Preparing for a battle of the bests

Posted Oct 8, 2012

A Seahawks defense that is ranked No. 1 in the league after five games will meet its match on Sunday when the Patriots and their No. 1-ranked offense visit CenturyLink Field.

The Seahawks have the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL.

Let that sink in for a while. The best the team’s defense has ever ranked for a season was No. 6, and that was way back in 1984 – when Chuck Knox was the coach, Kenny Easley was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and linebacker Shelton Robinson was the leading tackler. In fact, the Seahawks have ranked in the Top 10 in the league only six times – No. 9 last season; No. 8 in 1997; No. 9, 8 and 10 from 1990-92; and in ’84.

But before you start naming your kids after Earl Thomas and Brandon Mebane, coach Pete Carroll has one small suggestion.

“It’s fun for those guys to know. It’s a very prideful group,” he said Monday during his weekly day-after news conference. “But does it mean anything? Not really. What are we going to do this week is what counts.”

Smart man, that Carroll, because look what’s waiting at the end of the week for the league’s top-ranked defense: The NFL’s top-ranked offense, as the New England Patriots come to town on Sunday for a matchup of early season No. 1’s at CenturyLink Field.

After throttling the Panthers in Carolina on Sunday, the Seahawks’ defense is allowing a league-best average of 258.6 yards per game – down from 275.8 last week, when the unit ranked No. 2 in the league.

After posting a 31-21 victory over the Denver Broncos at home on Sunday, the Patriots’ offense is averaging 439.4 yards per game – slightly up from 438.3 last week, when the unit also ranked No. 1 in the league.

So something obviously has to give this week, and we all get to watch which it will be.

Tom BradyWith Tom Brady distributing the ball to Wes Welker (38 receptions), Brandon Lloyd (28) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (23) – and with tight end Aaron Hernandez due to return this week – the Patriots are averaging 274 passing yards, which ranks No. 9 in the league.

The Seahawks will counter with a secondary that features three Pro Bowl players from last season – Thomas at free safety, strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner – as well as long-limbed corner Richard Sherman; and a pass rush that features Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, who have combined for more sacks (10) than any end tandem in the league. They are allowing opponents an average of 147 passing yards, which ranks No. 5 in the league; and opposing QBs to complete 56 percent of their passes, which also is fifth-best in the league.

But the Patriots also can run the ball, as Stevan Ridley ranks fourth in the league with 490 rushing yards; rookie Brandon Bolden has added 206; and Danny Woodhead has 119. As a team, they’re averaging 165.4 rushing yards, which ranks third in the league.

The Seahawks will counter that with a defense that is allowing an average of 66.6 rushing yards, third-best in the league, and features run-stuffing nose tackle Brandon Mebane, the disruptive presence of 330-pound Red Bryant at one end and the young linebacking tandem of K.J. Wright (34 tackles) and rookie Bobby Wagner (28) – who rank 1-3 on the team in tackles.

So as good as the Seahawks’ defense has been – which is very good – it will need to play even better against the Patriots. And the San Francisco 49ers’ No. 6-ranked offense next Thursday. And the Detroit Lions’ No. 3-ranked offense the following week.

“It doesn’t mean that much right now,” Carroll said when asked about the defense’s lofty ranking. “It would nice to be No. 1 at the end.”

Or even next week, for that matter.