NEWARK, N.J. – Marshall Faulk, the former NFL running back, offered a compliment the Seattle secondary will gladly take.
“They’re old school,” Faulk said. “It’s funny that you can be old school in this new league where you can’t touch a receiver, in a sense.”
Then, in the same thought, he raised an issue that has trailed the Seahawks’ cornerbacks and safeties this season.
“Part of what they do is they really dare the referee to throw the flag,” Faulk said. “It’s almost guaranteed that if the referee throws the flag, they’re going to hold or grab on the next play because you rarely see two (pass-interference penalties) called back to back.”
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The Seahawks have been the best defense against the pass in part because their cornerbacks have been so good. “Everything about our defense runs through our corners,” Seahawks safety Chris Maragos said.
But the Seahawks have also faced criticism and questions for how physical they play. Jim Harbaugh, Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks and The Wall Street Journal have all claimed the Seahawks get away with plays that should be penalties.
White, a receiver for the Falcons, praised Seattle’s secondary on the NFL Network but he also said, “They have perfected holding.”
One of the common themes in the week leading up to the Super Bowl has been just that: Do the Seahawks get away with more than they should?
“I think that’s people whining and complaining about the fact that they’re not used to it,” Maragos said. “They’re not used to guys jamming them. They can’t just run free and run their routes the way they want to, so it feels like they’re getting held. But the reality of it is they have a really, really tough defense against them.”
Said coach Pete Carroll, “Any opinion of that is, I think, somebody trying to figure out a way to beat us.”
Carroll said he teaches the Seahawks to play the same way he taught his corners as North Carolina State’s defensive coordinator in the early 1980s. That in itself is an interesting idea. While the rules have continued to favor offenses and receivers, Carroll said his style hasn’t changed much.
The Seahawks rely on their big corners — Richard Sherman is 6 feet 3, Byron Maxwell is 6-1 and Walter Thurmond is 5-11 but has long arms — to disrupt a play’s timing.
“Seattle has taken things and flipped it on its head,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. “You have longer corners who aren’t necessarily the fastest guys in the world, but they can make plays because of length that we haven’t had in the league in a while.
“We’ve gone to the smaller corners after the bump rule came into effect in the ’70s. The corners you have in Seattle really hark back to that, but they’re playing with the new rules.”
Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin recalled Sherman’s tipped pass in the NFC Championship Game. When Irvin watched the play, he didn’t understand why San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree wasn’t more physical with Sherman.
“What are you doing running side by side with Richard Sherman?” Irvin said. “I’m going to run into Sherman at the 10-yard line knowing I only have 20 yards. I’m going to try to control his ability with my body. I’m going to run toward the contact and not away from the contact. If I run into his contact at 10 yards, that ball can go over my head and I can control all the things he’s able to do.
“Richard Sherman is a great corner in this league because most receivers naturally run away from contact.”
The Seahawks get plenty of attention for their press man-to-man coverage in which they bump receivers at the line of scrimmage. But just as important is how physical Seattle’s corners play down the field.
Receiver Doug Baldwin said Seattle’s defensive backs are taught to be physical through the receiver’s entire route. Partly as a result, the Seahawks led the league in pass-interference penalties in the regular season.
“I don’t think our corners ever turn down,” Seahawks receiver Phil Bates said. “If there’s shoulder bumping in this hotel lobby right here, I don’t think they’ll turn it down.”
But the Seahawks are also cautious. The No. 1 priority for Seattle’s cornerbacks is to not get beat over the top. As long as they limit big plays down the field, Carroll and his staff like their chances.
They’re just willing to be physical while doing it.
“Honestly, I don’t think we hold and grab like that,” Maxwell said. “But if that’s public perception, that’s fine. As long as it’s not getting called on the field.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org