Everybody knows the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. They are widely considered to be one of the best defenses in the history of football. They were so good, Trent Dilfer could play quarterback and they could win a Super Bowl. The Seahawks defense has started to be discussed as one of the great units in the NFL, and potentially even historic. The immediate reaction to seeing they surrendered 20 first half points and 476 yards of offense to the Texans is that they are not as good as advertised. There is a case to be made that their performance should raise expectations, not lower them.
Even that Ravens defense had days like what the Seahawks saw on Sunday. The second game of the 2000 season saw the Mark Brunell-led Jacksonville Jaguars pile up 421 yards and a 17-0 lead. The final game of that season had Vinny Testeverde throw for 481 yards while his team piled up 524 yard total and take a 14-0 lead. The Ravens won both of those games. A defense that allowed just over 10 ppg, gave up 20 or more three times that year. Baltimore won all three.
The Seahawks defense had moments of trial just a year ago. Five times, the team had a slim fourth quarter lead on the road. Four times, they could not pass the test. A team that prides itself on finishing was not living the words. The point could not have been driven home any more painfully than seeing their season end in such a manner.
Twice so far in 2013, the Seahawks have needed to hold their opponent down at the end to win the game. Twice they have succeeded. Sundays win over Houston could not have been a more emphatic statement that this defense is no longer a late-game liability. They went beyond proving that point and notched their first true defensive win.
Of course there are three parts of each team, but their contribution to victory varies from week-to-week. Take a look at what Seattle's defense did against the Texans:
· Red zone interception (3-7 points)
· Forced fumble and recovery deep in Texans territory (3 points)
· Interception return for touchdown to tie game (7 points)
· Held Texans to 53 yards on 16 carries for a 3.3 YPC in the second half and OT
· Held Texans to 99 yards passing, including all four of their sacks for -30 yards in the second half and OT
· Held Texans to 152 total yards for a 3.6 yards per play average in the second half and OT
· Kept Houston from scoring on eight straight possessions after halftime
· Got the crowd to boo their own team while they were still ahead
Pete Carroll loves to talk about how important the finish is, and to put less emphasis on the start. Never has a better case been made to illustrate his point. The 324 yards in the first half and the ugly 476 yards of total offense said so much less about this defense than what they did after the half. If getting torched by an opponent on the road results in 20 points, Seahawks fans should rejoice. Only seven teams allowed an average of less than 20 ppg in 2012.
Seattle may need to win with their defense again. The offense is pock-marked with injuries, and has yet to find a stride. The offense, though, has proved that it will come back if given the opportunity. It was the defense that needed to prove their mettle. Not prove it to fans or pundits. Not even prove it to coaches or their teammates on offense. They needed to prove it to themselves. The difference between confidence and hope is proof. Seahawks defenders no longer need to hope they can hold down a good offense in the clutch. They have done it.
It was also a good reminder for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. 'Tis better to lose with a sword in your hand than a shield. He traded zone coverage and four-man pressure in the first half for man coverage and more blitzes in the second. He has hunters now. They are only useful when set upon their prey.
This week may well see the first time that Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett are all able to take the field. Jordan Hill should be back soon and provide some rotational value. Clinton McDonald is a man possessed. The best defense in the NFL is getting closer to full strength, and now they know how to close out a game in hostile environments. You can take your 476 yards of offense and 20 first-half points. We will take the best defense in football.