Gaudy statistics don’t necessarily equate to steady play.
Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas had four interceptions through eight games and was part of the conversation for defensive rookie of the year before faltering in the second half last season.
Thomas finished with a club-leading five picks, tying the team mark for most interceptions by a rookie (Michael Boulware, 2005). Thomas was named a Pro Bowl alternate but was frustrated he did not receive an invitation to the annual game in Hawaii.
This year, Thomas has one interception through the same time frame but said he’s playing leaps and bounds better than in his rookie season.
“I’m definitely more comfortable,” Thomas said. “That’s expected. I know the defense now. I’m not out there just running around like I was my rookie year. Now it’s just the little details for me, and don’t try and do too much.”
Not doing too much for Thomas means staying home on play-action fakes instead of taking the bait and giving up big plays. Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said the 22-year-old Texas native has been more disciplined, and has a better understanding of what opposing offenses are trying to do.
“What he was doing early (last year) was he was taking advantage of some things … and got some interceptions,” Bradley said. “And then the downside was people started taking advantage of him. Now he’s playing more consistent, and he just needs to know how to pick and choose his times when to go after the ball.
“When he’s a deep middle-third player, to come up and expect him to make a play on a 10-yard route, that’s not his job. But when they do throw it up and he’s back, now he’s got to take advantage.”
The proof in Thomas’ better play is in his team’s overall performance on defense. Seattle has given up just 10 passing touchdowns through eight games. They gave up 31 passing touchdowns last season, third-worst in the league.
The Seahawks have given up 23 passing plays of 20 yards or more, tied for 10th in the league. And Thomas has been a willing participant in helping stop the run, as evidenced by his team-leading 55 tackles.
Thomas will get a chance to compare himself with one of the best safeties in the game when the Seahawks face Baltimore and Ed Reed on Sunday.
Thomas has already played against another talented safety in Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu in the second game of the season
“I get to see a great safety play,” Thomas said. “I’m just looking forward to the whole atmosphere. It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere, just like last week (against Dallas). And I’m just ready for the challenge.
“My mentality going into the game is to be the best safety out there, period. I don’t care if it’s (Troy) Polamalu, Ed (Reed) – anybody. Just like they’ve earned their respect to where they are now, hopefully I can get there someday.