BY Art Thiel 05:53PM 01/03/2019

Thiel: Seahawks secondary in the road crucible

Since January, the Seahawks have lost an entire starting secondary to the injured list. But Pete Carroll is quick to dismiss vulnerability for a road playoff game.

Earl Thomas had two interceptions when the Seahawks beat the Cowboys in September. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The season-ending hip fracture to S Delano Hill disclosed this week completes an unusual sequence that lurks in the background of the Seahawks wild-card playoff game against the Cowboys in Dallas Saturday evening.

On the injured reserve list, the Seahawks have had an entire starting secondary.

That accounting doesn’t even include Kam Chancellor, nor the departed Richard Sherman, who was recovering from injury when he was cut and signed with the 49ers.

The list: Hill, CB Byron Maxwell, CB Dontae Johnson and FS Earl Thomas. All four were starters before injuries wiped out their seasons.

While some of that seems old news, it impacts Saturday because the Seahawks are counting on premium performances  from youngsters populating the secondary in their first experiences in a playoff road game.

All-Pro Thomas started the first four games this season, including the home-opening 24-13 win over the Cowboys, in which he had two interceptions, before breaking a leg. Hill, in his second season, started the past two games at strong safety.

You likely had forgotten about Maxwell and Johnson, for good reason: They never played in 2018.

After being cut by Miami at mid-season 2017, Maxwell was picked up and started six games for the Seahawks. He was re-signed as a free agent May 1, and placed on injured reserve Sept. 1.  Johnson was a 16-game starter for the 49ers in 2017 and was signed April 11 in free agency, was put on IR Sept. 8 and cut Sept. 27.

The accounting of players lost is not to say the Seahawks would be better Saturday if all had stayed healthy (although that would certainly be the case with Thomas). It points up what a scramble it has been to find, train and attempt to flourish with newcomers for what coach Pete Carroll considers his most vital unit.

The Seahawks did have some good health news Friday: Second-year CB Shaquill Griffin has healed enough from a rolled ankle to come off the injury report and into the starting lineup, where he will join second-year Tedric Thompson, also recovered from multiple ailments. Griffin has been a starter since Week 9 last season, and Thompson has 10 starts at free safety this season.

The other cornerback is Tre Flowers, a rookie who made 15 starts. The secondary’s two veterans are SS Bradley McDougald, 28 and in his sixth season, and nickel back Justin Coleman, 25 and in his third season.

Here’s a listing of players since Jan. 1, 2018 who are or were members of the Seahawks’ secondary and its practice squad at some point. Keep in mind that all NFL teams sign and then release many players who never get in a regular-season game, for reasons of health, ability, contract or some combination. And some are cut and re-signed multiple times.

Signed (15):

Dontae Johnson, Byron Maxwell, Tre Flowers, Trovon Reed, Lorenzo Jerome, Alex Carter, Elijah Battle, Jeremy Boykins, Shalom Luani, Simeon Thomas, Akeem King, Kalan Reed, T.J. Green, Maurice Alexander, Jeremy Boykins.

Released (16):

Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane, DeShawn Shead, DeAndre Elliott, Alex Carter, Elijah Battle, Jeremy Boykins, Lorenzo Jerome, Akeem King, Trovon Reed, Mike Tyson, Maurice Alexander, T.J. Mutcherson, Simeon Thomas, Shalom Luani, T.J. Green.

Injured reserve (4):

Byron Maxwell, Delano Hill, Dontae Johnson, Earl Thomas.

Contract extended:

Bradley McDougald

Contract tendered:

Justin Coleman

Griffin, Thompson and Flowers are among 28 Seahawks experiencing the playoffs for the first time. But Carroll brushed off any concern with whether the injury losses and subsequent use of inexperienced replacements will leave the defense vulnerable against a Cowboys attack upgraded since September via a trade with Oakland for talented WR Amari Cooper.

“It’s been horrific, I can’t even tell you . . . ” said Carroll sarcastically when told of the list of missing. “I wouldn’t have even known that.

“You’ve watched how we’ll handled it. It hasn’t been an issue because guys have stepped up all along. We’ve had a lot of confidence in the guys who’ve been here and worked through the system.

“When Akeem stepped up  last week (filling in for Griffin), we didn’t flinch. Delano jumped up for a couple of weeks (filling in for Thompson) and has done a fantastic job. It’s an illustration of the work of the entire coaching staff to keep these guys at a high level. When (reserves) step in, you can’t tell the difference.”

As a former DB in college, Carroll has always been a whisperer when it comes to his players in the secondary. Perhaps the most prideful personnel feat of his career was the weaponizing of the Legion of Boom into a destroyer of football worlds.

Those days are over. The new guys have yet to be tested in the crucible of the postseason road. They likely will discover why the Seahawks have only three wins in the 14 away games in their playoff history. It’s one of the hardest feats in team sports.

Then again, gotta start somewhere.

Carroll says JerryWorld is “an unusual place”

The Seahawks and Cowboys have met only once in the playoffs, Seattle winning 21-20 in 2007 at the Clink when Dallas QB Tony Romo botched the hold on what would have been the game-winning field goal.

So the trip to ginormous AT&T Stadium, which has not held a great reputation for home-field noise, will be a novel experience for players and Seahawks travelers.

Carroll had some fun Friday describing the emporium of excess, nicknamed JerryWorld for club owner Jerry Jones.

“I think their scoreboard may get in the way of the sound – bounces back at you or something, I don’t know,” he said, smiling. “It’s a real glitzy place. When you come out of a football locker room ready to play football and you go into a night club . . .  it’s kind of like we’re in the club, then, wait a minute, you’ve got to play ball. Then you come back through the club.

“(The high-end clientele) is right there with you too. Those people that are sitting behind us (in field-level boxes), I don’t know how they see the game. It doesn’t look like they care, they’re having such a good time. It’s an unusual place.”

 


YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    Regarding JerryWorld, on the radio today the announcers were talking about it not being much of a home field advantage, as the crowd seems to be very polite and doesn’t make much noise. The cavernous stadium contributes to the sound dissipating, and the many distractions that stadium offers lessens the crowds involvement ever further. Their conclusion was if you have to be on the road, JerryWorld is not near the advantage many stadiums are.
    Have you been there Art?

    • Kevin Lynch

      True. But Dallas will be playing confidently as they were 7-1 at home this year. I also want to see what Philip Rivers and company do at Baltimore this weekend. They were 7-1 on the road this year.

      • art thiel

        I’m thinking Chargers in the SB. Was impressed with what I saw in SEA.

    • art thiel

      It’s my first trip. The Cowboys crowds are much like the old Lakers’ Showtime crowds. They come to be seen, not to engage.

      • 1coolguy

        I just pulled this up – amazing. 8 levels, numerous lounges, clubs, stores, etc. Yes, it seems like more of an experience than a game.
        http://attstadium.com/maps

  • WestCoastBias79

    Pete Carroll’s ability to coach a secondary is incredible. The only blue chipper in the LOB was Earl. It’s incredible. That said, Shaq Griffin being available is huge. If Shaq, Fluker and Sweezy are on the field and effective, the Seahawks win. If I see a Joey Hunt or an Ethan Pocic on offense and no Shaq on defense, the pucker factor is high.

    • John M

      True, they need all their guns, as any team headed into the playoffs. But the ‘boys have plenty of talent to be explosive. And all know Jerry will be very disappointed if they lose. Jerry’s love of winning is so obvious, no one there wants to be the guy he can blame for losing the game . . .

      • art thiel

        Jerry’s love of money and aggrandizement exceeds winning. Which is why losing a home playoff game would be, for the non-Cowboys fans of the NFL world, exquisite.

        • John M

          Point taken, Art. But winning is aggrandizement enough for most NFL owners and it’s especially sweet if you have a suck-up coach . . .

    • art thiel

      The Legion knew themselves and the other team’s playbook so well, they barely needed coaching. Naturally, that is no longer the Seattle case.

  • DonMac

    Hey Art, I know I’ve been snarky with my recent comments about the Huskies and I get that the larger percentage of readers of this site are from the west side but for us eastsiders, did you know that EWU is playing for the FCS championship on Saturday?The Cheney gang are going to have their hands full with North Dakota State but I just thought you might want to know. Thank you.

    • Talkjoc

      How dare you point that out DonMac. Go Eags💯

      • art thiel

        See above response.

        Thanks for your thoughts on the subject of the column.

        • Talkjoc

          I use the Amazon link on your page. Being a 1099 sportscaster I feel your pain. Continue the great work!

          • art thiel

            There you go, talkjoc. Amazing how DonMac and his friends expect this to be done for free.

    • art thiel

      And you continue to be snarky. :)

      If you and other readers want broader coverage, feel free to contribute to SPNW. And keep in mind, if you recognize readership for WSU is smaller than UW’s here, imagine Eastern . . .

      • DonMac

        Come on Art, expand your horizons. Why not a SPNW with an occasional article on the eastern Washington sports scene (e.g. Gonzaga, WSU, EWU). You could enlist John Blanchete from the Spokesman Review or Dale Grummert from the Lewiston Tribune. Make it truly northwest🙂.

        • Husky73

          ….and more coverage of the Lynden Lions!

        • art thiel

          Apparently you are new to capitalism, comrade.

  • tor5

    I remember a while back Jerry on tv giving a tour of his “art” installations at Cowboy stadium. It was all cheesy and void of character and wildly out of place. He was pointing and grinning smugly like money equals taste. Hilarious and pathetic. Let’s play some football!

    • art thiel

      Jones is the stereotypical sports owner who thinks money = respect.

  • coug73

    Hurry ups and sacks a DB’s best friend. Stop the run DL and LB’s and we win the game.

    • art thiel

      I’ll be sure to forward your message to Carroll.