By Matt Pitman
The heavy roster churn during the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era has been well chronicled, if you’ve been able to keep up.
This current assembly of Seahawks linebackers is a perfect microcosm of the steady change. A veteran and team captain in Lofa Tatupu was cut in training camp. Aaron Curry, once a pillar of the future as a first-round draft pick, was traded for his inconsistent play and sour attitude to match. K.J. Wright, a rookie selected in the fourth round of April’s draft, replaced Curry in the starting lineup.
Even Leroy Hill embodies one of the multiple traits of Pete Carroll’s heavily remade Seahawks roster — a player getting a second chance. Off-the-field legal problems, multiple injuries and a substantially renegotiated contract all pointed towards Hill’s exit at the end of last season. Hill was given a second chance and has made the most of it.
Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne is dragged down by Baltimore’s Joe Flacco after a third-quarter interception. (AP)
Put it all together and you have an exciting group of players that are making a name for themselves and the Seahawks’ increasingly impressive young defense. The group shined in the surprising 22-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens (6-3) on Sunday.
Leading the way was the leader of the group, David Hawthorne. The middle linebacker’s 34-yard interception return came off of Wright’s tipped pass on Joe Flacco’s attempt to hit Anquan Boldin on a slant to the right side. It was a key play in the game, coming on the first series of the second half with Seattle leading 19-7 and not wanting the Ravens to find any momentum.
Even before Wright and Hawthorne teamed up for the play, the linebackers were setting it in motion. Sound communication and recognition at the line of scrimmage put them and the Seahawks defense in prime position.
“At first it was a run play, but we called it (at the line) an out pass,” Wright said.
Seeing that Flacco might be eying a mismatch or pass opportunity for Boldin, Wright said they were able to sniff it out.
“You’ve got to be heads up,” he said. “The coaches always tell you, ‘hands up on the quick game.’ I just got my hands up and Heater was right there to get the interception.”
It looked like Hawthorne may go for a touchdown but he was dragged out of bounds by Flacco, who was flagged for a horse-collar tackle.
“That’s some stuff you dream about … getting the ball and running to the zone,” Hawthorne said. “In my dream I don’t think I ran out of bounds. I ran it in the end zone, I dunked it on the goal post, I did all kinds of stuff. But yeah, that didn’t happen today.”
But he’ll take it, along with the win and what he saw in the Seahawks’ defensive effort.
“I felt like today we did the necessary things to be successful,” Hawthorne said. “We played the run well, we forced them to throw the ball on us, we executed on our pass assignments. I think when you put that together it always equals success.”
Rookie Malcolm Smith also contributed to a solid day for the Seahawks linebackers. He turned in Seattle’s only sack of the day on an explosive hit on Flacco for an 8-yard loss that forced third down on an eventual three-and-out.
“I thought you saw really good pass defense from our guys today,” head coach Pete Carroll said of his linebackers, singling out the fine individual plays of Hawthorne, Wright and Smith while saying there is still room for improvement. “The guys were on some routes (but) we missed some chances to, you know … I’m frustrated by some of them. But they did some very good things in coverage.”
Improvement will continue. Among the regular rotation of linebackers, Hawthorne is one of the crusty old vets in his fourth NFL season. Hill is the elder statement, in his seventh season. Rookie cornerback Richard Sherman can see the growth and development in the group since the season began — and what continuity has meant, even over a short amount of time.
“I’ve seen growth over the last couple of weeks because we got a little bit of stability,” Sherman said, adding: “We kind of rotated around, a couple of guys got hurt, a couple of guys went different ways. Once we got a little bit of stability and started trusting each other and playing together and getting the calls together, it started to meld. I think that’s what you were seeing today.”
It’s another component to a defense that should be exciting for Seahawks fans who are looking at the future. Baltimore entered with the seventh-best scoring offense in the NFL, averaging 26 points per game, and 16th in total offense, averaging 342.9 yards per contest.
Sure, the Ravens didn’t do themselves any favors with two special teams turnovers, but the Seahawks played up to a good opponent, allowing just below its season average of 23.1 point per game. Most impressively the Seahawks defense held the Ravens to 323 total yards of offense, almost 30 yards less than Seattle’s season average of 352.8.
Not bad for a defense which ranks as the fourth-youngest in the NFL with an average age of just over 26. On Sunday, we saw that linebackers are growing together, as the defense continues to grow before our very eyes.