Seahawks DE Chris Clemons strips Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick last month in Toronto. (Toronto Sun photo)
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CARROLL’S SEATTLE ‘D’ JUST LIKE THOSE AT U.S.C. — ‘TO THE LETTER’
ASHBURN, Va. – This is how Pete Carroll won big at USC last decade.
Forget all those highlight-reel glamour boys on offence – the Carson Palmers, Matt Leinarts, Reggie Bushes and Dwayne Jarretts, who scored all those touchdowns, won the Heismans and got the free … well, never mind about that.
Rather, Carroll won 84% of his games from 2001-09 mostly by unleashing super-athletic, in-your-face, swaggerin’, stylin’, playmaking defenders at all positions, and in aggressive schemes.
Lo and behold, three years after having bolted probation-destined Southern Cal for Seattle, Carroll has his Seahawks defence similarly terrorizing the NFL.
The Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the league – 15.3, which was 7.5 below the league average – and also ranked fourth in total defence (306 yards per game allowed), sixth against the pass (203), 10th against the run (103), eighth in quarterback sacks (36.0) and tied for fourth in takeaways (31).
On Sunday, Carroll’s 11-5 Seahawks step into the playoff spotlight. They visit the 10-6 Washington Redskins in the last of four weekend wild-card games (4:30 p.m. EST, CTV/FOX).
“All of that time (at USC) had to do with what we’re doing now,” Carroll said this week. “The building, the process, and getting my philosophy and my approach tight and together. And at ’SC, with all the winning we did there, I had a chance to really, I think, hone the message.
“Now we’ve come here and done exactly that – to the letter what we did there, in our approach, thinking and everything. Fortunately, here we’re in a pretty good spot right now.”
With the Seahawks offence also cruising now behind rookie phenom quarterback Russell Wilson and “Beast Mode” running back Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks enter the playoffs as one of the NFL’s hottest teams.
And also one of the youngest.
Of this year’s 12 playoff teams, the Seahawks have the least post-season experience – a combined 60 games worth on the 53-man roster. Green Bay, by comparison, has 214.
What’s more, the Seattle defence is the NFL’s second youngest, averaging 25 years and 271 days in age, and the entire 53-man roster ended the season as the league’s second youngest, at 26 years and 24 days.
Great defences usually have a solid interior line, and tackle Brandon Mebane anchors Seattle’s. The 6-foot-1, 311-pounder had 112 tackles, third most in the NFL by an interior D-lineman. He’s a fourth-alternate Pro Bowler.
The Seahawks also possess two of the league’s most ferocious edge rushers. Chris Clemons finished ninth in the NFL with 11.5 sacks, and he had 22 QB hits. The effectiveness of sub-package pass-rush specialist Bruce Irvin, a rookie taken 15th overall in April’s draft, has made Clemons even more effective.
For his part, Irvin led all rookies with 8.0 sacks, and he added 19 QB hits – despite playing only 43% of the time.
Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was a tackling machine. He finished second among NFL rookies in tackles with 140 – seventh most by any NFLer. The second-round draft pick also led all rookie linebackers with three interceptions.
The Seahawks’ secondary gets the most ink, and rightfully so. Few teams in the NFL wouldn’t trade their starting cornerbacks for Seattle’s, straight up.
Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are extremely tall for their position (6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4, respectively), are big-armed but also nasty as hell. Both love to rough up wide receivers at the line, are exceptional in coverage and don’t take kindly to being blocked in the run game – something Washington’s wideouts are renowned for.
Sherman is a first-alternate to play in the Pro Bowl. He ranked second in the league both with eight interceptions and 24 passes defended.
By Wednesday, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III had seen enough tape of the entire Seattle defence to know he and his teammates have their work cut out.
“The defence is tough, physical,” Griffin said. “They play fast, they play with a lot of energy. They play with a chip on their shoulder.”
And, being a Pete Carroll-coached defence, they also play like they’re having the time of their lives. One big play – a sack, a hard hit, a pass break-up – begets others.
“We have a lot of fun in the way we prepare, and it’s worked out,” Carroll said. “We’re a really tight group around here. Everybody is on the same page, and that gives you a chance to be as good as you want to be.”
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WHO’S THAT BROWNER GUY AGAIN?:
ASHBURN, Va. – In early December Seattle’s two star cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Sherman appealed his four-game suspension and won.
Browner accepted his four-game suspension, didn’t practise with the team for almost a month, but returned this week.
“(It’s) is a big deal to us,” Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “He’s been a significant factor in the style that we play … We’ll see how he is, how rusty he is.”
In a loose Redskins locker room on Friday, top wide receiver Pierre Garcon was asked about Browner’s return.
“I couldn’t even tell you his first name, really, so I couldn’t tell you if he’s going to be rusty or not,” Garcon said, chuckling.
Asked about Browner’s and Sherman’s renowned physicality, Garcon said “trying to jam is a risk.”
“We have to be physical too – get their hands off us, and run our routes and make plays. We do got a lot of speed.”
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Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson is mobbed by teammates after picking off Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in last Sunday’s pivotal regular-season finale. (Reuters photo)
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WHAT WILL THE ‘MAD SCIENTIST’ CONCOCT FOR SEAHAWKS?
ASHBURN, Va. – For a “Mad Scientist,” Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett sure is a normal, friendly, soft-spoken guy.
Some of his players slapped that nickname on Haslett this season for his penchant for cooking up different, cooky formulas for slowing down opposing offences from week to week.
“I’m not really sure what that means,” Haslett told reporters Thursday, in reference to his nickname. “The coaching staff has done a good job. (Players are) buying in and we’re getting a lot better, so it’s something to build on.”
Compared to Seattle’s stout defence, or really to most others in the NFL, Washington’s isn’t on a par.
The Redskins finished the season ranked 22nd of 32 teams in points allowed (24.3 per game), 28th in total defence (378 yards per game), 30th against the pass (282) and dead last on third downs (allowing 44.2% to be converted).
A huge factor was a rash of key early-season injuries, which included playmaking starters and former first-round picks Brian Orakpo (linebacker), Adam Carriker (defensive end) and Brandon Meriweather (strong safety).
Nose tackle Chris Neild and cornerback Chase Minnifield also were lost.
“It’s tough,” Haslett said. “But like I said, that’s the great challenge that coaches have on your team. When we were 3-6, that wasn’t easy. We got it going, and everybody played their part – stepped up.”
Indeed, no team that finishes a season with seven consecutive victories to win the NFC East can be all that lousy on defence.
Two things the Redskins were quite good at all season long was stopping the run (fifth in the NFL, allowing 96 yards per game) and forcing turnovers (tied for fourth, with 31).
After that 3-6 start and an early-November bye week to recharge and reassess, Haslett’s crew improved appreciably in two key bellwether measures – allowing eight fewer points per game (28 down to 20) and 46 yards fewer yards (398 to 352).
The Skins defence will be sorely tested by the surging Seahawks offence, led by dynamic rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and beastly runner Marshawn Lynch.
Too often, fans and some of us in the media wrongly apply an overly-simplistic, one-size-fits-all description to an offence or defence.
“We have different things for different games,” the Mad Scientist said. “Sometimes we blitz, sometimes we don’t. It depends on the protection, what they’re doing. We’re not just outright going crazy. You’re taking calculated risks, picking and choosing when we want to do it.”
Case in point: last Sunday night, in the regular-season finale against the visiting Dallas Cowboys, in the game that determined the NFC East champion.
Haslett sure didn’t say this, but it says here that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo makes his biggest bonehead mistakes when he’s pass-pressured in high-pressure situations. Such as on third-and-longs, or when Dallas trails, or on crucial plays late in games.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Haslett threw nine “cover-zero” blitzes at Romo last week. That is, blitzes with no safeties left to support Skins defensive backs in man coverage on Cowboys receivers.
That pressure compelled Romo to throw three ruinous interceptions – probably the difference in Washington’s 28-18 victory.
Haslett’s concoction this week no doubt will be entirely different.
I asked him if stopping Lynch would be priority No. 1.
“He’s unbelievable,” Haslett said. “He’s hard to tackle … He runs like he wants to hurt somebody.
“Their numbers in rushing the last six weeks are ridiculous. They have 280, 290, 175, 155, 167 … We’re going to get 40 runs.”
Not just from Lynch but from Wilson, too – in both designed rushes and ad-lib scrambles from the pocket.
Three weeks ago, the Seahawks lambasted the Buffalo Bills in Toronto, 50-17. Wilson ran circles and figure-8s around the helpless Bills defence.
Buffalo defensive end Kyle Moore explained how Wilson’s dangerous mobility poisons a team’s pass rush.
“You really just have to try to stay outside,” Moore said. “Your whole rush changes. You’ve got to kind of bull-rush (the offensive lineman) as far back as you can.
“You want to rush and throw a move, but if you get up, he’s going to take off running. He did it a couple of times today. After he did that, we were all slow-rushing (to) try to keep him contained.”
Wilson also has burned teams all year with his deep passing off run fakes. And the Skins were repeatedly victimized that way early in the season.
“Our passing stats stink,” Haslett said. “You give up an 85-yard (pass), 65, 60, 55, 50 … All you have to do is give up one a game, and it throws it all out of whack. That’s what we had to eliminate. And we have eliminated it.”
To the point where, now, the Redskins defence isn’t too bad.
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DeANGELO HALL GOES CRAZY SOMETIMES, BUT SO WHAT:
ASHBURN, Va. – Top Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall is fiery. Like, on-fire fiery.
Example: shouting forcibly into the face of an official in Pittsburgh this season got him ejected, and later fined $30,000 by the league.
But you know what? Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett wouldn’t have him any other way.
“I actually get a kick out of some the stuff he does,” said Haslett, 57, himself a former NFL linebacker. “As long as he plays like he did last week (against Dallas), he can take on anything. He was awesome last week.
“He takes to coaching, he’s smart. He understands what he wants. He asks questions. It’s a good combination. Does he go crazy once in a while? Yeah, but I played the game and I understand all of that stuff.”