When the Seahawks turned in another impressive defensive effort in a 30-13 Week 15 win over the Cleveland Browns, safety Kelcie McCray led the team in tackles with eight. Cornerback Marcus Burley, meanwhile, registered a third-down sack that ended a promising Cleveland drive early in the fourth quarter, then helped put the game on ice with an interception on Cleveland's final possession.
What is most notable about those two big performances is the fact that, had the Seahawks been fully healthy, there's a good chance neither would have been on the field on defense.
McCray, who has been one of Seattle's best special teams players since being acquired in a September trade with Kansas City, was starting in place of an injured Kam Chancellor, while Burley, who was Seattle's nickel cornerback earlier this season, but has battled for time there both with Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead since returning from a broken thumb, was back in that role with Lane moving outside to replace Shead at right cornerback, as Shead was being rested because of an ankle injury.
A common refrain you hear from athletes and coaches is that a team is only as strong as its weakest link, and the Seahawks goal in the secondary, like everywhere else, is to not have any weak links. And with Seattle's depth being tested late in the season, a common issue faced by any NFL team, they still got very strong play out of their secondary, limiting the Browns to 13 points and 230 yards.
"It's just good for them to get their opportunities, and they're taking full advantage of it," safety Earl Thomas said. "You see Burley make a great interception with a cast on his hands… We don't have any weak links. We always talk about everybody has to be prepared, and that's what's happening."
When the Seahawks made the move to acquire McCray before the start of the season, it was largely because of how much they liked what he can on special teams—and he has come through in a big way in that area, recording a team-high 12 special teams tackles—but also because they saw him as a player who could help them at safety should a need arise, as it did in Baltimore when Chancellor went down in the first quarter with a pelvis injury.
"Kelcie getting another good game, that's back-to-back good solid games for him," Carroll said. "That just helps us. We're always going to miss Kam, but it was great that Kelcie stepped up and did a good job."
Burley, another player acquired in preseason trade, coming from Indianapolis last season, has, like McCray, been a big contributor on special teams, and has also played well as Seattle's nickel corner when asked to play that role over the past two seasons. With the way Burley has played there when healthy this season, and with the flexibility shown by Lane and Shead to play inside and out, the Seahawks feel like they have a lot of depth and flexibility in their secondary despite the free-agent signing of Cary Williams not working out and despite having Tharold Simon and Mohammed Seisay, another preseason trade acquisition, on injured reserve.
"It does work out well," Carroll said. "Marcus played very well for us. He did a really good job, tackled well, made some cool plays in the game. Having that kind of flexibility is a benefit for us."
The Seahawks hope to have Chancellor and everyone else available going forward, but Sunday's performance against the Browns was a reminder of the depth Seattle has in its secondary should it need to call on it again.
"Obviously playing without Kam, it's going to be a big deal," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "You're going to have some things to deal with. I think Lane played a great game, I think Kelcie McCray played a great game, and I think the other guys kept their standard."
See the Seahawks close-up with these sideline portraits from their Sunday faceoff against the Cleveland Browns, which ended with a 30-13 win that secures the home team a spot in playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.