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Earl Thomas is a “huge factor” as the Seahawks’ last line of defense

With Earl Thomas patrolling the back end of their defense, the Seahawks rarely allow big plays. (AP)

RENTON – Earl Thomas led the Seahawks with 12 tackles on Sunday and also made the play of the game when he forced a fumble near the goal line, saving a touchdown and giving possession to Seattle on a touchback.

It was the type of performance that has earned Thomas four straight Pro Bowl selections and recognition as the game’s top safety. But as coach Pete Carroll noted earlier this week, Thomas is so essential to Seattle’s top-ranked defense not only because of the big plays he makes but also those he helps prevent.

“When you gain the notoriety and the respect, it’s demonstrated by the fact the ball doesn’t go your way,” Carroll said. “He doesn’t see much but that’s a big, big plus for us. That means that post routes and seam routes don’t happen. That’s huge because that’s how people score the most in the league with the throwing game. So he’s been a huge factor.”

Not just in the Seahawks’ pass defense, which finished first in the NFL. They also had the league’s third-ranked run defense, and a big reason why Seattle finished in the top five in both categories was its ability to limit explosive plays, which are defined as runs of 12 yards or more and passes gaining at least 16 yards. According to the team’s website, Seattle allowed the fewest such plays in the league at 76, which was 10 fewer than the next best team.

“That’s hugely told by the story that’s going on in the back end,” Carroll said, “those guys eliminating long runs and then catches and runs, just the deep balls in general.”

Every member of Seattle’s secondary – not to mention the rest of the defense – plays a role in that. But Thomas is the last line of defense, which he noted while taking responsibility for one of the few big plays the Seahawks allowed this season, a 47-yard run by Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles back in Week 11.

The fact that a single big play stands out speaks to how infrequently the Seahawks allow them thanks in large part to Thomas.

“He has been more consistent than he has ever been,” Carroll said. “He’s been at his best.”