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Did the Seattle Seahawks remake the NFL with their Super Bowl win?

Feb 3, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT

Peyton Manning,Cliff Avril

“The way the game is today, none of these offensive records will last.” Those are the words of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning after he broke the NFL’s single-season record for touchdown passes back in Week 16. The five-time league MVP even quipped Tom Brady would “probably break it again next year.”

Funny, but there was a hint of truth to those words. Dan Marino’s previous record of 48 touchdown passes set in 1984 stood for 20 years, but has since been broken three times in the last decade—first by Manning, then Brady, and now Manning again, who this time shattered it with 55.

Marino’s single-season record of 5,084 passing yards survived even longer. It took 27 years, but Drew Brees finally raised the bar in 2011. Of course, Brees’ mark stood for all of two years before Manning one-upped it with 5,477 during his historic 2013 campaign.

Both lists read like a who’s who of the great signal-callers in the present-day NFL. Of the 10 times a player has eclipsed 40 touchdowns in a season, half of those occurred in the last three years. Of the eight times a player exceeded 5,000 yards through the air, all but Marino accomplished the feat in the last three years.

It’s a passing league, as analysts like to say, a point Andy Reid rammed home to Philadelphia Eagles fans for 14 years. As maddening as Reid could be, it was difficult to argue which direction the sport was trending through his tenure as head coach of the Birds. All evidence pointed to the NFL being quarterback-driven.

The truly great, dominant defenses were a thing of the past, left for dead because rule changes made things easier for offenses; because the talent pool has been stretched and diluted by expansion; because wide receivers and tight ends were becoming enormous monsters that are impossible to match up against.

Then the Seattle Seahawks came along and won a Super Bowl the old-fashioned way—on the back of a punishing, hard-nosed defense.

The Seahawks didn’t merely win the game, they absolutely demolished Manning’s Broncos, by a final score of 43-8 in case you tuned out early. Manning, who when it’s all said and done might finish his career as the most prolific passer of all time, was limited to 5.7 yards per attempt and was responsible for committing three of his team’s four turnovers.

Not that the outcome was all Manning’s fault—far from it. Denver’s offensive line was no match for the Seahawks’ pass rush, nor would you have guessed the Broncos had hands down the best receiving corps in the league this season given how easily the Seahawks were able to take away everything but short dinks and dunks over the middle.

The loss wasn’t really on Manning at all. Denver’s offense, the No. 1 offense in the NFL this season by almost any meaningful measure—and by a wide margin at that—was completely overmatched by Seattle’s defense in every aspect of the competition.

Until Sunday, when was the last time a team reached the playoffs and went on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy almost entirely on the strength of its defense? Probably the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. That’s the class of defense the Seahawks have entered, in 2013, when some might’ve believed it impossible.

And it was no fluke. Seattle was ranked No. 1 against the pass in 2013, surrendering a paltry 172.0 yards per game during the regular season—22.1 yards per game better than second place. Only two quarterbacks all year threw for over 300 yards in a contest including playoffs, and only seven of 19 opponents even accumulated 200 yards through the air.

Seattle was eighth with 44 sacks, first in interceptions by five with 28, and posted the best opponents’ passer rating was 63.4, the lowest in the league by a whopping 10.8 points—the lowest of any defense since 2009.

So, like we do every year in the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl, we wonder aloud what the Eagles and the rest of the league can learn from the victors, and it boils down to a very simple line of questioning. Have the Seahawks come up with the solution to defeating the modern-day, pass-happy, quarterback-friendly NFL?

Does defense once again win championships?

If Seattle was the only team in the league getting it done with defense right now, that would give us pause, but one look around the NFC tells that’s not the case. The San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers featured two of the toughest defenses this season, and to a lesser extent, the New Orleans Saints did too. All four franchises advanced to the Divisional Round of the tournament. Their combined record was 54-19.

It’s no secret how these great defenses are being built, either. The emphasis is on size and speed at every level, period.

The Seahawks’ D isn’t full of blue-chip prospects as you might suspect, either. Only linebacker Bruce Irvin and safety Earl Thomas were even first-round picks. However, the unit is built to play big and fast. They can run around or through the opponent’s offensive line. They can match up with the offense’s tallest and speediest players. Everybody is physical and they all can tackle.

Although, to suggest any of this changes the Eagles’ blueprints for this coming offseason would be a tad disingenuous. Based on their many of their recent moves, the organization has already started moving toward the Seahawks model.

Head coach Chip Kelly has discussed what he looks for in personnel at certain positions, and those feelings are probably best summed up in one quote: “Big people beat up little people.” And when we dissect what the Birds did in the last two drafts under general manager Howie Roseman, you can see the premium that’s been placed on all-around athleticism.

Since 2012, the Eagles have come away from the draft with Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, Brandon Boykin, Bennie Logan and Earl Wolff. If nothing else, there’s a lot of speed in that group.

Also, just last offseason, the front office signed Connor Barwin, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher to free-agent contracts. The additions provided a boost to the overall size and physicality of a defense that was in abysmal shape before Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis arrived on the scene.

The Eagles need more athletes like the players listed above—a lot more in fact, and in several cases, better. At least it’s a start. In many respects, Philly is ahead of the curve, having won 10 games and earned a playoff berth with major contributions from a young core in what many assumed would be a rebuilding year.

However, it would seem Philadelphia’s 32nd-ranked pass defense still has a long way to before reaching Seattle’s level on defense, or even San Fran, Carolina or New Orleans for that matter. That should be the goal of every team in the league as of today, because those defenses are proving the likes of Peyton Manning and similarly prolific passers in the modern-day NFL can be slowed and in fact shut down.

Apparently, that’s become the way to win again in pro football.

  1. mattcrwi - Feb 3, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    But now every team will be trying to pick up large and fast defensive players and their price will go up…

  2. willh888 - Feb 3, 2014 at 5:15 PM

    Bronco’s game plan was almost as bad as their execution. They looked like the 2012 birds. Couldn’t tackle (best example, Kearse rumbling/spinning into endzone), couldn’t cover, couldn’t complete passes, couldn’t take care of the ball, etc. Their starting RB and leading rusher had FIVE carries. Five. Seattle’s impressive defensive performance didn’t showcase anything too complicated. No blitz happy, wild, confusing schemes. Just rushed 4 hungry linemen, pressed outside receivers, dropped LB’s to take away the under and middle, and let the safety’s shalack everybody who touched a football.

    Best part is it’s the most penalized defense in football. That meanness goes a long way. Take the 15 every now and then and you’ve created that feeling in every receiver that he’s going to pay for touching that football. I also saw lots of Bronco’s doggin’ it.. example: moreno on peyton’s tipped pass, turns into a pick 6. Just stood there and watched. Another special teamer giving up on Harvin’s return. I know the guy is fast but I saw him pull up around the 40. Not only did Seattle play a great game.. their rep seemed to dominate the Bronco’s mentality from beginning to end

    • Tom - Feb 4, 2014 at 9:21 AM

      “Just rushed 4 hungry linemen” worked for the Giants in their last 2 Superbowls.

      • willh888 - Feb 4, 2014 at 10:37 AM

        but the birds have high motor guys, THP-P-P-P-P

  3. James - Feb 3, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    Really, after a year of trashing Russell Wilson not one mention of him now being a Super Bowl winning qb with, a stat that you love, 123 qb rating. I am no Wilson fan, but after a year of calling the guy mediocre eat your crow, and show him some love

    • Andrew Kulp - Feb 3, 2014 at 5:51 PM

      First of all, I never ever called Russell Wilson mediocre, I said he’s overrated. In fact, in many ways, the Super Bowl only reinforced my point that he has benefited from having a great team around him. By the time the score was 29-0 and the game was essentially over, Wilson had managed to lead the offense to just 13 of those points—two FG drives and a TD drive that started in Denver territory. He completed 9 of 14 passes for 94 yards in the first half. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it means he’s pretty far down the list of reasons the Seahawks won the game.

      • James - Feb 3, 2014 at 6:53 PM

        Me-di-o-cre: average, middle of the road, ordinary.

        In a article you wrote on nov 27 you listed qbs you would take over Nick Foles

        The list goes as such
        Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Stafford, Ryan, Newton, Flacco, Rothlisberger, Luck, Rvers, Romo, RG3

        With Foles going over Wilson

        Putting Wilson,at your estimation 15th out of 32 at best. Right at that average mark.

        Again I’m not a huge fan of the guy but in 2 seasons he has a qb rating of over 100 each season, a 28-9 record and now a Super Bowl win. You may not like the way the guy plays, but he does nothing but make big plays, and win. He’s a lot better than you give him credit for.

      • Andrew Kulp - Feb 3, 2014 at 7:17 PM

        Not sure where you came about that definition of mediocre, but Merriam-Webster’s definition is: of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance. I believe that to be the accepted meaning.

        But yeah, I do think Russell Wilson, at this stage of his career, is a middle-of-the-road NFL quarterback, to use one of your definitions. It has nothing to do with whether I “like” the way he plays. All my argument boils down to is he’s a) a game manager, which there is really no disputing, because that’s all Seattle asks him to be and b) he’s short, which leads me to believe he would be exposed on a lesser team that demanded more from their quarterback.

        Russell Wilson having a high passer rating is not quite as impressive when you take into account he ranks 22nd in attempts, and would be a few spots lower were it not for injuries and other irregularities. And using a team’s win-loss record isn’t necessarily the greatest barometer for a quarterback because it’s a team measure–case in point, he gets a win for the Super Bowl even though he barely did anything until after the game was well in hand. I mean, friggin Tim Tebow is 9-5 as a starter.

        I think Wilson is a very good, safe quarterback, and he works for Seattle right now, but when I say I would take those other guys over him (and the list might look a little different today than it did then), I am projecting what I think he would be compared to those players if all things were somehow equal. I said at the time that’s my opinion, and if he goes on to become a prolific passer or take-charge signal-caller, then I’ll admit I am wrong.

        But no, I don’t accept this notion that he is some kind of hero now because the Seahawks won the Super Bowl with one of the top defenses of the last 20 or 30 years. I don’t credit him for that quite the same way I would any of the other active guys who have won one.

      • James - Feb 3, 2014 at 8:01 PM

        The definition in Webster also says ordinary or so-so. I can’t blame you for leaving that out, I did the same thing to prove a point. Rothlisberger is a guy I would say is very comparable. Remember Harrison returning a fumble for a 14 point swing before the half? Game manager who had a good defense, but made plays when he had to, and won. Wison made a great play on 3rd and forever in the NFC championship game for a touchdown that gave them the win. You can say take away this or that from any player on a team and he wouldn’t be as good. Would Foles have been as good this year if McCoy was not on the team? Seriously Tim Tebow, your reaching

      • Andrew Kulp - Feb 3, 2014 at 8:51 PM

        I used Tim Tebow to demonstrate how some statistics are meaningless without context. Maniacs used the exact same argument about Tebow’s record as a starter that you just made with Russell Wilson, and it was only slightly less absurd given the point I’m trying to make, which is he’s partly a product of the talent around him. But I digress.

        You think Russel Wilson is comparable to Ben Roethlisberger based on a handful of games and because their circumstances were somewhat similar early in Ben’s career? To me, that right there is the problem with this conversation.

        Roethlisberger has tools Wilson simply does not. Big Ben is an imperfect quarterback for sure, but at 6’5″, stick him on any team behind any offensive line, and I’m confident he’ll be able to stand in the pocket, see the field over the pass rush, and deliver the football while absorbing a big hit. His presence in the backfield makes any team an instant playoff contender. Plus, Roethlisberger has long since shed the label of game manager. He’s been top 10 in passing yards per game in four of the past five seasons, and was much more instrumental in his second Super Bowl win, throwing an amazing game-winning touchdown.

        Sure, Wilson can extend plays with his legs, but we’ve seen firsthand with Mike Vick how that works out when it becomes out of necessity on virtually every dropback. Now Wilson is already far more polished than Vick ever was, but the fact is it’s difficult to consistently win games that way. He doesn’t have to in Seattle because they’re usually in the lead and attempted the second fewest passes in the NFL this season. If the two players switched places though, the Seahawks probably still play in the Super Bowl, while I’m not sure Wilson would’ve lasted the year trying to keep the Steelers in games every week behind that offensive line.

        Again, I am projecting. Maybe I am wrong, and he truly does break the mold. But I can’t look at what he’s done in Seattle and make a compelling argument Wilson makes ANY team a contender quite the way somebody like Roethlisberger does. There isn’t really data to support that, while there is years upon years upon years of data on undersized quarterbacks like Wilson struggling in anything less than ideal conditions.

        I don’t know how many more ways I can explain my position on this. Russell Wilson is a game manager, and a damn good one at that, but I personally just do not view him as more than that.

      • ochospantalones - Feb 4, 2014 at 1:14 AM

        How long will Russell Wilson have to play highly effective, injury-free football before you accept that not all good quarterbacks have to be 6’5″? You seem to think Roethlisberger is much better, but big and strong as he is he plays through injuries more or less constantly. Wilson on the other hand has done a remarkable job or avoiding the big hits Roethlisberger takes regularly. I understand why if this were the scouting combine you would favor the bigger player, but we now have two full regular seasons and two playoff runs to show Russell Wilson is an excellent player.

        A relatively low number of pass attempts does not automatically make someone a “game manager”. To me, a game manager is someone who largely makes low risk throws. Russell Wilson is 3rd in the league in yards per attempt and 4th in touchdown passes per attempt. That doesn’t sound like a game manager, it sounds like a highly productive player. I guess if he attempted 187 more passes at 4.83 yards per attempt and got two more touchdowns out of it (that would make his numbers match Roethlisberger’s) you would be more impressed, but it is hard to see why. You also seem to think Wilson only ever plays with a lead. According to pro football reference he was tied for 2nd in Comebacks with 4, and 1st in Game Winning Drives with 5. Last year he was tie for 3rd in both categories. I’m even old enough to remember the 2012 post-season when Seattle fell behind the Redskins 14-0 and then won, and then fell behind Atlanta 20-0 before Wilson led them to a 28-27 lead in the 4th quarter.

        I also think the idea that Wilson has played continuously in ideal conditions is bizarre. His receivers other than Harvin (who wasn’t on the team last year and effectively didn’t play this year except for the Super Bowl) are mediocre at best. He has a pretty good running back, but his offensive line had major injuries throughout the regular season. None of Seattle’s O-Line played 16 games. One player started 15. Russell Okung, their star left tackle, played 8 games. Ultimately, Russell Wilson was their best offensive player all season. Marshawn Lynch averaged 4.2 yards per carry, which is 23rd in the league for players with over 100 carries.

        Basically, I don’t understand how being short transforms the best offensive player on a 13-3 team that won the Super Bowl into a game manager. At some point on-field production has to outweigh the scouting report.

    • dialectician - Feb 4, 2014 at 4:45 PM

      Have to agree with Andrew on this. Wilson is a highly competent game manager. But he’s not remaking the game of football. Long term, would much rather have Andrew Luck or Cam Newton. Or maybe even Nick Foles.

  4. thoughtsontherightwingmedia - Feb 3, 2014 at 6:36 PM

    “Until Sunday, when was the last time a team reached the playoffs and went on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy almost entirely on the strength of its defense? Probably the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.”

    Don’t forget the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs. I think their defense scored more than their offense that year.


  5. James - Feb 5, 2014 at 1:15 AM

    Go seattle! Congratulations on a magnificent win, fans show your support here

  6. dubeedubeedu - Feb 5, 2014 at 9:46 AM

    James claims “I am no Wilson fan”, and “Again I’m not a huge fan of the guy”. Then posts this ^. No not much of a fan.

    • James - Feb 5, 2014 at 3:25 PM

      Different James, it’s a pretty common name. I’m an eagles fan, would never give a link to Seahawks anything.


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