Seahawks Preview 2015 – LOB

The best position group in the NFL over the last few years has been the Seattle Seahawks secondary. The Legion of Boom ranked first in pass defense in 2013 and 2014 and was sixth in 2012. In quarterback rating against (QBR) the Seahawks ranked third in 2012 and first in 2013. In fact, opposing quarterbacks had a QBR of 63.4 against Seattle in 2013. 63.4. It could be argued that the secondary in 2013 led the whole defense towards being the best defense ever for a single season. The fact that there was a slight drop off last season, yet the defense still ranked first overall, proves how dominating this unit is. The secondary has been able to keep the core players, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman, together through the last three years, while still maintaining a quality player on the opposite side of the field from Sherman. The biggest questions heading into the 2015 season are 1) how well new cornerback, Cary Williams, performs with Seattle after signing with the Seahawks this offseason after experiencing a subpar year with the Philadelphia in 2014 and 2) how quickly the group can develop chemistry with adding Williams to the mix, possibly having Thomas out with injury at the beginning of the season and finding a reliable nickel back to temporarily replace Jeremy Lane as Lane is out for several games after being injured in the Super Bowl.

lane

Cary Williams, as it turns out, was basically a straight up trade for Byron Maxwell. Williams played with the Eagles last year and Maxwell played for the Seahawks. Both players signed as free agents this offseason with the opposite team. The question then becomes is Williams as good as Maxwell? Or at least, close enough? Last year Williams gave up at least 80 yards receiving four times. That is not so good. The problem in that is he gave up those yards while not having a Richard Sherman-type on the other side of the field, meaning quarterbacks were not necessarily picking on him; they were just throwing his way because the receiver was open enough. In Seattle Sherman will be on the other side, so quarterbacks will look Williams’ way even more. Last season, though, Williams did improve at the season went on. In the first five games Williams gave up an average of 69 yards to opposing receivers, but in the last 11 games he allowed only 37 yards on average.

To look at the Williams signing in positive way, though, is not that difficult. He is only slightly smaller than Maxwell, for one. Maxwell lacks the consistent ability to cover more fluid receivers. He is excellent in press coverage using his strength at the line of scrimmage, but suffers after that somewhat. Williams, on the other hand, has more speed than Maxwell and can make up ground he might lose when not applying as much initial pressure as Maxwell can, but still has enough size and strength to disrupt the timing of most receivers. Also, Williams is well-schooled after playing with the Baltimore Ravens previous to joining the Eagles, and his experience should help him transition to a streamlined secondary philosophy. The Seahawks play Cover-3, meaning the corners need to patrol the deep third on their side while the safeties, mainly Thomas, cover the deep middle. The fact that Williams has more speed than Maxwell may actually translate to an even faster secondary overall and therefore a better one. And, if nothing else, Williams is only signed for one year (with options for the following two years), so if things do not work out as Seattle hopes he is not a long term disability.

Jeremy Lane was beginning to become a reliable back that covers slot receivers until a torn ACL and broken arm ended his Super Bowl too early. The injuries came after he had baited New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into throwing a pass he never should have and Lane intercepted the ball. The loss of Lane (coming after major injuries to Chancellor, Sherman and Thomas) was probably the main reason the Seahawks were in a position to lose the game in the fourth quarter. Seattle simply had no one to replace Lane effectively. It appears Lane will not return from injury until close to the midway point of the season, so a big question is who will take his place in the meantime? Most likely, Marcus Burley. Burley bounced around on practice squads before landing with the Indianapolis Colts. Last August the Seahawks traded for Burley, and he was forced into playing against the Green Bay Packers immediately. He did pretty well covering Randall Cobb and stuck with Seattle. After Burley the Seahawks might look to Tharold Simon. Simon looked lost versus the Patriots in the Super Bowl after Lane’s injury, and was a huge reason the Patriots were able to make their comeback. Simon played tentatively, and no defensive back can play well that way, especially against a quarterback as good as Brady. In fact, Sherman may sum up the difference between Burley and Simon when he says of Burley, “He plays with no fear, and on the corner in the nickel in (the Seahawks) defense, that’s how you have to play.”

RichardSherman

The other starting cornerback is Richard Sherman, of course. Debate rages among fans (and the players themselves sometimes) who the best cornerback in the league is. To compare them is more difficult than what cornerback covers who. There are some corners that are flexed out in defensive schemes, and then there is a corner in the Seahawks scheme. Simply put, if you have a cornerback good enough to the point that quarterbacks refuse to use a third of the field when playing against you, would you change your scheme to show that that cornerback has the ability to cover all over the field? Why weaken the scheme to highlight the player? No team would do that. And if one compares the raw numbers between Sherman and Darrelle Revis, one of the few defensive backs comparable to Sherman, we see that Sherman’s career QBR against is 41.8 and Revis’ is 61.6. Sherman’s TD% given up on passes thrown his way is 2.5%, while Revis’ is 3.3%. Finally, INT% on passes thrown his way, Sherman is at 8.1% and Revis is at 4.1%. The simple fact is, though, that it does not matter who is better individually. Sherman is a perfect fit in what the Seahawks do on defense, and the defense is the best in the league.

At the safety positions are Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. There is no better duo in the NFL. Thomas is the quarterback of the defense. He plays the run and pass equally well. Chancellor is the thunder to Thomas’ lightning. An extremely heavy hitter who risks injury because of the way he plays, the Seahawks simply do not operate as well without him. If Seattle has to go without either of the safeties for long, the defense as a whole suffers significantly, as proven last season when Chancellor missed several games only to see him come back and help lead the team to giving up only an average of six points a game over the last eight.

chancellor

Seattle gets very young quickly at safety depth beyond veteran backup DeShawn Shead, but raw talent is there. Ryan Murphy, seventh-round draft choice this year from Oregon State, was impressive at rookie minicamp. Keenan Lambert is Chancellor’s half-brother. Ronald Martin is a 6-foot-1, 215 pound rookie from LSU, so at least we know Martin is used to physical play.

If Williams can be as effective as Maxwell, and if Bailey can play close to the level as Lane, and if Thomas does not miss much, if any, time recovering from injury, then the Seahawks secondary will not seem any different from the last several years. And though there are a lot of “ifs” going into the season, the deeper into the season the better the secondary should be. And, of course, the LOB should not be underestimated. This is the group that played in the Super Bowl with a torn labrum, torn MCL, UCL injury and more. Sure, they lost, but since at the time of Lane’s injury in the Super Bowl Tom Brady had thrown two interceptions and had a QBR of 0.24 one could argue the Patriots were just lucky the group was not fully healthy and got less healthy in the game. Either way, this group should put Seattle into the Super Bowl for the third straight year.