RENTON, Wash. — Expectations are so high in the Seattle Seahawks locker room that what’s impressive to others is merely acceptable to them.
In two games, the Seahawks’ swarming defense has surrendered only 10 points, shutting down Carolina and San Francisco. They’ve made Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick look confused, created game-changing turnovers and shown just how much fun it is making the game miserable for others.
And the Seahawks are putting on this defensive show missing at least three expected starters.
“I’m not really impressed,” All-Pro safety Earl Thomas said. “I expected that.”
On a team with offensive stars like Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, Seattle’s defense is deservedly getting praise for what they’ve done to start the season.
The numbers are only likely to get better facing woeful Jacksonville on Sunday, a matchup between the worst total offense in the NFL and the best total defense.
“Watching the defense is just, ‘Wow, how can you make the defense that much better?”’ Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril said.
The Seahawks lead the league in fewest yards allowed and turnovers. Seattle also doesn’t give up big plays, leading the NFL by allowing just two plays of 20-plus yards thus far.
They get especially tough in their half of the field. Of the 19 drives by Carolina and San Francisco, only three of them reached inside Seattle’s 20. One resulted in the only touchdown the Seahawks have allowed — a 3-yard TD pass to Carolina’s Steve Smith — one turned into a San Francisco field goal and the other ended with a deflected pass that landed in Thomas’ hands for his first interception of the season.
According to STATS Inc., Baltimore and Kansas City are the only other teams that have allowed just three red zone drives.
“Just making sure you’re on your keys,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Anybody out of position in the middle of the field, they gain a couple of yards. You do that in the red zone and they score a touchdown. We don’t want anybody scoring touchdowns.”
While they were the best scoring defense in the NFL a season ago, Seattle is playing even more aggressively than before.
That might not seem possible considering the physicality they’ve become known for, especially on the outside. But new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is bringing more pressures and allowing his secondary to play more man defense. It was a move the Seahawks defensive backs lobbied for when Quinn first arrived.
That means All-Pro Richard Sherman and his fellow cornerbacks are typically isolated in one-on-one coverage on the outside. That’s also led to Thomas inching closer to the line of scrimmage even if coach Pete Carroll has noted that maybe he should take a few steps back.
“We have a lot of talented players on the back end. We have a lot of talented players throughout this team. In the back end we felt there was a certain mentality about it,” Sherman said. “We had a phrase, ‘You man up, you stand up.’ We wanted to hold everyone in the back end accountable every single play. We just preached that to (Quinn) that we think we can stand up against basically anybody. And if we can’t, then fair enough, you can adjust the defense accordingly. But until then let us take a chance.”
The grabbing and clutching, that physical pressure the defense puts on receivers especially can border on illegal at times and has drawn the ire of opponents not used to that kind of physicality. Kaepernick insinuated as much earlier this week when he said he believes the Seahawks, “Get away with a lot of things on defense.”
Sherman, of course, had a quick response.
“We got away with three picks, two fumbles, five turnovers. We got away with a 29-3 victory it looked like,” he said. “That’s the way it looked to me.”
The reality for the rest of the league is Seattle’s defense may only get better in the weeks to come. Defensive end Chris Clemons is expected to return in the next two weeks after a major knee injury suffered in January’s playoff win over Washington. Cornerback Brandon Browner has missed the first two games with a hamstring injury and linebacker/defensive end Bruce Irvin will return from his four-game suspension after Seattle’s game at Houston.
“It’s going to be scary,” Wagner said. “Bruce is going to add another level. (Clemons) is going to add another level. Everybody is going to add another level to everything. … Nobody’s going to be able to get on the outside. You’re not going to be able to throw the ball. You’re not going to be able to run the ball. It’s just going to be a great defense to be on.”