Had the Seahawks been at full strength Sunday, Justin Coleman likely would have been limited to a special team's role in Seattle's Week 4 game against the Indianapolis Colts; and Marcus Smith probably would have been on the field for a handful of snaps when Cliff Avril or Frank Clark needed a breather.
But with Jeremy Lane leaving the game early with a groin injury and Avril leaving with neck injury, both Coleman and Smith found themselves playing more significant roles in the defense, and those two offseason acquisitions stepped up with two of the biggest plays of Seattle's 46-18 victory over the Colts.
Just as running back J.D. McKissic did on offense filling in for an injured C.J. Prosise, Coleman and Smith made the most of their opportunities Sunday, making plays that resulted in the Seahawks scoring two touchdowns on defense for the first time since Week 14 of the 2012 season.
Coleman, who came to Seattle in a trade with New England just before the start of the season, served as Seattle's nickel corner for almost the entire game due to Lane's injury on the first series of the game. Coleman was solid in coverage throughout the game, but he really stood out for a play he made early in the second quarter. With the Seahawks struggling to get going on offense, Coleman provided a big spark, jumping the route on a throw near the sideline to intercept former Patriots teammate Jacoby Brissett. Coleman sprinted untouched to the end zone for a 28-yard score, a play that would have been perfect if not for a subdued celebration that some teammates deemed as insufficient.
"He has been playing well in practice and doing great things, so it was awesome to see him get his opportunity," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "And that was his first interception, and his celebration game was stank. That's one of those things you've got to work on, so we're working on that with him. It was his first one, so we'll give him a pass."
Added safety Kam Chancellor: "It was big. It gave us some more juice. Any time you make big plays on defense, turnovers, it just gives the team juice, the defense and the team collectively."
In the third quarter, Smith helped turn the game into a blowout with his first sack as a Seahawk. A former first-round pick who signed with Seattle this offseason, Smith turn the corner on Colts right tackle Joe Haeg and got to Brissett just as he was attempting to make a throw. Smith knocked the ball loose, and Bobby Wagner scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 21 yards for a score.
"To even play on this defense is an honor and a privilege," Smith said. "There's so many good football players and so many ways to learn. For me to be able to contribute to the win is really big for me… I played a lot more, because I usually only spell Cliff or Frank when they get tired. I would probably normally play like 12 to 15 snaps, but I got more because Cliff went down. I just had to step up and be able to get it done."
Considering how little Coleman and Smith have played in the past two games—Coleman did see significant time in the opener after Lane was ejected—and considering that McKissic was inactive for the first three games, none of them would have topped people's lists of potential impact players heading into the game, yet all three stepped up in big ways, very concrete examples of players taking advantage of their opportunities.
"I thought that was fantastic," Carroll said. "A great play by Justin to get the score. Marcus involved with a sack and a half, and of course the big play that Bobby scoops up and runs in, that was fantastic."
Sherman said he and his teammates were "freaking juiced" to see those three players not just earn more playing time, but make the most of it.
"You're freaking juiced, not just because it helps your team, but because you are happy that all their hard work is paying off," Sherman said. "They're your teammates, so it's like your brothers. (Coleman) getting a pick-6, I was just as excited as if I got it, because it was such a huge play, great play by him, and a huge play for his career. I think that's what's cool about it, it helped us win and we appreciate that, but it's cool to see those guys see their hard work rewarded."
Coleman and Smith were just two players involved in a very impressive defensive effort. While the Colts were able to do some damage in the first half, the Seahawks defense was dominant in the second half, holding the Colts offense to three first downs and 32 total yards.
"It just felt sound," Sherman said. "… We kept shooting ourselves in the foot (in the first half), so it was good to just get that out of the way and just get back to playing sound football."
Added Carroll: "Defensively, we continue to do really great stuff. It was great to see the pass rush come alive and really get after it. After a while it was just who was going to hit them next, and something good was going to happen. I was really fired up to see that. These guys have been working hard to get that done. It was a number of guys; everybody was contributing. I thought that was a really nice job."
The Seahawks come out victorious at CenturyLink Field 46-18 against the Colts.