The 2012 Seahawks defense raised a high bar while simultaneously creating lofty expectations.
That defense allowed the fewest points in the NFL, 245, which was also a franchise record for a 16-game season.
And with almost every key player returning for 2013, the defense was a critical reason the Seahawks were a popular pick to win the NFC West and contend for the Super Bowl.
Still, there were questions as the season neared — would the additions to the defensive line fit in and add the pass rush lacking in a few crucial situations in 2012? Would new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn be able to pick up where Gus Bradley left off? Would the linebacking corps be as dynamic without Leroy Hill and the likes of K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin adjusting to new roles?
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As the Seahawks prepare to face the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at 1:05 p.m. at CenturyLink Field in a game that can give them the NFC West title and the No. 1 seed throughout the NFC playoffs, the verdict — in the eyes of the players themselves — is in.
“This is the best defense I’ve ever been on,’’ said end and defensive team captain Red Bryant, who has been with the Seahawks since 2008. “Last year was a great defense, too. I just think our personnel is a little bit different with (linemen) Mike Bennett, Cliff (Avril), Tony (McDaniel), guys who are stars in their own right. What we have on front on defense, it’s the best I’ve ever played with.”
Safety Earl Thomas agrees.
“Just from the beginning of this year, we are light years ahead of where we were,” he said. “And that’s crazy because last year we were a good defense, and the beginning of this year we were a good defense. But now I think we are a great defense.”
They certainly looked the part last week, shutting out the New York Giants 23-0 to improve to 12-2 and set up a date with destiny against the Cardinals.
The formula for the Seahawks on Sunday is simple — beat the Cardinals, and the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs is theirs.
And Thomas says what Seattle can earn against the Cardinals is all they ever really wanted out of the regular season.
“Our goal wasn’t to be undefeated,’’ he said. “Our goal was to just win the West, get home-field advantage, and then go after the big thing (the Super Bowl). That’s our goal. That’s our mindframe.’’
They are getting there now on the backs of a defense that statistically is living up to the claim of Bryant and Thomas to be the best Seattle has ever had — if not among the best in recent NFL history.
Seattle leads the NFL in fewest points allowed with 205, 14.6 per game, roughly a point better than the 15.3 average of last season.
The Seahawks also lead the NFL in fewest yards allowed at 3,912, or 279.5 per game, better than the franchise record of 286.4 set in 1992.
Each number comes in a season when offenses in the NFL are setting records for points and yards — the NFL reported this week that more yards are being gained this season than at any time in the league’s history (a combined 703.2 per game, better than the 694.4 of 2012), and that teams have combined to score 1,190 TDs, the most to this point in any NFL season (1,136 in 2012 the previous high).
So maybe a more relevant comparison is that Seattle’s current points per game average would be the sixth-best of the last 10 years if the Seahawks can maintain their pace in the final two contests.
Informed this week of some of Seattle’s numbers, Bryant smiled and said, “I don’t really think about stats. But those are good stats to be a part of and be associated with.’’
No defense, of course, is infallible, and it was just a week ago that the Seahawks were still feeling the frustration of having allowed a late 51-yard run by Frank Gore that cost them a win at San Francisco.
Thomas, though, said what sets this defense apart is that it continually learns from its mistakes.
“We are very energetic, passionate to get better,’’ Thomas. “And we are just having fun, people are dancing. If we have a bad performance, it doesn’t define us, man. We just enjoy this process.’’
And if Seattle follows through on the promise it has shown and is someday regarded as among the elite defenses of all time, that’s just fine with Thomas.
“We set out to be the best ever to do it,’’ Thomas said. “So why not go for everything that is out there to go for?’’
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.