Seahawks’ defense finishes up-and-down season on top again

Jan 3, 2016, 7:20 PM | Updated: 8:39 pm
With their 36-6 win over Arizona, the Seahawks are the first team since the 1950s to lead the NFL in scoring defense for the fourth straight season. (AP)
(AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The conundrum was crowned on Sunday.

The Seahawks’ defense – the most puzzling part of the league’s most puzzling team – allowed the fewest points in the NFL for a fourth consecutive season. Not only that, but Seattle did it by neutering the top-scoring team in the league in a 36-6 win over Arizona, which is impressive even if you factor in a second-half surrender when the Cardinals pulled starting quarterback Carson Palmer.

Yet there was still a question. Because even after it was done and the Seahawks had made modern-day NFL history and Richard Sherman had the final word as he always does, it’s hard to put the defense’s achievements in context because of all the buts.

Yes, the Seahawks held four of their final five opponents to fewer than 20 points, but they also lost a fourth-quarter lead in each of their first five defeats.

Sure, Seattle led the NFL in scoring defense for the fourth straight year – the first time that’s happened since Cleveland did it in the 1950s, when there were like 12 NFL franchises and the Cardinals played in Chicago – but Seattle also had six games in which opponents scored 27 or more points. That happened only three times over the previous three seasons combined.

Recap | Game stats | Photos | Postgame interviews

The Seahawks are a good defense. There’s no doubt about that, and if they play like they did in the first half on Sunday, there’s not a team they can’t beat in the playoffs.

If they’re as great as they’ve been remains a question, though, no matter how much that might make Sherman roll his eyes.

“Most teams would kill to have this defense,” Sherman said after Seattle’s 36-6 win over Arizona. “The statistics we have right now.”

He’s right. Absolutely, unequivocally right. And in the past three road games, Seattle’s defense has surrendered exactly one touchdown. Two of those games have been on the road against NFC playoff teams.

Maybe Seattle has turned the page this second half of the season and found that finishing touch that was so obviously missing over the first nine games. Or maybe the schedule has turned out to be more than a little favorable. Seattle has now faced an opposing quarterback lineup of Teddy Bridgewater, Jimmy Clausen (for the second time this year) and Case Keenum before taking on half a game’s worth of Palmer.

And you can point out that Seattle also beat Ben Roethlisberger back in November, but it’s worth noting they beat Roethlisberger while surrendering 456 yards passing, the most ever by a Seahawks opponent.

The larger truth is that Seattle has had a greater fluctuation this season than any of the past three. Three teams scored 30 or more points against Seattle this season, matching the total of the previous three seasons combined. Roethlisberger was one of three quarterbacks to throw for more than 300 yards against Seattle this season. That happened only four times over the previous three seasons combined.

Or maybe there’s another possibility. The standards have become impossibly high.

“People sometimes get spoiled with good play,” Sherman said.

There’s one measurement in the NFL. It’s points. And for the fourth consecutive year, the Seahawks have allowed fewer of them than any team in the league.

“That’s the stat,” coach Pete Carroll said afterward. “That’s the one that all of the stats, that’s the one that takes the most, and demonstrates the most. That’s what we’re really proud of ….”

There are no magic beans that can account for that, and as much as anyone might quibble with Seattle’s schedule, the Seahawks have played six of the other 11 teams that are in the playoffs.

Is Seattle’s defense as great as it has been the past couple of years? That’s something that can be debated. What you can’t question after this month is that it’s more than good enough to be considered a postseason heavyweight.

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