Asked about his unit’s ability to rise to the No. 1 ranking in the NFL while playing without key contributors, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn addressed Malcolm Smith stepping in at weak-side linebacker for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants.
When the starter-like contributions of backup cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane were added to the conversation, Quinn was caught somewhat off-guard.
“I didn’t even begin to talk about them because it just feels like we’re just kind of continuing on with those guys,” he said of Maxwell stepping in at right cornerback for the injured Brandon Browner and Lane taking over as the nickel back because Walter Thurmond is serving a league-imposed four-game suspension.
“No surprise from our end with that.”
And that has been a theme while the Seahawks have compiled their best-in-the-NFL 11-2 record. They have continued to win despite playing for almost two months without injured offensive tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini; and All-Pro center Max Unger missing three games; and the season-ending knee injury to flanker Sidney Rice; and tight end Zach Miller sitting out two games; and starting the season without Leo ends Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril, as well as strong-side linebacker Bruce Irvin; and middle linebacker and leading tackler Bobby Wagner missing a pair of games; and Browner and Thurmond being unavailable; and now weak-side linebacker K.J. Wright out four to six weeks with a broken bone in his right foot.
In case you lost track, that is a combined 41 games missed by players expected to play large roles. How have the Seahawks been able to continuing winning despite losing players?
“I think the thing that has allowed us to win is by the way that we prepare,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “The way that coach (Pete) Carroll gets us ready. The way that coach (Dan) Quinn gets the defense ready and coach (Darrell) Bevell gets us ready on the offense.
“The way we practice, the elite level we practice at, the high intensity that we practice at on a daily basis really prepares us for a huge game.”
That preparation starts with a process, but also includes the way the players are treated. There are no backups on this team, just players who are not only ready but prepared when called up.
“It’s just the way we do things,” said line coach Tom Cable, whose unit has experienced the most injury-induced shuffling. “There’s a process on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday, so if someone’s out it doesn’t mean you change. You just keep doing what you’re doing.
“Because as a whole we’re greater than a few missing parts.”
As for treating starters one way and the backups another, Cable offered, “Nah. I don’t believe in that, because at any time they’ve got to go in.”
And have had to go in, and continue to go in. To be able to do that, you need to have backups with starter skills.
Like Smith, who will start his fifth game Sunday against the Giants. Like Doug Baldwin, the slot receiver who has stepped in for Rice at flanker and is second on the team in receptions (43) and receiving yards (699) and shares the lead in touchdown catches (four). Like Lemuel Jeanpierre, who starts at center when Unger isn’t available. Like rookie Luke Willson, who started the two games Miller missed. Like Michael Bowie, who started at right tackle when Giacomini was out for seven games. Like Paul McQuistan, who moved from left guard to left tackle to replace Okung for eight games. Like Maxwell and Lane, who combined for six passes defensed in Sunday’s two-point loss to the 49ers in San Francisco.
“Obviously you’ve got to give credit to coach Carroll and (GM) John Schneider and (owner) Paul Allen for what they’ve done in bringing in great football players,” Wilson said. “Whether it’s the first-round guys or the non-draft picks, it’s one of those things where every single guy on our football team can definitely make a roster – anybody’s roster.
“So that’s the way we play.”
And that’s why the Seahawks have been able to continue playing winning football despite losing key contributors.