PHILADELPHIA – The Seahawks are starting to see the outlines of a best-case scenario that was mostly fantasy and wishful thinking just a couple of weeks ago.
One glorious day, they believe, their suddenly robust defense is going to mesh with a potent offense. And when that happens, the Seahawks see a team that can achieve what heretofore was largely a dream.
Let’s let safety Bradley McDougald explain, still oozing adrenaline from the rush of Sunday’s 17-9 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
“The first time the offense comes out firing on all cylinders, and the defense comes out firing on all cylinders, with the special teams continuing to do what they do, we’re going to be unbeatable. We will be unbeatable,” McDougald said.
“We have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and a defense that can go out and get five turnovers. That’s a recipe for a championship.”
For much of this season, a disruptive, ball-hawking defense was mainly hypothetical for the Seahawks. Oh, the players felt they had the potential to be that, but it had yet to manifest on the field.
But in their past two games, road wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Eagles, the Seahawks have caused mayhem on defense reminiscent of their Legion of Boom glory years. The unit has allowed just two touchdowns and forced eight turnovers in that span.
As coach Pete Carroll said, “We have taken a new step forward.” And: “It’s all out there for us.”
Indeed, McDougald wasn’t the only one alluding to championships. Linebacker K.J. Wright, who played on two Seahawks Super Bowl teams, and the one that won it all, dared to utter the “SB” words.
“This defense can be the best in the league,” he said. “I’m proud of us, man. We’re preaching Super Bowl. I believe this defense is a Super Bowl-caliber defense, a Super Bowl-caliber team, and we can be as good as we want to be.”
As McDougald implied, the Seahawks have displayed only one-dimensional brilliance, for the most part. When their offense has shined, their defense has mostly been pedestrian, and, the past two weeks, vice versa.
That has led to a plethora of close games, but Carroll sees virtue in that, considering they have won most of them. He also said their growing mastery of road games – the Seahawks are 6-0 away from home for the first time in team history – will serve them well.
Though the Seahawks are still alive for the NFC West title and home-field advantage in the playoffs, San Francisco’s dominance of Green Bay on Sunday night shows that is far from a guarantee. With five tough games remaining, their road to the Super Bowl might indeed be, well, on the road.
But it’s the defensive surge the past two weeks that has them most excited. And Carroll said he felt it was a huge boost they did it Sunday without injured defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, whose frenetic performance against the 49ers had been the instigator in that victory.
The Seahawks’ pass rush was just as active without him Sunday, getting three sacks and forcing Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz into a poor effort even before he suffered a hand injury.
“You would have wondered, ‘How are we going to have a pass rush without J.D. (Clowney) after what he did last week?’ And we did,” Carroll said. “This is really, really important for this stretch run, that the defense can start playing like this.”
It was hugely encouraging for the Seahawks that defensive end Ziggy Ansah had by far his most impactful game of the season. Shaquem Griffin, in his second game as a stand-up edge rusher, was a factor as well, forcing a fumble, as did Ansah and Rasheem Green. Quinton Jefferson recovered a fumble and rumbled 20 yards with it.
The Seahawks are showing they can get home in the opponents’ backfield with just a four-man rush, which frees up those behind them to wreak havoc.
“It’s such a big deal,” Carroll said. “It’s such a difference. And we just turned the corner the last two weeks. I couldn’t tell you that last week, because it just happened once. But to come back and see our guys penetrate like that and really be scrapping – we were close a lot.
“I can’t tell you what turned the corner. I would have said J.D.’s contribution last week was really the trigger. But he’s sitting here with me (on the sideline). So the whole group has gotten better.”
Here’s another theory gaining steam in the locker room: Recently acquired free safety Quandre Diggs has helped spark the turnaround. It didn’t go unnoticed that his insertion in the starting lineup against San Francisco has coincided with the defensive renaissance.
“Quandre is the man,” Wright said. “He’s probably the reason we’re doing so good. Ever since he came in, we just flipped the switch and have been playing super-dominant.
“I like playing back there with Q, man. He fits right into what we want to do. He’s talking smack out there. He’s a great tackler. He fits the Seahawks defense. When you have a bad man in the middle of the field, running line to line making big hits, that can make a statement on your defense.”
Diggs’ arrival has also freed McDougald to play strong safety, a position where he’s more comfortable. He had an interception of Wentz on Sunday.
“I think the biggest thing is, I can play free safety, but Diggs IS a free safety,” McDougald said. “That little subtle difference right there is all we need. Let me do my thing, and he does his thing. I think we have a dangerous combination right now.”
So dangerous, in fact, that the Seahawks are starting to think big. Wright marveled about Seattle’s pass rush, noting it “came alive today,” and “when the pass rush gets going, everything else falls into place.”
Could that be a season-changing revelation?
“That’s how you win championships,” Wright replied.