It's hard to replace an elite talent like Earl Thomas, and it becomes easy to notice his absence when the Cardinals hit on some big plays.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was blunter than usual in his assessment of safety Steven Terrell: “When you give up a post route, you don’t play very well,” he said. “That’s not good enough. That’s an 80-yard play or whatever the heck it was. It’s pretty fundamental for us.”
It is also a play the Seahawks so rarely experienced with safety Earl Thomas patrolling the final line of the defense. It was inevitable that, at some point, the Seahawks would miss Thomas, one of the elite safeties in the NFL.
His replacement, Terrell, knew he couldn’t replace Thomas, who relied so much on instinct and experience. Terrell just wanted to be in the right place, at the right time. And for the most part, he had done a pretty good job of that.
But Saturday felt like the first game in which Thomas’ absence was truly, undeniably missed. The Cardinals hit on an 80-yard touchdown in the first half on a play in which receiver J.J. Nelson blew past cornerback Jeremy Lane and Terrell to score.
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Terrell didn’t go over the top in time on that play, and on a few other occasions Terrell couldn’t limit plays from turning into big gains.
Carroll was unusually blunt in his assessment of Terrell’s performance. And Terrell, for his part, shouldered the blame: “It’s my fault,” Terrell said. “I wasn’t deep enough. I’ve got to seal the post. It was man coverage, I was in the middle of the field. That not on Lane. That’s on me.”
The Seahawks demand two absolutes from their free safety. At the most simplified level, the marching orders are: Don’t give up big plays. “Just own your seams and own your posts,” linebacker K.J. Wright said last week. “That’s all we ask.”
Terrell had done a solid job of that, but he had also shown cracks. Last week, against the Rams, Terrell read a play wrong and let a receiver get behind him for a deep touchdown. A drop bailed him out.
Thomas did so much more than eliminate posts and seams. He flew across the middle to deliver big hits because his instincts and experience allowed him to. He choked off big run plays before they turned explosive. He covered as much ground as any safety in the NFL. The most accurate description of Thomas came from one of his old teammates, who called Thomas the Seahawks’ “fire extinguisher.” He eliminated plays before they ever happened.
It was always unfair to expect Terrell to be Thomas, and even Terrell knew it.
“You can’t really fill those shoes,” he said last week.
The hope was that Terrell could minimize the damage, but on Sunday the inevitable happened.
“This was a rough one for me today,” he said, “but you’ve got to learn from it.”