It’s a good thing that Earl Thomas is coming back next season, because as soon as he leaves forever the Seattle Seahawks have a serious problem.
As Cian Fahey wrote for FootballOutsiders this week, the Seahawks pass defense has been significantly worse without Thomas. They were ranked fifth in pass defense DVOA before Thomas’ first injury and they’ve been 26th since then, with Thomas only playing for a short time against the Carolina Panthers in Week 13. Consider also that Seattle has given up 38 and 34 points in two of their last three games, the only times they’ve allowed more than 25 all season. They’ve played some good quarterbacks over that period of time, but even Jared Goff got off a few easy long passes, they were just dropped.
Here, Fahey details how big of a downgrade Steven Terrell is from Thomas:
On Nelson's touchdown reception, Terrell beats himself. He pushes himself out of position by not understanding the alignment of Sherman and the route combinations developing in front of him. Sherman is lined up off the line of scrimmage, across from the inside slot receiver. He is shaded inside from the beginning of the play and breaks infield before the receiver does. Sherman is on top of the route from the moment the receiver turns inside.
Terrell lingers over the middle of the field as Carson Palmer looks in that direction. He settles for a moment before turning to his right and drifting backwards. Terrell is now moving towards a spot on the field where he can't cover anyone. Even Sherman's receiver has cut sharp enough that he won't threaten the spot on the field where Terrell is moving to.
While he does that, Nelson has released inside of the cornerback on the other side of the field. That cornerback appeared to be expecting help from Terrell, but Terrell turning to his right meant that he had to take the long way around to try and recover when Palmer stepped up in the pocket and looked to that side of the field.
Had Terrell held his position and made a sharper adjustment instead of drifting to the wrong side of the field, he might have had a chance at making a play on this ball. Had Thomas been on the field, the ball would never have been thrown.
Read the whole article for the full picture on what makes Thomas as important to the Seahawks as Cam Newton is to the Panthers or Aaron Rodgers to the Green Bay Packers. And of course, read our own piece by Sam Gold on why the Seattle defense is struggling without Earl Thomas.
I don’t suspect that the Seahawks will have much trouble with Colin Kaepernick this weekend, but facing off against someone like Eli Manning-Odell Beckham, Aaron Rodgers-Jordy Nelson, Matthew Stafford-Golden Tate, Kirk Cousins-DeSean Jackson, Dak Prescott-Dez Bryant, or Matt Ryan-Julio Jones in the playoffs will prove to be very, very difficult without Thomas.