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Seahawks defense: Awards could be coming, but talent is what matters

We don't need no stinkin' pro bowlers. But we're gonna get some anyway.

Stephen Brashear

We put a lot of stock into respect. "You don't have to like me, but gosh darn it you will respect me!" More important than even being liked, we want to be respected. "You can think I'm a total DICK, but you better think that I'm a dick that's good at what he does!" I've often gone through life wanting to be liked, maybe I should focus more on being respected.

Nah, too hard. I think I'll play Battletoads instead.

Oftentimes we project that feeling of respect onto our favorite sports teams. That's part of why sports are popular, why we love them, why we feel senses of joy, pride, and love that I rarely feel for another individual. I don't have any kids to be proud of and knowing my genes I probably wouldn't be proud of my kids if I did have any.

"Oh good job, Timmy. You managed to tie your shoes without pooping yourself. When are you moving out of the house, you're 26."

But to have a favorite sports team, now the responsibility to be respectable no longer falls onto you. What the Seahawks do is out of your control. It's not your fault when they lose, but then again we did play really well in 2005! Sometimes it feels like the Seahawks are an extension of yourself and just like you want your boss, your wife, or your kids to respect you, so too do you want people to recognize and respect your team when they do well. The other 90% of the time, we hope you just aren't noticing us.

It applies to national pundits picking your team to win. It applies to how early your highlight is aired on Sportscenter. And it applies to awards.

None of these things should affect how good or bad your team is. You'll win or lose for a variety of reasons and "how much respect does the team get?" should not be one of them. If anything, lack of respect is motivation for success and we should be happier when nobody is picking the Seahawks to win. We've seen countless moments where a team put up a quote or a news piece recounting how beating 'Team X' would be "so easy." You should hope that pundits are picking your pickled peppers. You should want people to laugh when they hear you like the Seahawks. You should go out with me, girl. (Sorry, trying some new hypnosis tricks.) But lack of respect is far more motivational than something that says, "Ahh shucks, the Seahawks are super swell!"

Which I guess means that they won't be posting anything that I ever write.

I try not to bother myself with attaching emotions to these trivial things. I'd rather have a player for Seattle be named to the Pro Bowl than not, but it doesn't bother me at all when they don't. It makes them feel good, I feel good by proxy, let's all have a 'no pants' party.

Still, I had to read through Football Outsiders list of NFC Midseason Pro Bowlers today. And it simply reminded me... this defense is goooood. At the very least, we have some of the best players at their position in this conference. Award or no award, it won't have an affect on my dating life, so I'll rise and go to bed the same as always, but Seattle is likely to have their share of Pro Bowl players. As far as talent goes, there are only three teams in the NFC that can say that they belong with the elite, and Seattle is one of them.

Football Outsiders listed 16 players to their Pro Bowl NFC Defense:

- 4 49ers

- 4 Bears

- 3 Seahawks

That's three teams that comprise a phenomenal 11 of 16 spots. The other 13 teams in the conference only filled five spots. (Jason Pierre-Paul, Jared Allen, Clay Mathews, DeMarcus Ware, and safety William Moore of the Falcons.)

The Seahawks to be named to this list were: Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane, and Richard Sherman.

My first thought is probably the same as your first thought, "Man, I'm hungry. Did I eat all the Lunchables?" But our second thought was that there could be at least three more players worthy of a spot on this list and that would make an incredible six starters on defense that could be Pro Bowl players. Even when noting that they named Dashon Goldson as the starting free safety, FO had to comment: "He doesn't quite have Earl Thomas's range..."

Football Outsiders knows that the Seahawks have more stars than The Outsiders and they couldn't even go without mentioning Earl "Ponyboy" Thomas.

Additionally, I spent some time on Advanced NFL Stats yesterday because I was curious what they thought about some of our defensive players. Indeed, they rate Richard Sherman as the #10 CB in Win Probability Added at .80 and he ranks fourth with 11 pass deflections (to go along with 3 interceptions) but his buddy doesn't lag far behind. Brandon Browner checks in at 19th in WPA with .68 and has recorded 6 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions.

What I find most interesting though is that while Seattle ranks 3rd in the NFL per Football Outsiders against a number one wide receiver, they ranked first in the NFL against a number two. A quarterbacks second favorite target is seeing 5.1 attempts a game for 40.2 yards. (9.3 and 48.6 for a number one.) The only other team that can boast a top four ranking in both categories are the Bears, who rank 4th against a one and 2nd against a 2.

The major difference there is that Chicago is: 1st against "Other WR", 1st against Tight Ends, 3rd against running back. A phenomenal top-four-across-the-board effort from the Bears defense. That has a lot to do with the fact that while Peanut Tillman gets all the pub (ranked 17th in WPA), Tim Jennings is actually ranked 2nd in WPA. His 15 pass deflections rank number one and he has six interceptions.

For this reason, Tillman and Jennings took two of three spots for the F.O. list while Sherman snagged the other. They have might be equal in coverage abilities, in run defense abilities, but Tillman/Jennings have been turnover machines this year (Tillman's seven forced fumbles is not a sane number for a corner) and so the Bears do have a great defense.

Earl Thomas, meanwhile, has already tied a career-high with seven pass deflections and teams are throwing in his area less and less. He's the setup. He's the guy that makes all of this possible, but there is synergy. He doesn't have to worry about the guy that Sherman is covering or the guy that Browner is covering as much as a safety that doesn't have two corners with the ability to do that. For this reason, Thomas is well on his way to some honors and awards again.

Outside of the advanced community, Richard Sherman wasn't recognized as much as his three Pro Bowl secondary brethren. That's changing. His brash nature and "Show me" attitude against the Patriots put him in the national spotlight, his ability to shut down your top receiver will get the coaches and players votes too. Sherman is going to the Pro Bowl.

Few knew who Brandon Browner was going into 2011, but having six interceptions, 23 pass deflections, and two touchdowns puts tangible numbers in front of fan voters. They didn't see the pass interference penalty numbers that went along with it. It's funny that in year two, while opposing number twos are nearly incapable of contributing to scoring points, Browner might miss out on the Pro Bowl because his "numbers are down." His 2011 trip to the game should at least be enough to have voters recognize who he is because they likely won't forget again.

Perhaps the forgotten man this season has been the guy that was most noticeable in 2011, Kam Chancellor. I went as far as to tell Kam that "I loved him" (he let me know that he didn't feel the same way) last year and he went to his first Pro Bowl in his first full season as starting strong safety. It helped that Kam had four interceptions, 12 pass deflections, two forced fumbles and 95 total tackles. This season he has no interceptions, three pass deflections, and 61 total tackles. Advanced stats ranks Chancellor 21st among all safeties with .53 WPA. That doesn't make him a liability, it's just a far cry from 2011 when he ranked first among safeties in the NFL with 2.30 WPA. (Earl ranked third.)

From the back of the room to the front, Brandon Mebane has transformed from a solid defensive tackle to a premier one. He's gonna "get in that ass" and creates as much of a problem for interior lineman as any DT in the league. Consider that he has many sacks as he has pass deflections this season, with three each. How interesting is it that the three top defenses in the NFC also have the three best defensive tackles, as Mebane is joined by Justin Smith of the 49ers and Henry Melton of the Bears on this list?

Perhaps the most surprising player on this list, the most surprising player on the Seahawks even, is Chris Clemons. You don't look at Clemons now and think that this is possibly a guy that went undrafted. He passes the eye test to the point where he should match up with the best in the NFL, the players that were drafted in the top 15, except that wasn't the case. Not only that, but he wasn't even this good for the first five seasons of his career. To get 20 sacks in five years and then 29 sacks in two and a half years with Seattle... it's incredible. Even more ridiculous that Clemons has taken 531 snaps on defense this season, over 100 more than any other player on the defensive line, because he is perhaps better against the run than he is against the pass. And he's pretty damn good against the pass.

Advanced Stats ranks Clemons fifth in the NFL for defensive ends in WPA and he's third in the NFL with 14 quarterback hits. (J.J. Watt is the best defensive in the NFL by a margin that is almost laughable, by the way. He has 10.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, 10 pass deflections and 17 tackles for a loss. All tops for defensive ends.)

Mixing these two in with Bruce Irvin, Red Bryant, Clint McDonald, Alan Branch, Jason Jones, and Greg Scruggs has been a blessing. That's an eight-deep defensive line and when it's 100% healthy, it gives Seattle options that few teams have. It just so happens that in 2012, Clemons and Mebane stand above. As we see with Kam, that could change year-to-year because there is talent around where maybe next year Irvin or Scruggs are the standouts.

If there is an area on defense where the Seahawks are "lacking" it would be at linebacker. Among those top three NFC defenses, the Bears and 49ers boast stars. NaVorro Bowman, Brian Urlacher, and Aldon Smith made the FO midseason NFC Pro Bowl team. Patrick Willis would have been a fine choice. Lance Briggs would have been a fine choice. Clay Mathews and DeMarcus Ware are star linebackers, partly because they're great pass-rushers and asked to rush the passer, not the case for every linebacker. When you're a linebacker, you want to be a "name" and that's not what K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, or LeRoy Hill are. When Wright was concussed on Sunday, I brought it up in the SBNation NFL chatroom to ask to write about it, and was asked: "Who is that?"

You see my point.

Hill will never be a star and he is the third best linebacker on this team. Okay. That's fine. But watch out for Wagner and Wright, with Wagner making a solid argument on the field for defensive rookie of the year, even if he is going to have a hard time getting attention from people outside of this city or this division. Right now Wagner has 8 tackles for a loss, tied for seventh among linebackers even though he's not a pass-rushing linebacker. (Von Miller is and has 17 tackles for a loss.)

It's too bad that the Cardinals' Daryl Washington has emerged as possibly the best inside linebacker in the division, and that he has to compete with the two guys in San Francisco, and that Jo-Lonn Dunbar is having a great season for the Rams. This division gets a lot of credit for it's defensive backs, watch out for the quarterbacks of the defense too.

What that brings me to is where this defense has talent that separates them from other teams, above what awards they may receive: Thomas, Sherman, Browner, Clemons, Mebane, and Wagner stand above. Chancellor is only a year removed from rating as one of the top safeties in the NFL. Bryant might be having a down year, but is also a year removed from being perhaps the top run-stuffing defensive end in the NFL. Wright, Branch, and Irvin are all within the realm of being above-average to good, with Irvin and Wright having the obvious ceilings of that "Pro Bowl" level of play. Oh crap, we have to fill one whole spot!

Of course, in this business you can't take for granted how fleeting a players health and talent really can be. Just as quickly as a player like Clemons blossomed, a player can fade. (A similar player to come out of nowhere, Jason Babin who had 18 sacks last year, has 3.5 this season.) What we do know about the Seattle defense right now is that they are talented, deep, young, and hungry. If you've seen Mebane's backside, you know for a fact that he's hungry as shit.

Pro Bowlers? We got a few. Talent? There are only two teams in the NFC, probably in the NFL, that can even match us in that category on defense. That should earn them the respect they deserve around the league.

It won't help you earn the respect of your family, however.

Addition about offense:

Max Unger and Marshawn Lynch made the midseason team. Russell Okung did not, but he hasn't allowed a sack this season and if he wasn't tied for first in offensive tackle penalties, he might have. By the way, did I mention that this division is full of defensive studs and Okung hasn't allowed a sack?

Of course, Russell Wilson did not either but his figurative growth throughout the year is nothing short of amazing. After nine games, Wilson ranks eighth in the NFC in DYAR and DVOA, ahead of Robert Griffin III in both categories.

Henry Hynoski of the Giants was named the fullback, but I have a hard time believing that Michael Robinson won't get serious Pro Bowl consideration again.

I think we've all been mostly impressed with guard play as well, just without our starters able to stay healthy for consistent periods of time. Overall, the offense is much further ahead at this point of the season than I thought they would be and could send several players to the Pro Bowl. And I can't believe I'm going to say this but... including Wilson as an alternate.

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