BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 12/25/2014

Thiel: Seahawks the greatest ‘D’? Can’t compare

Brash Michael Bennett declared the Seahawks defense the greatest ever. Premature, yes, but fun. And he has a decent point.

Seahwks Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor do what they do best — take down 49ers RB Frank Gore. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

As the NFL playoff field sets up this weekend, the Seahawks have returned to the top of several national-media power rankings. If they beat St. Louis Sunday, they will be two wins shy of a return to the Super Bowl. So talk has begun of the team’s place in history — begun Sunday not by outsiders, but by locker-room sage DT Michael Bennett.

We’re the best defense to ever play football,” he said Sunday in Glendale, AZ., after helping scatter the entrails of former NFC West leader Arizona 35-6. “So when we play the way we play, the way we’re capable of playing, whatever (Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley) did didn’t really matter . . . I don’t think anybody can play with us.”

Discussions of G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) can begin in earnest if the Seahawks become the first NFL champion in a decade to repeat. Nate Silver’s backed Bennett and then some by suggesting if the Seahawks win the Super Bowl, they will have to be considered among the best teams in history. The site’s Elo rating system gives some credit to year-to-year excellence, which has always been the prime directive in coach Pete Carroll’s plans to own the football universe.

Sought out Tuesday in the locker room, LB Bruce Irvin concurred with Bennett’s view of history.

“I agree,” he said. “I would say we are this season. If we won another Super Bowl, I’d say we should be ranked with the best of all time.”

Before we get too far ahead with comparisons to the Cowboys Doomsday I and II of the 1960s and 1970s, the Vikings of 1969-71, the Steelers of the mid-Seventies, the Bears of the mid-Eighties and the Ravens at the start of this century, the Seahawks have already accomplished a feat worth noting — they have remained No. 1 on defense for most of three years despite rules changes designed to blunt the Seahawks’ effectiveness.

“The game was so different then than now,” Irvin said, “with all the rules changes we’ve had. We like to play physical, but we’ve adjusted with the rules of the game. And they changed some rules because of us. But we’re still one of the best defenses. That says a lot.”

The erosion of the defense’s position in the game’s rules has come about for two reasons: Increasing the spectacle of offense to draw more TV interest, and to thwart successful litigation over reckless disregard for the consequence of injuries (that is not the same thing as improving player safety, despite what the NFL tries to tell America).

Since 2010, the NFL has changed the rules of contact almost annually to cut down on head injuries as well as impediments, such as defensive holding, that retard offenses. It’s all about making or keeping money, but regardless of the financial backstory, the players have to make adjustments each year.

From Carroll on down, the Seahawks believe that rules changes the past off-season were designed to curb Seattle’s ability to push rules to the limit and beyond. Many Seahawks, including Carroll, took it as a compliment. But the Seahawks foiled the changes by adapting instead of pouting. They have given up 33 points in the past five games, all wins, during a part of the schedule that was forecasted to be boulders and barbed wire.

CB Richard Sherman declined to join Bennett in the GOAT gloat, but he made the point that it’s nearly impossible to compare different eras because of the changes.

“You have to rate defenses in their own time periods, because the rules today, I don’t know if the defenses back then would be as good,” he said. “They were killing quarterbacks. They’d probably get ejected (now) for half of the stuff they were doing back then. But those were the rules that they played by. They played the game at a high level. (Now) they’re making it a passing league. I’m sure they’re breaking all kinds of records in passing yards and average points a game.

“It’s so hard for guys to tread that line because you’re going all out, but you have to kind of tempo yourself a little bit because of the rules.”

Sherman was asked how the current Seahawks would have fared in earlier eras.

I’d love to see us back then,” he said. “I’d love to see us have a chance. I have no idea how we’d play. We might be terrible. They may rough us up and run us out the building.”

Then he smiled. He knew better.

“I don’t know if Kam Chancellor would not be fair for a lot of people,” he said. “He stays in a dark place. I don’t know if enough people can bring flashlights.”

Darkness is what opposing offenses see across the line of scrimmage. But enlightenment is visible for the discerning viewer. Despite the predations of schedule-makers and rules-makers, the Seahawks defense is again in position to carry the day, if not the season.

Whether they are as good as Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters or Dallas’s Doomsday crowd will never be known. Call Ghostbusters for that. The Seahawks need only prevail over their contemporaries.

That, they have.

“They’re playing awesome football,” Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “You can’t take nothin’ away from that ballclub. They have a championship pedigree, what it takes to win on the road, what it takes to win the division.”

The division will need to be dealt with Sunday. If successful, historians can begin dusting off the archives.


  • Raymond Meyers

    The league is definitely different than it was in my youth. I remember watching with my dad in the ’60s and ’70s. Bench-clearing brawls weren’t all that rare, especially if the game included the Raiders, whose logo should be emblazoned on the modern rule book. It’s hard to tell for sure how our defense would stack up against the best in history at their time, but there are a lot of indicators that they’d do just fine. It’s probably a toss-up whether a receiver would rather be greeted by Kam Chancellor or Ronnie Lott in the middle of the field holding the rock. Statistically, the Hawk’s D is the best there is right now, and that will be recorded for the books.

    One of my all-time favorite quotes, from one of the all-time best:

    “I never intentionally set out to hurt anyone unless it was important. You know, like a league game or something like that.” – Dick Butkus.

  • MarkS

    Good article Art. However it’s Nate Silver that has the 538 blog. Adam Silver is the current NBA commissioner who took over for the reviled (in this town anyhow) David Stern.

  • 1coolguy

    Different era’s are tough to compare but there are best teams per era.
    In football a meaningful stat is points allowed per game, yet even that is tough due to the emphasis now on passing offense. Following is a good article on the best defenses based on stats. It includes many of the great teams.
    Of course one aspect of a teams defense’ stats are how many minutes is that defense on the field? If the offense controls the ball, the defense is fresher and spends less time on the field, A great running game results in ball control and greater than 30 minutes of offense.
    So it’s tough to compare yet it’s a fun exercise.No question the Hawks are most likely the best D since the 2000 Ravens.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    It should be enchanting to our fan base that they are even in the conversation with the Steel Curtain…the Purple People Eaters or that Super Bowl shuffle squad…the Bears 1985 D…with that guy that may not have blinked all season he was so intense…Mike Singletary. The SB era has had some good ones.

    The other 3 squads all have Hall of Famers… these Legion of Boomers? They some day will have so its all good. Personally , they need to win multiple SBs before they really start crowing. So here is to a win in Phoenix come February to thicken the debate.

    • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

      A friend of mine was arguing this merit at Holiday…correctly pointed out the Vikings have never won a super bowl and the 1985 Bears were a dominant team that year while Seattle has been dominant arguably for RWs tenure. I just think if Seattle were fortunate enough…blessed enough…whatever context you want to put it in to win the SB this year also it would stop the one year wonder detractors from playing that card.Nobodys won anything yet!we have to get past the Rams but its fun speculation. Go Hawks.

      • Turner Bingham

        The one year wonder is already dead. Seahawks have been dominant for 3 years now, won a Super Bowl last year, their division(2nd year in a row) and locked down the #1 spot in the NFC, also two years in a row.

  • Big

    The rules define the game.
    The best defense is the one that won the game.
    The best defense is the one that takes the Hawks to the Super Bowl.

    It’s a good thing the Hawks have pride in their team defense. This pride is tested every game.

  • jafabian

    It’s fair for the Seahawks to compare their defense to some of the best of all time. The ’85 Bears are continuously mentioned as one of if not the best of all time, and having seen them I can’t argue that point, but have only one Super Bowl to show for it. Why not us then? When all is said and done and the team repeats as champion they’ll get that recognition without question. I’ve enjoyed seeing them adapt to numerous rule changes without complaining. THAT is the mark of a champion.

  • Schaefdawg

    Since the statistics across different eras will not translate equally, maybe the best stat to use is the one espoused by Raiders owner Al Davis, “Just win baby”.
    Wins, Superbowls, these are what ultimately matter in NFL history. To describe a teams greatness wins will allow for comparison across eras. You can add a little statistical spice to enhance the flavor of how these great teams won. You can get as complex in your comparisons as you like, but the bottom line will always be wins.
    Right now the Hawks are winning, and that’s all that matters, baby!