By Brady Henderson
Those were backup cornerbacks playing leading roles in the Seahawks’ most complete defensive performance in recent memory.
Actually, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane began the season fourth and fifth on Seattle’s depth chart. You just wouldn’t know it based on how seamlessly they’ve stepped up in the absences of Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond.
Sunday’s 23-0 win over the Giants marked the latest chapter in their emergence, which has been surprising to everyone except, well, the Seahawks and their head coach.
“It’s kind of not a big deal because we’ve seen them so much and they’ve had so much work against our best guys that we know what they’re capable of doing,” Pete Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Brock and Danny” Monday. “That’s why I haven’t really been concerned about the fact that they would step up and step in, and we’re down to fourth and fifth corners making plays that are really changing games.”
Maxwell has been especially impressive since entering the starting lineup in Week 13. Thurmond had just been suspended and Browner was sidelined with a hamstring injury while appealing a suspension of his own when Maxwell stepped in against the Saints and their second-ranked passing offense.
It was anything but a soft landing for a player making his first career start, but Maxwell helped the Seahawks hold Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees to 147 yards passing, his lowest total since the final week of the 2010 regular season.
“Everything is slowing down for me,” says second-year corner Jeremy Lane. (AP)
A week later, he made his first career interception, picking off an underthrown pass near the goal line to end a 49ers scoring threat. That play would have been remembered as one that helped Seattle escape San Francisco with a win had it not been for a breakdown in the Seahawks’ run defense later in the game.
And on Sunday, he played his best game as a pro. It wasn’t just that he had two of Seattle’s five interceptions but how those plays couldn’t have been more different in terms of the technique required to make them. The first came on a fade route down the sideline, the second on a shallow crossing route in which he ripped away a ball that was thrown slightly behind receiver Hakeem Nicks.
“What it shows you, it shows you that Byron is challenging everything. And he is totally confident that he can get it done. That’s a heck of a play, now, to catch about a 3-yard route and intercept that, and they didn’t even give you a chance,” Carroll said of Maxwell’s second interception. “You should never be able to pick those off, but he got inside and the ball kind of rattled around and he yanked it out of there and made a heck of a play.”
There hasn’t been much dropoff, either, with Lane, who was mainly a special-teams player before he assumed the role of Seattle’s third cornerback. He’s done this before, stepping in as a starter for the final three regular-season games last year when Browner was suspended and Thurmond was injured. The difference, he said, is that he’s much more comfortable with a year of experience under his belt.
“Last year, when I got that role to step in and play, I was kind of nervous being in my rookie year,” he told 710 ESPN Seattle after Sunday’s game. “But this year, my second year, everything is slowing down for me. Everything is pretty easy.”
More coverage of the Seahawks’ Week-15 win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
|• Recap | Stats | Photo gallery | Postgame interviews||• O’Neil: Big win inspires Super Bowl dreams||• O’Neil: What We Learned||• Chalk Talk: Huard breaks down Lynch’s TD run||• Henderson: Wilson sets NFL record with 23rd win||• The Pete Carroll Show: ‘They didn’t have a chance’|
They were both sixth-round picks – Maxwell in 2011 and Lane a year later – and in that regard their emergence follows a pattern for the Seahawks. Richard Sherman was drafted in the fifth round in 2011, stepped into the starting lineup because of injuries and developed into perhaps the NFL’s best cornerback. Thurmond, a fourth-round pick in 2010, was having a breakout season before his suspension, playing well enough to merit consideration for a full-time starting role.
While finding starting cornerbacks in the latter half of the draft is a tribute to the Seahawks’ scouting efforts, it’s also a reflection of the job their coaching staff has done in developing them.
“They’ve just been indoctrinated into the system. Kris Richard and Rocky Seto have done a fantastic job with these guys training them. They’re really, really strict,” Carroll said, referring to two of Seattle’s defensive assistants. “… if you look at them, they look the same somewhat as they play. The way they step and the way that they challenge at the line of scrimmage and the way they finish and the things that we teach.
“This is a long, long process to get these guys to where they are. But now they’re in the system and it doesn’t matter who steps in and plays. It’s impressive.”
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.