On Wednesday afternoon ahead of the Seahawks' "Turnover Thursday" practice and preparation for their divisional-round playoff against the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers (8-8-1), head coach Pete Carroll joined the team's flagship radio station 710 ESPN Seattle for a conversation with "Bob and Groz" and former Seattle linebacker Dave Wyman.
Here are four key takeaways from Carroll's Wednesday segment on 710 ESPN Seattle's "The Huddle"
1. Seattle Defense On Its Best Run Yet
In 2013, prior to their run at Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks gave up 72 points (12-point average) over their final six games of the regular season. The stretch produced four wins and two losses, including a 2-2 mark to close the year.
The Seahawks' finish to the 2014 regular season featured a six-game win streak that saw the defense give up 3, 3, 14, 7, 6, and 6 points - a six-game total of 39 points (6.5-point average).
Carroll pointed to both situations - but wouldn't provide a direct answer - when asked if this year's defense is better than the one that carried the franchise to its first Lombardi Trophy.
"I think this right here is the best run we've had of solid, consistent defense because it's been very much the same week-in and week-out," Carroll said. "We've got more opportunities here. If we can play really well again then we'll try to stack a couple more and see what happens. But we might look back and say that. I can't tell you that right now."
Regardless of where this year's defense ranks, the unit has been a model of consistency.
For the third straight season, Seattle ranked No. 1 in points allowed per game (15.9 in 2014; 14.4 in 2013; 15.3 in 2012). The unit also ranked No. 1 in yards allowed per game for the second consecutive year (267.1 in 2014; 273.6 in 2013).
2. "No Excuses" When It Comes To Team's Health
Four players - safety Jeron Johnson (elbow), tight end Tony Moeaki (calf), cornerback Byron Maxwel (illness), and defensive end Michael Bennett (not injury related) did not participate in Wednesday's practice, but only one of them (Johnson) has been ruled out of Saturday night's game against the Panthers.
Seahawks practice at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center Wednesday.
Outside of Johnson and the unfortunate practice setback that landed defensive tackle Jordan Hill (calf) on injured reserve, the team is as healthy as it's ever been, Carroll said.
"We are pretty healthy right now," he said. "We have no excuses now. We're in good shape. We've got a lot of guys coming back that were just kind of on the verge."
Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (hamstring), tight end Cooper Helfet (ribs), center Max Unger (knee/ankle), defensive end Demarcus Dobbs (ankle), and cornerback Tharold Simon (shoulder) were all full participants in Wednesday's practice after each had missed game time. They are all expected to be ready to play on Saturday.
"It's going to be great to get Jermaine back out there," Carroll said of the former Husky standout who missed the regular-season finale against the Rams after suffering an injury against the Arizona Cardinals the week prior. "He's been a big part of our offense and a guy that Russell loves to go to in critical situations and all. It's a nice feel."
3. Richard Sherman Has "Played His Best" This Year
Richard Sherman had an eventful offseason that saw him grace the cover of *Madden, *sign a lucrative contract extension, and land countless endorsements.
Yet even with all the personal accolades providing potential distractions, Carroll believes Sherman has "played his best" this season.
"He just didn't miss a step the whole offseason, throughout camp, and he's been very disciplined, very strict football," Carroll said of the Stanford graduate Sherman, who earned his second Pro Bowl berth and third straight All-Pro honor this year. "He's really played his best. You can just see it in his confidence and his consistency is really there and he has not seen nearly the number of chances and very few deep balls have been up on him - those are the ones that he kills."
Sherman's eight interceptions led the League last year and his four picks this season were tops on the Seahawks' No. 1-ranked defense. But Carroll said you have to look beyond the numbers to see Sherman's true impact.
"He's played very, very well and he's been really solid and in these last opportunities here he's going to be on his game now," said Carroll. "He's ready to go again."
4. Another Championship Opportunity
The Seahawks are 13-1 in regular-season primetime games and have gone 8-0 (including playoffs) in primetime home games since Pete Carroll took over in 2010. All-time, the club has posted a 9-2 postseason record on their own turf, including a streak of seven wins in a row since 2005.
When the team kicks off its divisional-round playoff against the Panthers at 5:15 p.m. PT this Saturday at CenturyLink Field, they'll look to improve upon both marks. Just don't think Carroll will have prepared his Seahawks any differently.
"To me, the games really are the same," he said. "And people will tell you for years that they're not. But think about it - you're out there running and hitting and blocking and tackling and all.
"The thing we don't want to happen is guys treat it differently if we're in the championship situation. Here we are right now in the playoffs. We've done a lot of good things and we've worked our tail off to get here. I don't want to change now."
The approach stems from the mindset Carroll has instilled over his five seasons in Seattle that calls for his players to treat each game like another championship opportunity.
"We try to really be disciplined about that mindset and I think it's helped us," said Carroll. "Our guys are supposed to always be up."
We'll hear more from coach Carroll when he meets with the media on Thursday, Jan. 8 around 2 p.m. PT following the team's final practice of the week.