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Seahawks Defense That Ranks Among NFL's Best Faces Tough Test vs Chargers

Despite significant personnel changes this past offseason, the Seahawks have found ways to flourish defensively in 2018, ranking among the Top 5 in the NFL in several key statistical categories.

Jarran Reed has a message for anyone who had questions about the Seahawks defense coming into the season. If before the season began you were down on Seattle's defense, which saw several key starters leave in the offseason, then don't jump on the bandwagon now.

"Whatever they were talking about before, leave it that way," Reed said. "We don't need nobody jumping on now, we're going to keep playing the way we've been playing. We don't need no accolades, we don't need no glory, we don't need none of that."

The Seahawks defense looks quite a bit different than it has in recent years, but seven games into the season, the results look a lot like what people have come to expect from a Pete Carroll-coached team. Also similar, as Reed illustrated, is the way a lot of members of this defense play with chips on their shoulders and feed of off any negativity, real or perceived.

Going back to offseason workouts, any player on Seattle's defense that you asked would express their confidence in the potential of what was going to be a younger and less experienced Seahawks defense. But confident or not, it's easy to see why some on the outside looking in would have expected a drop-off in performance. Between the end of the 2017 season and the start of this one, the Seahawks released cornerback Richard Sherman, traded defensive end Michael Bennett, and had defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson leave in free agency. Additionally, defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Kam Chancellor are unable to play this year due to neck injuries sustained last season.

That's five Pro-Bowlers gone from last year's team, and the Seahawks also played the first six games of this season without K.J. Wright, and in Week 4 they lost Earl Thomas to a broken leg. So how did the defense respond to so many key losses? By looking like a Seahawks defense, and through seven games, Seattle ranks in the Top 5 of several key defensive categories, checking in at fourth in points allowed (18.7), fifth in total defense (327.3), fourth in passing defense (219.0), and third in opponent passer rating (82.8). Perhaps most impressively, the Seahawks are tied for third in takeaways (16), contributing to a plus-10 turnover differential that is the second best in the NFL. That puts the Seahawks well ahead of last year's pace when they had 25 takeaways, and their 10 interceptions through seven games are just four short of last year's season total. If you're a fan of more advanced statistics, Football Outsiders has the Seahawks as the second-ranked defense in the NFL based on DVOA, which "measures a team's efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent."

"I'm not surprised at all," middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "I think we knew coming into the season that we had a great group of guys. We knew that the outside was sleeping on the leadership that we had in the building and the people that we had in the building. Some of the guys that are still here as well as the guys that are kind of sitting behind the players that are playing, We knew that people didn't see that and that they would see that. So, if you listened to us talk, we were very confident in what we were going to get accomplished and what we were going to be doing. Where we're sitting is good, but there's a level that I think we can get better. The first few games, even up until now, we were still trying to learn how to play with one another, learn how to have fun with one another. Now, you're seeing the product of that last game and I think it's still room to get better. We got K.J. (Wright) back, bringing him into everything. We lost a lot of guys, but there is a lot of guys left in the building that know how to win football games."

The 2018 Seahawks defense isn't trying to imitate the defenses of the past—even if the results are pretty similar—but rather just let this own collage of talent and coaching come together to perform at its best.

"You let the guys come in and be who they are," Wagner said. "I think the mistake that you can make is trying to size them up and trying to compare them to the people that left. Maybe a B-Mac (Bradley McDougald) comes in and he's playing Kam's position and you want him to look like Kam, but there's only one Kam. There's not going to be another Kam, so you can't do that. You have to appreciate the person that's stepping in and see what in his game makes them special that is going to make the team special and try to bring that out. Everybody has something special in them all across the board. I think the job for the leaders and for the people that's been there is to let them figure out how to make this defense special by finding what's special in them. I think that's what we did, we just encourage to be yourself. I think we take pride on learning who people are and I think that's kind of where the growth is. We don't expect you to be the people that left, we expect you to be the person that you are. The best version of yourself is always going to be the best for this team and I think that's what we focus on."

And the Seahawks know that as good as their defense has been, keeping it up won't be an easy task with their upcoming schedule of good quarterbacks and offenses, starting this week with Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers. At 36, Rivers is having one of the best seasons of his career, completing 69.1 percent of his passes while throwing 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions, giving him a 117.8 passer rating that would be the highest of his career if he keeps it up. As a team, the Chargers rank sixth in total offense (402.7) and eighth in scoring (27.9).

"We're playing a really good football team," Carroll said. "These guys have been really good, they've been on it. They've been winning for a good while now. You can go back into the end of last year when they got going and a four-game win streak now. Playing tough, playing good defense, scoring on offense, really solid team. This is a really difficult challenge with a great quarterback. I can't say enough about how good this guy is. He's having a great year. He's almost completing 70 percent of his passes, and they're doing it in a nice, balanced offense too because they're running the ball well. Their running backs are averaging over five yards a carry and it just makes it really hard. Very similar to what we saw last week in a really experienced quarterback and a good running game. These guys are on it. Probably the biggest extent of the issue is that they've got a really good receiving group too and they're big and they can make the plays and they've got great averages if you look at it so really, there's nowhere to turn. We've just got to play great to have a chance to win."

While the Chargers and Rivers definitely have the Seahawks' respect, Seattle's defense also comes into this game very confident in how it's playing, no matter how daunting the opponent. 

"I've been feeling the same way I have since the beginning," said cornerback Shaquill Griffin. "I knew what this defense was capable of doing. You're always going to have doubters, and everybody had an opinion of what the defense would be because of the guys who left, but that's one thing we never focused on or worried about. Now it's kind of funny to see… Now they're just starting to notice. But it's not something we worry about. We just continue to play our ball, do what we do, and have fun doing it."

Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seattle Seahawks' Week 8 road win over the Detroit Lions.