Souhan: Seattle can make legitimate claim to NFL's best-ever defense

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2014 - 10:55 PM

The Seahawks could make such a boast after an astonishing performance.

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Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas might have set a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions Sunday, but he also paid the price repeatedly from a punishing Seahawks defense ready to pile on to him.

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– Peyton Manning had time. He shuffled his feet in the pocket, found his favorite receiver open over the middle and delivered the ball on time, on the numbers, for his first completion of the Super Bowl.

Demaryius Thomas caught it in stride, for a moment providing a reminder of how the Denver Broncos set the record for points scored in a season — with short catches and long runs.

Thomas looked to turn upfield, and then Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor made the most emblematic play of the game. He knocked Thomas backward and down with a ferocious hit. Denver, already down 5-0, went three-and-out and punted, and never again took the ball with a chance to take the lead.

“It just sends a message,” Chancellor said. “Any time you come across that middle, you’ve got a chance of getting wrecked.”

The Broncos can only take solace in getting wrecked by one of the most effective defenses in Super Bowl history.

The Seahawks ranked first in the NFL in total defense this season. They held the No. 1 offense to eight points, and never gave up a score when the result of the game was in doubt.

The Jersey Bowl marked the first time since the 1990 season that the top-ranked scoring defense faced the top-ranked scoring offense. In Super Bowl XXV, the defense run by Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick handcuffed the Buffalo Bills, winning 20-19.

Was that performance better than Seattle’s? The Bills scored 51 points against the Raiders in the AFC title game and featured Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed.

But the Bills did score 19 points, and only a missed Scott Norwood field goal kept them from winning the game.

There is only one other time in NFL history the league’s top-ranked scoring defense faced the top-ranked offense and held that offense to single digits. Here we offer our often-used, prerecorded warning to Vikings fans to avert their eyes from history.

In Super Bowl IV, the Kansas City Chiefs brought the No. 1 defense to New Orleans to face the Vikings’ top-ranked offense. The final was 23-7.

The Vikings pulled within 16-7 in the third quarter on Dave Osborn’s touchdown run. Joe Kapp threw for 183 yards and two interceptions. No Vikings player rushed for more than Bill Brown’s 26 yards. The Vikings fumbled three times and lost two of them.

Unlike this year’s Broncos, who played in good weather conditions on an artificial turf field, the Vikings played in frigid temperatures on the grass at Tulane Stadium.

“That was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life,” said Mike Grant, son of legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant.

Mike Grant vacations in Otter Tail County. He recently went hunting in the Dakotas. He is Bud’s son. If he says it was freezing that day in New Orleans, it was freezing.

The Broncos had no such excuses. They had one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history running an offense with three star receivers and a remarkably talented tight end, with two weeks to prepare for Seattle. Manning had thrown for the most yards and touchdowns ever.

Seattle used its preparation time well. A few Seahawks said after the game that they learned some cues from watching game films and focusing on Manning’s eyes. They largely ignored the audibles and fake audibles he called at the line of scrimmage, sometimes countering with their own fake calls.

More important, Seattle took advantage of Manning’s preference for throwing short, quick passes. The Seahawks left star safety Earl Thomas playing deep, by himself, and used Chancellor as a fourth linebacker.

When the Broncos caught passes, they paid a price. “I told you, we’re the best defense ever,” Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said. “We could have played anyone and did the same thing.”

That’s hard to argue. In the postseason, Seattle beat Drew Brees and the Saints’ dynamic passing offense; held off the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick’s legs; and then dominated one of the greatest offenses and quarterbacks in history.

“You hit ’em a couple of times, they don’t want to come in the middle no more,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Kam’s hit set the tone.”

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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