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Seahawks Defense "Playing At As High A Level As We Ever Have"

The Seahawks are back to leading the NFL in scoring defense, and other than one bad half in Tennessee, feel very good about their play this season.

Moments after the Seahawks had finished off an impressive road victory in Los Angeles, holding a Rams offense that to that point in the season was averaging 35.5 points per game to only 10 points, and two weeks after Seattle's defense had an uncharacteristically bad half in a loss in Tennessee, cornerback Richard Sherman had a message for those who wondered if the Seahawks' days of defensive dominance had passed.

"I think our demise was greatly overstated," Sherman said.

"These guys have been playing great football for a long time," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after that game. "And I think it's just another statement that they will not relent."

Two weeks later, following their bye, the Seahawks picked up where they left off, holding the New York Giants to a single touchdown—and that came off a turnover that gave New York the ball at Seattle's 17-yard line—and just like that, the Seahawks are back in a familiar place, leading the NFL in scoring defense, allowing just 15.7 points per game.

From 2012 to 2015, the Seahawks became the first team in the Super Bowl era to lead the league in points allowed for four straight seasons, a big reason why the Seahawks appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one, and won 10 or more games every year during that stretch. Last year, the Seahawks had a small regression of sorts, finishing "only" third in scoring defense while still winning the NFC West, but they were right in the hunt to lead the league in that category again before Earl Thomas went down with a season-ending leg injury in early December.

With their nucleus intact and with the addition of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, expectations were again very high, both internally and externally, for a Seattle defense that features eight players have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl. And six games into the season, that group has once again been one of the very best in the league, one bad half in Nashville notwithstanding.

In addition to leading the league in scoring defense, the Seahawks also rank first in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 28.6 percent of trips to the red zone; opposing quarterbacks are averaging just 5.6 yards per attempt against Seattle and a 69.9 passer rating, both of which rank second in the league; and the Seahawks have given up only 32 explosive plays (run of 12-plus yard and completions of 16-plus yards), fourth fewest in the NFL.

"We're playing at as high a level as we ever have," Sherman said. "Outside of the Tennessee game, which was obviously an outlier, I think we've given up 12 points a game or something like that in every other game. I think it's just funny; people's standards are so high for us, and our standards are so high, that you confuse greatness with mediocrity. I guess you get bored with greatness sometimes, and it happens with everyone, but you can appreciate it at times. If we were somewhere else playing the same exact defense, it'd be outstanding."

Added linebacker K.J. Wright, "We can be as good as we want to be. We can be better than we have in the past. We have a lot of games still to prove ourselves, we have a lot of games to show us and the world what we're about. So we'll take it one game at a time, and it starts this week."

Even Seattle's perceived weakness on defense this year, their run defense, is a bit misleading. Yes, the Seahawks have allowed 113.7 yards per game, which ranks 17th, and 4.7 yards per carry (26th) but those numbers are heavily skewed by just a few big plays, most notably a 75-yard run in Tennessee and a 61-yard by the 49ers. Outside of those plays, the Seahawks have looked very much like the defense that allowed a league-low 3.4 yards per carry last season, and in their past three games since that loss to the Titans, the Seahawks have allowed 81.3 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry.

"You get what you emphasize," Wright said of cutting down those big plays. "We addressed it, and it has been great for us. Tackling has been good, as you saw last game, the DBs are staying on top. We're pretty satisfied."

Satisfied with how they have played of late shouldn't be confused with complacency, however. As that loss in Tennessee showed, lapses on just a couple of plays can make all the difference in a game.

"It's just us being consistent, staying true to who we are, down after down," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "That's the only thing that we need to be focused on; not numbers, not papers, or any thoughts or anything like that. Again, it's just us staying true to who we are."

And being back on top doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. As linebacker Bobby Wagner put it, "I feel like there's still more out there. I feel like we haven't even hit what we could possibly reach, but I'm excited with the potential we have, and hopefully we reach it."

There's still a long ways to go, and the Seahawks have their hands full against a Houston Texans offense that has scored 30 or more points in four straight games, but if the Seahawks can keep this up on defense, it will be part of a remarkable run of defense that dates back to the second half of the 2011 season when Seattle allowed 16.5 points per game over its final eight games.  

"We take huge pride in that," Wagner said of the defense's play in recent years. "You want to be remembered for something, you want to go out and do something. I feel like every guy on this defense wants to be the best at their position, which allows us to be the best defense, because we're all pushing each other, always trying to make each other better. I think collectively, that has made us so good over the years. If we just continue to have that mindset of everybody being great and keep pushing each other to be great, we'll always been around the top."

Other teams have challenged the Seahawks for defensive superiority, but none have maintained their level of play for so many years.

"We take a ton of pride in it, because that's what it's about, it's about longevity," Sherman said. "I think we live in a day and age where people are looking to crown people for one-offs. If you have one great year, you're the best at this. You have one great week, 'Oh my god, he's an MVP candidate.' It's not about doing it for a long time anymore, it's not about longevity… What about the guys who have been doing it since '11? It's just funny, because that's the day and age we're living in. it's a microcosm of society and how everyone wants to be rewarded right now… Instant gratification, that's the world we're living in. that's what everybody wants and that's what the world's giving them, so people don't appreciate greatness lasting a long time anymore."

The Seahawks defense has lasted a long time, and based off what they've shown this season, their demise appears to still be a long ways away.

The best photos from the Seahawks' Thursday practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Sunday's Game against the Houston Texans. 

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