The Seahawks go into Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals looking not only to earn their 10th victory of the season, but to also claim a share of an NFL record.
And while few people know about this record—players and coaches were unaware of it when the topic came up this week—it's an accomplishment that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll would be very proud of if his team can pull it off.
Through 15 games, the Seahawks have turned the ball over only 10 times, which for a head coach who preaches an "it's all about the ball" philosophy is a very, very big deal. If the Seahawks can go one more game without a turnover—they've done that in eight of 15 games so far—they would match the 2011 San Francisco 49ers and the 2010 New England Patriots for the lowest total in a season in NFL history. Not surprisingly, those teams also enjoyed successful seasons while taking care of the ball, with the 2010 Patriots going 14-2 and the 2011 49ers going 13-3.
"That's an extraordinary fact of ball, and I'm so thrilled to be a part of that," Carroll said when asked about having a chance to match that record. "I wish we had the record outright, but it just gives us a chance to go after it again… I think we've had eight games this year where they don't get a ball from us. That's a marvelous collective effort to get that done. It starts with the QB and then all the way throughout. He hands it to somebody or throws it to somebody every snap, so it's all of the guys involved—the linemen, everybody. We just got to see if we can just do it one more time, have a good first quarter and just take it on down and see if we could climb through the game with it."
While this year has been a particularly good one for the Seahawks in terms of ball security—particularly since turning the ball over five times in their first two games—it's nothing new for the Seahawks to be among the best teams in the league at taking care of the football. Since Wilson arrived in 2012, the Seahawks have the second fewest turnovers in the NFL with 112, with only New England (104) turning the ball over less often. The Seahawks have thrown the second fewest interceptions over that span, 64 to New England's 57, and Seattle's 48 fumbles lost since 2012 are only one more than the leader in that category, with Baltimore and New England each losing 47 fumbles.
So how do the Seahawks consistently rank among the best teams in the NFL at avoiding turnovers? Well for starters, having a good quarterback certainly helps. It's no coincidence that offenses led by Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers have the fewest turnovers in the league in recent years. But there's more to it than just Wilson's play. Seattle's running backs and pass-catchers can't just worry about getting the most yards out of every play; they have to also do so while knowing how important it is to take care of the ball.
"Emphasis," Carroll said when asked about his philosophy on winning the turnover battle. "Emphasis in every way, forever. Every turn, every step, every day, April, May—it doesn't matter when. It's the number one thing that we emphasize and we've been doing that for a long time and what our challenge is, is how well can we emphasize it and how well can we transfer that emphasis so that they engage it and adopt that as part of their play? The mentality of it, they're a constant that just goes away if you don't. I mean, you just have to be on it because there are unnatural aspects of it when you play with the things that you have to do so you just have to train and drill with the highest of expectations to get it done.
"It is such a big deal around here that guys get put on the screen and they get hammered and they get—they get hooted out or whatever if they're even loose with the ball a little bit. We're really tuned into it."
And that message gets through to players. Running back Chris Carson noted they hear about ball security, "Every day. That's the number one thing he talks about every day. When we break meetings, that's the last thing (Carroll) says, before practice, it's the first thing he says. It's definitely the most important thing."
And it might sound simple to preach ball security in a sport where turnover differential is such a strong predictor of success—no NFL team goes into a season thinking they want to be among the league leaders in turnovers. But Carroll's consistency with that message, and the way it is emphasized in practice every day through drills and messaging, are somewhat unique even among NFL teams.
"Everybody talks about it," said offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who has worked for five other NFL teams. "Every team I've ever been on talks about it; I think we go above and beyond in terms of the way we teach it, the way it's talked about in front of the room—offense and defense. It's truly a team philosophy. Rather than me just standing up there offensively, it's talked about with the entire group. That's probably a little bit different, so I think we take it a little bit further maybe than other places I've been. It's easy when the emphasis starts at the top, then of course when you're doing it and having success and you're winning, that certainly helps."
With so few turnovers, and with a defense that has 24 takeaways this season, the Seahawks lead the NFL in turnover differential this season at plus-14. And the Seahawks' ability to take the ball away, like their ability to take care of it, spans multiple seasons. Since 2012, the Seahawks' 185 takeaways are tied for second most with Arizona, trailing only Carolina (188). Add the 2011 season to the mix, and Seattle's 216 takeaways over the past eight seasons are tied for the most in the league with New England. And Seattle's plus-73 turnover differential since 2012 ranks second to New England (plus-78) and is well ahead of third place on that list (Kansas City at plus-42). It's hardly a coincidence that the top two teams in terms of point differential since 2012, again by a large margin, are New England (plus-1,066) and Seattle (plus-813).
And while Seattle's dominant defenses deservedly received a lot of credit over the years for all they did to contribute to the team's success, including forcing a lot of turnovers, the offense's ability to protect the ball has all been a huge factor, and that has never been more evident than this year.
"We're doing a really good job of protecting the football and also making a lot of plays while doing that," said Wilson, who has matched his career high with 34 touchdowns while throwing a career-low six interceptions. "Guys are making touchdown catches all over the field, guys are running the ball really well as well. I think to play winning football, you've got to be able to execute with the football. It's all about the ball as coach says. Every day matters. We focus on that everyday all the way from OTAs and how we prepare with that, all the way to when we're just throwing in the offseason, to obviously big games and big matchups. It's about being smart with the football and being strategic with it."
Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Cardinals as the two teams get ready to face off during Week 18 at State Farm Stadium.