Some people's definition of "elite defense" evokes teen girls crying over getting the wrong iPod for Xmas. TRY LIVING IN THE CONGO, YOU ENTITLED BRAT.
No, this defense is not perfect. I'm even willing to concede that it had a serious off day against Miami. (What a stunner - how dare a defense have a few off weeks?) But when all I see from some folks is endless hand-wringing over those terrifying dink-and-dunk touchdown drives that we occasionally surrender, then we've clearly lost perspective.
Is being tied for league-1st in passing TD's allowed (13), close 2nd in points per game allowed (15.6), and 3rd in passing YPG allowed (197) not good enough for you? And that's despite the fact that, yes, we do have the highest 3rd-down % allowed in the league. Common sense says we must be doing something right if we've still allowed a mere 15.6 points per game. Those awful, horrible dink-and-dunk TD drives folks keep obsessing over? THEY'RE HAPPENING, ON AVERAGE, 0.93 TIMES PER GAME. UNWAD THOSE PANTIES, PEOPLE.
You want to know the ONLY reason those drives seemed so significant? It's an illusion of perspective. Our early-season offense was so bad that our team could be beaten with one or two of those drives by the other offense. Thus it became crucial that our defense not allow a single one. That was a temporary arrangement while Russell Wilson and the offense struggled out of the cocoon and started figuring life out. Until then, yes, you could beat us with one dink-and-dunk drive, so an opponent coming up with a single such drive came to hold a lot of significance in the eyes of the fans.
BOY, THAT STRATEGY SURE DIDN'T WORK FOR BUFFALO, DID IT???!!!?!?!?!
I am not worried about a defense that allows only one dink-and-dunk scoring drive per game. Getting worried about that feels like worrying over the end of the world.
The general feeling out there is that we're "lucky" to have not allowed more touchdowns on those dink-and-dunk drives. The reality is that when such a drive ends with a turnover or a field goal, that's not luck for the defense. That's the bend-but-don't-break strategy working exactly as it should. Dink-and-dunk is HARD. It's not a basic or ideal offensive strategy that should be more easily stopped than any other. It's usually a last resort for an offense and a sign that the defense is doing its job very well down the deep middle (Earl Thomas) and the sidelines (Sherman and Browner). Forcing a QB to dink-and-dunk is an oft-cited method for STOPPING a quarterback, because it increases the necessary number of attempts and also the likelihood of a turnover. And Seattle is doing just that.
Now this is where some folks will raise this team's long, sordid history with bend-but-don't-break Seattle defenses constantly breaking. 2008-2009 was a great example. But that has nothing to do with the strategy. Our defense in those years was TERRIBLE. Colin Cole, Kelly Jennings, Brian Russell, Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, declining Lofa Tatupu, and Aaron Curry were never going to stop anyone with any strategy. They dropped two safeties deep to kill the long ball and hoped that the opposing QB would screw up. They didn't. The real culprit was the defense being utterly incompetent on the scale of "blow it up and start over", but everyone got it in their heads that bend-but-don't-break football and soft zone coverage were the problem. It's a misconception that is somehow still hanging around and getting way more credit than it should.
"But Matt Stafford!", you say. Well, kudos to Matt Stafford for rising to a very difficult task. Few quarterbacks in this league, believe it or not, go around scoring four touchdowns on such a solid secondary. The few who do, are in the elite category, and Stafford was elite that day. Made no mistakes, fit the ball into some windows tighter than Dick Cheney's mouth, and sustained all of it for four quarters. That was a playoff-worthy performance, not an indictment on our defense or an indicator that someone should be replaced to magically fix everything.
Seattle is not "burdened" with 5 losses because of our defense or because of those dreaded 3rd-down completions. It's "burdened" with 5 losses because of a rookie QB, a handful of WR drops, and blown coverage from a couple of defenders who aren't even starting anymore. The basic stats, the advanced stats, the actual number of points surrendered to these teams...they all point to the same implication. The Bears only scored 17 points - oh NO!!! The 49ers only scored 13 points - the HORROR!! Those long Frank Gore runs and frustrating 3rd-down completions yielded ONLY 13 POINTS!! Our defense cannot be doing THAT badly! If our offense had looked then like it does now, we would have blown the 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals into smithereens the first time with our style of defense. We're only hyper-critical of it because we started the season hyper-reliant on it.
If you're tired of our linebackers getting picked on, remember a couple things. First off, it's not like opposing QB's have anywhere else to throw. I'm sure they'd LOVE to get a few completions to the sideline once in a while, but for some reason (it escapes me right now) they're having a tough time with that. Secondly, Wagner and Wright playing their first full season as starters just screams PICK ON ME to offensive coordinators, so it's no surprise Wagner and Wright are having every little mistake put under a microscope and being forced to undergo a baptism by fire. Wright, to be sure, has not had the best year in coverage. Third of all, if you just NOW noticed that Leroy Hill is bad in coverage, where have you been since 2005? He's never been able to navigate a zone to save his life. The pass rush is a problem for sure, but for crying out loud, we're allowing 15.6 points a game against one of the toughest schedules in the country! Leave the linebackers alone already.
Even the people who sniff at any yardstick except for wins and losses - they're still looking for culprits for a 9-5 likely-playoff-bound team. I don't think the value of advanced stats are the problem. some people just seem to have no definition for an elite defense except to not allow a single first down, point, or loss all year. Or something like that. I'm seeing people gripe that we allowed a 6.2 YPP over a 5-game stretch, when our YPP in the 25 games since last year's bye is 5.1. Yes, I suppose there's technically room for improvement. Seattle could eliminate even the slightest fluctuation, and every off day, and ascend to where it never allows another first down to anyone evermore. Pardon me if I'm a little more forgiving.
(I also think we'd be singing a different tune if Earl Thomas had managed to hold onto more of the 38 passes he's gotten his hands on. Seriously, his own count via Twitter was eight dropped picks, and he had another one in Toronto.)
This defense is elite. It is top 3 in DVOA, in basic yardage stats, and is only directly responsible (and on an individual basis at that) for two of this team's losses. Otherwise, it has embarrassed everyone from the league's foremost #1 pick candidates to Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Much like Rebecca Black fails at songwriting, I fail to see ANY common sense way to paint this defense as a pretender to even the slightest degree. It is elite. And I'm absolutely STOKED as to what Pete will do for it this offseason.
Now if only Richard Sherman will just shut up and take his suspension before he finds himself held out of the Super Bowl, maybe we can all acknowledge the fact that the end of the world has, in fact, not occurred.