January 11, 2013 in Sports

Thomas a Seahawks safety valve

His speed essential for making Seahawks pass defense work
John Boyle Everett Herald
 
Associated Press photo

Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas (29)
(Full-size photo)

RENTON, Wash. - When Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III launched a deep pass in the direction of Pierre Garcon last weekend, he very well may have underthrown the pass slightly because he was pushing off on an injured right knee, which could explain why Seahawks safety Earl Thomas ended up intercepting the pass.

It’s also entirely possible, however, that Griffin simply didn’t consider the fact that Thomas, who was in the middle of the field when the ball left his hands, could possibly cover enough ground to be a factor in the play. But Thomas, as he has done so many times in his three seasons in Seattle, turned on the jets and got from point A to point Big Play in ridiculously short order. The result was an interception that helped keep momentum on Seattle’s side, setting up the field goal that would pull Seattle to within one point at halftime.

“He makes an impact on a lot of different plays,” said cornerback Richard Sherman. “His speed and his athleticism are something you can’t train, you can’t teach. It’s what makes him one of the best.”

And it isn’t just Thomas’ teammates who recognize him as one of the best. Thomas was names to the NFC’s Pro Bowl team for the second year in a row, has been named to a couple of unofficial All-Pro teams already, and it would not be remotely surprising to see his named an All-Pro when the Associated Press names its team Saturday morning.

When teams prepare to face running backs, receivers or quarterbacks with elite speed, you often hear coaches or defensive players say something along the lines of, “It’s hard to practice for that kind of speed.” That’s the effect Thomas can have on opposing quarterbacks.

“Talking to our quarterbacks, they say some of the coverage concepts that we use, they say even though they think some of the routes should be there, because of his speed they’re not,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “They’re just really aware where he’s at. Talking to Russell (Wilson) and Matt (Flynn), those are the conversations that we have about Earl.”

While Thomas was never playing poorly this season, he didn’t show up as much on the stat sheet early this year as he had in his first two seasons, in part, as he liked to point out, because he kept dropping potential interceptions. The ball has come his way a bit more of late, which led to an interception return for a touchdown against Buffalo last month and the key interception in last week’s playoff opener.

“He really did play really well the last couple of weeks,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “He was on the mark on every opportunity the last couple of weeks, and he has tackled real well coming out of the secondary with stuff underneath. I think his game is really to me the best it’s been at this time, and most consistent I think, and he’s feeling the best about it, and he’s really on it. It’s pretty hard to get the ball downfield with him back there.”

With the Seahawks set to face one of the league’s best passing attacks in Atlanta on Sunday, they’ll need Thomas’ range and coverage ability more than ever. And with the stakes higher and the opponent poised to put stress on Seattle’s secondary, Thomas is ready to keep making plays.

“It’s the playoffs and I just told myself I want to challenge the quarterback as much as possible throughout the whole game,” said Thomas, who had three regular season interceptions, brining his career total to 10. “The whole year I’ve been playing deep, deep, deep, but now I’m like five yards from the linebackers. If they see me that far up, they think they can throw the deep ball. It’s a cat and mouse game out there, but I’m definitely trying to up my game and put as much pressure on the quarterback as possible.

“In the big games, big-time players step up, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

As much as Seattle’s oversized cornerbacks have gotten a lot of attention these past two years, and for good reason, Thomas is the player, as much as anyone, who makes one of the league’s best defenses click. One of the reasons Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman can play so aggressively in press coverage is that they know they have one of the NFL’s fastest players protecting the middle of the field behind them.

“He’s an invaluable member of this defense,” Sherman said. “None of this would work without any of us, but it definitely wouldn’t work without him.”

Lynch probable

Marshawn Lynch missed two days of practice with a foot injury, but the running back was back on the practice field Friday, and is probable to play Sunday. Asked what it would take for Lynch not to play Sunday, Carroll said, “I don’t know, miss the flight? He’s fine, he’ll be all right.”

Another big part of the offense listed as probable is receiver Sidney Rice, who did not show up on the injury report until he missed Friday’s practice because of a knee injury.

Cornerback Byron Maxwell is doubtful because of a hamstring injury, and safety Jeron Johnson is questionable, also with a hamstring injury.

Washington tackle fined for Sherman altercation

Trent Williams, the Washington tackle who hit Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in the face with an open-handed slap/face shove after Sunday’s game, has been fined $7,875 by the league. Williams issued an apology after the game, and according to Sherman he also texted an apology right after the game. Sherman wrote on Twitter Sunday night that there were no hard feelings between the two.

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