We’ve seen Jamal Adams wow fans and teammates with his blitzing and playmaking. We’ve seen Lano Hill smash fullbacks and L.J. Collier make game-saving tackles.
We’ve seen Quinton Dunbar and Quandre Diggs pick off quarterbacks, and Shaquill Griffin deny receivers.
But let’s be clear about one thing: This is Bobby Wagner’s defense.
Concerns about the Seahawks’ D have arisen over the past two games despite two victories, especially with injuries to linebacker Bruce Irvin and safety Marquise Blair. Patriots quarterback Cam Newton was able to carve them up for 397 passing yards last Sunday, and the Seahawks are last in yards allowed per game.
But there has been one paragon of consistency for the Seahawks on that side of the ball — a future Hall-of-Fame middle linebacker at the top of his game. Russell Wilson is getting his due praise on offense for the Seahawks, but Wagner deserves similar credit for his contributions.
“He’s pretty unique. He’s pretty special. He puts in the work … first one in the building, last one out,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “Great with his note-taking and his classroom skills. He knows how to turn his information that he acquires during the week into playmaking on the field.”
Case in point: The final play of the Seahawks’ 35-30 win over New England last Sunday. Wagner’s impact was twofold. First, as Collier and others have noted, he correctly guessed what the Patriots were going to do in the huddle and properly set his teammates up. Second, he was able to force New England guard Shaq Mason to block him, thus clearing the way for Collier to make the tackle.
Wagner’s name wasn’t one that popped up on the Twitterverse immediately after that goal-line stop. But upon closer inspection, he was the MVP of that particular play.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising to those who have watched the six-time Pro Bowl selection over the years. Last season, the 30-year-old was one of four players to earn the prestigious 99 rating on the Madden NFL football game. And though that score would suggest that Wagner didn’t have much room for improvement, he would beg to differ.
One area the Utah State product honed this offseason was his pass defense. It’s not that this was a glaring hole in his game, but maybe more like a freckle on an otherwise blemish-free face.
After two passes defensed in the season opener in Atlanta, even that weapon in his arsenal seems to have elevated toward the top of the league.
“I thought the first week was the best game he’s ever played in pass defense,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s had more tight coverage, more breakups, good hits and stuff, because he’s seeing routes and concepts well, using the coverage well. It seems like this is the best he’s been, which is understandable because you keep getting better as you go.”
Wagner isn’t about to disagree.
“I think I’ve obviously been able to get my hands on a little bit more footballs,” he said. “I feel like every offseason you go into the offseason figuring out what part of your game you can improve, and I felt like that was something that I want to improve on, so I worked on it.”
If the Seahawks win a division title or make a Super Bowl run, it’s likely going to be because their offense outclassed the rest of the NFL. But the defense is going to have to have its moments, too, and with Wagner lining up on that side of the ball, a critical stop is never far away.