JERSEY CITY, N.J. – You see the big hits. Those are the easy ones. Like the time in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game that safety Kam Chancellor flattened San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis.
But what you don’t often see are the intricacies. What Chancellor calls the dirty work. How about the time in that same NFC title game when San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree got alligator arms on third-and-two after seeing Chancellor lining him up?
“That’s a really good example,” Seattle defensive backs coach Kris Richard said.
Or what about when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick broke free for a 58-yard run?
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Chancellor was chop-blocked on the play, sending him to the ground with an aching back and legs. But he got up and chased Kaepernick down to prevent a touchdown (the 49ers scored four plays later).
“My role on this team is under the radar,” Chancellor said. “And I accept it. I don’t really care about the attention. I love to play this game, and I love to play with my brothers, and I love to play on this team, and I love to win. So as long as we’re winning and I’m doing what I have to do on my part, that’s all that matters to me.”
Chancellor is as physical a safety as there is in the NFL. When he’s on, no one hits like him. And ever since the Seahawks played the Giants in New York five games ago, Chancellor has been on.
After that game in New York, multiple Seahawks said Giants players were talking about Chancellor’s hitting during the game. Against Arizona this season, Chancellor knocked an offensive tackle coming to block him onto his backside.
“You can kind of call me the cleanup man,” Chancellor said. “If somebody misses a tackle, I’m coming. I’m always flying around and taking on linemen. You won’t find strong safeties taking on linemen and putting them on their butt. You won’t find that in this league.”
But Richard, Chancellor’s position coach, doesn’t agree that Chancellor has played better since that game in New York.
“There are so many little things he does away from the obvious big hits,” Richard said. “He’s the cornerstone of our defense. He’s probably been one of the most consistent players for us. Him being where he’s supposed to be actually eliminates a lot of plays without the big-splash hits.”
Richard explained. A big part of Chancellor’s job is simply being in the right position to make those hits.
“A lot of times if the hits are there, he’ll take them,” Richard said. “But if they’re not, then he is in position to take certain plays away, certain runs away.”
Added safety Earl Thomas, “They try to come across the middle, the ball might not even come there because they know Kam is there.”
Questions about Chancellor’s ability in coverage have always hounded him. It’s one of the reasons he fell to the fifth round in 2010, and it is a question this week against Peyton Manning and the Broncos: Will Chancellor be able to hold up in the middle of the field against the Broncos’ no-huddle, pass-happy offense?
“He’s doing more than hitting,” Thomas said. “He’s become complete. In college, I’m pretty sure he was just known for being a big hitter. Now he’s elevating his game to being more than a big hitter.”
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said the Broncos present a unique challenge in the number of plays they run, but not in the formations the Seahawks will have to defend.
“Other teams run a lot of the same packages,” Quinn said. “They just do it with more volume. But Kam certainly brings a real physical element to what we do.”
That’s what Chancellor has to do against the Broncos, too.
“Any time I get a chance to be that enforcer, any time I have a game, I have to bring the enforcer out,” he said. “That’s just me.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org