll and staff, also take a bow. The Seahawks’ next-man-up philosophy works so well because the next men up can play.

From Maxwell, to Smith, to offensive linemen Lemuel Jeanpierre and Michael Bowie, the depth that has served the Seahawks so well starts with Schneider and staff finding the players and Carroll and staff coaching all the players as if they are starters.

What needs work

Offensive consistency – The Seahawks did have the 80-yard drive to Lynch’s career-best 14th touchdown, as well as a 47-yard TD pass from Wilson to Golden Tate. But the offense also had five three-and-outs, because they were four of 13 in third-down situations.

“We just need more consistency,” Pro Bowl center Max Unger said. “We had five three-and-outs and that can’t happen. We’ve just got to get better on third downs and sustaining drives and staying on schedule – getting positive gains on first and second down.”