At the conclusion of Sunday’s dismantling of the Denver Broncos, Seahawks linebacker Malcom Smith stepped onto the weird post-Super Bowl stage and accepted the MVP award for the game. Smith had an awesome game, returning a pick 69 yards for touchdown, recovering a fumble and racking up nine tackles. But they might as well have given the MVP to the entire defense, as it’s been an amazing group all year long.
Sunday’s bloodbath made Peyton Manning’s remarkable offensive year seem besides the point and it really makes it seem like we’re finally seeing the tide turn in the NFL. After 10 years of getting the West Coast offense shoved down our throats thanks to aggressively shackling of defenses, we’re finally back to an era where defenses define the sport.
The NFC and in particular, the NFC West, is where the trend is really on display. Three of the top seven teams live in the West and have been busy beating the crap out of each other. The only team to beat the Seahawks at home in two years is the massively improving Arizona Cardinals, who boasted a great defense. The Niners also featured a dynamic defense, they ranked third in football after the Carolina Panthers and Seahawks and when they got a few of their key defenders back on the field at the end of the season, they amped it up. The Niners were playing best in the league down the stretch and who knows how that amazing NFC Championship game would have turned out if the Niners had home field. A rematch between the teams would have been much more intriguing instead of watching Denver fall apart.
Any of the top four defensive teams (Seahawks, Niners, Carolina and Saints) in the NFC would have cleaned the Broncos’ clocks on Sunday. Many had criticized Russell Wilson’s quarterback play down the stretch. But he faced some of the toughest defensives in the league late in the season and in the playoffs. Having to face the Niners’ Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, NaVarro Bowman and the likes will make any good young quarterback look average, if not worse.
The Seahawks defense was beyond super all season. On Sunday they took it to another level by getting pressure on Broncos offense from the first snap. The heart of the defense is its secondary and they took away anything deep and left only short passes that ended up getting defended immediately. And then the defensive line just bullrushed Peyton, leading to a couple of the famous ‘ducks’ that Richard Sherman pointed out this past week.
Coach Pete Carroll is a deep thinker about defense, and there are a couple remarkable deep dives into how he thinks about implementing the plan and his approach to the game. “There is no offensive play calling or defensive scheme that is going to win national championships for you,” Carroll stated at a Nike coaching clinic from a few years back. “It is how you can adapt and adjust to making the schemes work. The only way you can do that is to have a strong belief system. If you can’t say what your philosophy is or tell others what you believe in then you don’t have a philosophy.”
Looks like his philosophy reigns in the NFL.