For the past 12 months, from the halfway point of the 2011 season until the halfway point of this one, the Seattle Seahawks’ defense acquired an adjective used so frequently it became a synonym.
The unit was called “elite,” as in: “It’ll be a shame if the Seahawks can’t piece together an offense that complements their elite defense.”
The Seahawks pieced together enough offense Sunday to win in Detroit. No, they weren’t flawless with the ball. They cost themselves a touchdown when Sidney Rice dropped a deep strike from quarterback Russell Wilson – a critical mistake in a 28-24 defeat to the Lions.
But for once, the punchless Seattle offense wasn’t an issue. The issue was Seattle’s “elite” defense. An elite defense, given 16 chances to make a third-down stop, doesn’t remain on the field after 12 of them.
An elite defense, with 5 minutes, 27 seconds remaining and the other team on its 20-yard line, doesn’t watch a three-point lead turn into a four-point deficit.
An elite defense, with nine full days of rest, doesn’t surrender 415 yards to a team forced into a short work week after appearing on Monday Night Football.
That stat – 415 yards surrendered – isn’t an aberration, merely the continuation of a three-week pattern for the Seahawks, who were torched for 475 yards by New England and then 313 yards by San Francisco. Since holding each of their first five opponents under 300 yards, the Seahawks are allowing an average of 401 per game in the past three.
A defense on its heels that much can mitigate the yards-allowed factor by creating turnovers. The Seahawks got their only turnover when safety Earl Thomas picked off one of the few passes Matt Stafford regretted throwing.
Stafford is a major talent, and he was surrounded Sunday by more playmakers than wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. But the Lions’ careless mistakes on offense have forged them a label as underachievers.
Then again, careless mistakes often are a consequence of hurried plays made under duress. Stafford was rarely pressured. He had all the time he needed.
Remember first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin? Remember the pass rusher who, at something approximating the speed of light, pounced upon Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers for two first-half sacks at Century Link Field on Sept. 24?
Irvin, a rookie who remains a work in progress, was virtually invisible against the Lions. But so were Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and Alan Branch, who aren’t rookies and aren’t works in progress.
An exception was when Brandon Mebane broke through for a sack early in the second quarter. The big fella punctuated his bull rush with the sort of ceremonial exercise seen at a luau. All in good fun, tacky and yet tasteful, but when the most memorable moment for a defense is a 311-pound veteran performing a luau dance, nobody should be surprised to learn it gave up 415 yards.
The sacked quarterback, in any case, wasn’t fazed. After Rice deftly dragged his feet in the end zone to catch the touchdown pass that gave Seahawks a 17-7 lead and a sense of momentum, Stafford, looking at a third-and-11 from the Seahawks’ 47, took a calm foothold in the pocket and lofted a ball that wide receiver Titus Young hauled in without breaking stride.
Young somehow breezed past safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman. By the way, it was Sherman, anticipating the challenge of locking down Megatron, who had changed his Twitter identity last week to “Optimus Prime.”
Optimus Prime, meet Titus.
Young finished with nine catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns, gaudy numbers you might associate with Calvin Johnson. Titus Young? The second-year backup from Boise State was subbing for -Seahawks castoff Nate Burleson, who broke his leg Monday night during the Lions’ defeat at Chicago.
Before Sunday, Young had 204 receiving yards and a TD in 2012. In other words, against the Seahawks, he enjoyed a day more substantial than his entire season.
An elite defense doesn’t enable Titus Young to collect statistics that suggest he’ll develop into a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. An elite defense doesn’t afford Matthew Stafford the option – and it always was there –of dumping off an unchallenged outlet pass that moves the first-down chains.
An elite defense, separated from its end zone by 80 yards, late in the fourth quarter, doesn’t blow a 24-21 lead against the 2-4 Detroit Lions.