Well… that happened.
In Michael Lewis’ 2006 book 'The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game' he examines the ongoing chess match between NFL offensive and defensive minds. Lewis describes Lawrence Taylor as the first catalyst of this change, centering around his gruesome hit on Joe Theismann as a key moment in the ongoing shifting, react-and-re-react battle of philosophies it triggered. Last night we saw the next generation of NFL defense arrive on the sport’s biggest stage.
The Seahawks’ marketing slogan all year has been “Bigger. Faster. Stronger. Louder.” and they were all of those things last night in a dominating performance that the Super Bowl hasn’t witnessed in a generation. We’ve seen blowouts before, but when was the last time an all-time great quarterback was so humbled in the NFL’s feature exhibition? Peyton will never admit this (he already denied it), but the league MVP got embarrassed last night. He had metaphorical feces dumped on his historic season. What happened Sunday was precedent-setting.
There has been a constant shift away from the NFL’s original ‘ground and pound’ game plan, slowly but surely transforming offenses into the aerial assault approach that dominates the sport today. Nine of the NFL’s ten top single-regular season passing yards have occurred in the last 3 years, and this trend isn’t going to slow as the league tries to make an unsafe sport safer and continues legislating as many rules as possible to protect its offensive playmakers. In a league that recycles coaches and offensive philosophies at an alarming rate, the passing explosion is only going to continue growing. The challenge is laid at the feet of defensive coordinators to figure out a blueprint to stop it.
Seattle sure looks like they showed the NFL the blueprint.The Seahawks got pressure up the middle on Manning without having to blitz, not allowing time for the Broncos’ normally productive receivers to get down the field. They turned a record-setting passing attack into a ‘dink and dunk’ bubble screen offense. They reduced normally feared weapons into targets, catching passes in front of a Bigger. Faster. Stronger. ball-hawking defensive backfield that, without the fear of downfield passing, crushed anyone who approached the line of scrimmage with the ball and made every tackle. They also outscored the highest scoring offense in NFL history in an utterly dominating performance.
It shouldn’t have been so easy. They made Manning, after a record-shattering season, look too old and slow to compete. It looks like the best decision Manning made was taking his talents to the AFC West instead of NFC West; Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco all tried in vain to recruit him after he was released by the Colts. After last night, it’s tough to imagine he would have set any NFL records playing in that division this year.
Manning isn’t the only pocket passer to have been mangled by this defense. In 8 games against traditional pocket quarterbacks (Drew Brees x 2, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Matt Schaub, Carson Palmer x 2 and Matt Ryan) they have yielded an average QBR of 27.0. That same collection of QBs has a combined 30 Pro Bowl appearances, 4 Super Bowl MVPs and a collective 56.7 QBR this regular season.
The dirty laundry with Seattle is the PED suspensions that have hung over the franchise in recent years. If that sways your opinion that’s fair enough, but it’s a little naive to think they are the only guys in the league who indulge in tailor-engineered pharmaceutical cocktails.
It’s too bad the NFL’s parity-driven objectives will force Seattle to blow up this talented roster as rookie deals and other team-friendly contracts expire and players (deservingly) chase that lucrative second contract. The modern NFL won’t allow for a team like this to grow and ever really achieve its true potential of dominating the league for an extended run the way the Bears, Ravens or Steelers have in previous decades, but the blueprint has been written and executed.
Now GMs and coaches will spend the offseason ‘copy, paste’-ing Seattle’s playbook and schemes. It’s the offense’s move now; what will they come up with? Is the big-armed mobile quarterback destined to take over as the NFL Quarterback prototype? Or can the pocket passers adjust? We have 7 months to debate what’s next.