Pete Carroll says Seahawks' blueprint starts with 'eliminating big plays and playing great up front'
INDIANAPOLIS — Ever since the confetti rained down on the Seattle Seahawks following their resounding victory in Super Bowl XLVIII, everyone wants to know what it takes to build a defense as dominant as the group that stifled the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning to just eight points that night.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was happy to indulge, saying, "It really starts with an overall philosophy of how the game works, which is eliminating big plays and playing great up front." The Seahawks allowed just 36 pass plays of 20 yards or more in 2013, the league's best total in that category. Their front four generated 44 sacks, tied for eighth in the NFL.
"If you look at our defense and how well we play down the middle with [safety] Earl [Thomas] back there, and for years it's been that way," Carroll said at a press conference in Indianapolis on Friday. "That's one of the building blocks that you are really good up top and you don't let people score fast, and then also scoring fast with the running game is really important, and then as you move to the front we want to be more and more aggressive, always with speed. And so that is kind of the general way of saying it. But if you don't have a really clear vision of what you are creating then one year it is going to be this and one year it is going to be that. And I think we have a very solid mentality for what we are trying to make with our defensive team."
If the Patriots want to build their defense in that mold, they're off to a decent start; they finished fifth in sacks with 48, but allowed 65 pass plays of 20 yards or more, which ranked 20th in the NFL last year.
That mentality — fast safeties on the back end and a fierce front four — carried the Seahawks through the season, but reached its apex in the Super Bowl. They generated just one sack on the night, but Manning was harassed in the pocket and threw two interceptions while facing pressure, one of which was tipped in the air by an oncoming rush from defensive end Michael Bennett. After averaging 4.8 pass plays of 20 yards or more on the season, the Broncos generated just two such plays against the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
"We didn't change anything," Carroll said. "The things that our guys are really good at, we stayed with it in the hopes that in the ultimate challenge that would give us the best opportunity to perform well, and it worked out quite well for us.''
Teams that are hopeful to mimic the blueprint, though, should proceed with caution. Rangy safeties and a suffocating pass-rush are a great place to start, but the Seahawks have a pair of cornerbacks unlike any other the NFL has seen lately, or will see for some time. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner each stand over 6-foot-3 and weigh over 195 pounds.
The Patriots don't run a "true" bump-and-run scheme in the secondary, although their cornerbacks are asked to hold up in man coverage on a consistent basis. Aqib Talib is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds; Alfonzo Dennard stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 200 pounds.
Thus, Carroll is not worried about teams that may try to target big, physical corners like Sherman and Browner.
"No, because they don't exist," he said. "Big, fast guys are the fewest people around. Everybody would like to get longer, taller guys that run 4.4. But there are just not very many humans like that in the world, you know. So it's rare when you find them and then you have to develop the guys. The perfect guys are not there because there are not tall, exceedingly fast guys other than [Detroit Lions wide receiver] Calvin [Johnson], there are a handful. So you have to make those guys come to life in your coaching and how you adapt your style and your ability to fit it. We've been doing it for a long time and always been looking for longer guys because we have such a commitment to bump-and-run corners. This is nothing new — this goes back 20 years. But it's just rare that you can find them. When we had Brandon and Richard playing, you can't get any longer. Those are the two tallest cornerbacks to play together arguably in the history of the league."
The Seahawks hit the jackpot with their corners, but not without some effort of their own. The coaching staff not only identified the right players, but was able to bring out the best of those players' talents.
There's no guarantee that any team buying the proverbial lottery ticket will hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Teams will certainly try their best to get close to Seattle's blueprint, but a copy-paste job appears unlikely.
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