Sunday’s matchup versus Washington is going to be precarious for the Seahawks. It’s hard to call that defense “vaunted” without Thomas roaming around at free safety.
You won’t see one of his quotes carrying a story trending on Twitter. You won’t see him holding court in the VMAC auditorium, either.
He isn’t an attention seeker. He doesn’t crave the spotlight.
But that’s just Earl Thomas — the Seahawks’ best player.
Sunday’s matchup versus Washington is going to be precarious for Seattle. It’s hard to call that defense “vaunted” without Thomas roaming around at free safety.
Remember what happened when he broke his leg and missed the final quarter of last season? Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer tore the Seahawks’ secondary apart, which cost them the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and led to a dismantling at the hands of Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
I’m not sure how many Seattleites would recognize Thomas walking the streets of our city. He doesn’t have the national profile of a Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman or Michael Bennett.
But anybody who has been paying attention over the past few seasons knows how valuable he is to his team. The Hawks just aren’t the same without him — and I think Sunday will remind people of that.
Earl’s bad hamstring will keep him out of a game for the first time this season. Bradley McDougald will replace him as the starting free safety, and, well, the team certainly hopes he’ll fare better than Steven Terrell did last year.
It was Terrell who took over for Thomas for the final four games of the regular season — and it didn’t go well at all.
The Seahawks were on pace for their fifth straight scoring-defense title when Earl went down. Then the Packers lit them up for 38 points in Week 14, and the Cardinals followed up by dropping 34 two weeks later. It wasn’t all on Terrell, but Earl’s worth was never more prominent.
We’ve seen it numerous times this season, as well. Thomas single-handedly (literally) beat the Rams in Week 5 when he karate-chopped the ball out of Todd Gurley’s hands at the goal line, which resulted in a Seattle touchback after the pigskin hit the pylon. He followed up with an interception later in the game — and, three weeks later, scored on a pick-six in Seattle’s three-point victory over the Houston Texans.
The man is a future Hall of Famer who feasts on game film every day of the week, and is the linchpin of what has been a defensive dynasty for the past 5½ seasons.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll expressed confidence in McDougald, and Bradley has earned that trust to a certain extent. But he also expressed what every Seahawks fan was thinking when it was announced Thomas would be out.
“You’re going to miss Earl just because Earl is Earl,” Carroll said.
I find Thomas to be one of the more fascinating players on this football team. He isn’t a typical “big” personality, but he might be the most candid.
When I asked him about the team-wide discussion before the Seahawks’ decision to stay in the locker room during the national anthem in Tennessee, he said, “It wasn’t very productive.”
And when KJR host Dave Mahler asked him about his dedication to film study, he said he has to be prepared in case he ends up playing for another team.
Neither of these statements were particularly controversial, but they go against the grain of most athletes these days. Thomas doesn’t go out of his way to make sure the whole world knows his thoughts, but he’s about as honest as can be if you seek his opinion.
So as a tribute to Earl’s transparency, I’ll try to be equally honest: The Seahawks are going to miss him Sunday.
This is just a hamstring injury, so there’s no reason for long-term panic.
But except for Russell Wilson, there is no player more critical to the Seahawks’ success than Thomas.
There have been a couple of examples demonstrating vulnerability within the Seahawks’ defense this year — as the numbers Marcus Mariota and Deshaun Watson posted on them indicate. And Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is just as capable of picking them apart.
There is still an array of players on Seattle’s D that opposing general managers would love to poach. From Sherman, to Bennett, to Bobby Wagner, to Sheldon Richardson to Kam Chancellor, to K.J. Wright — this team is brimming with Pro Bowl talent.
But there is only one Earl Thomas. He’s not the loudest, but if we’re talking about safeties, he is the best.