Did the Seattle Seahawks remake the NFL with their Super Bowl win?

Did the Seattle Seahawks remake the NFL with their Super Bowl win?

"The way the game is today, none of these offensive records will last." Those are the words of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning after he broke the NFL’s single-season record for touchdown passes back in Week 16. The five-time league MVP even quipped Tom Brady would “probably break it again next year.”

Funny, but there was a hint of truth to those words. Dan Marino’s previous record of 48 touchdown passes set in 1984 stood for 20 years, but has since been broken three times in the last decade—first by Manning, then Brady, and now Manning again, who this time shattered it with 55.

Marino’s single-season record of 5,084 passing yards survived even longer. It took 27 years, but Drew Brees finally raised the bar in 2011. Of course, Brees’ mark stood for all of two years before Manning one-upped it with 5,477 during his historic 2013 campaign.

Both lists read like a who’s who of the great signal-callers in the present-day NFL. Of the 10 times a player has eclipsed 40 touchdowns in a season, half of those occurred in the last three years. Of the eight times a player exceeded 5,000 yards through the air, all but Marino accomplished the feat in the last three years.

It’s a passing league, as analysts like to say, a point Andy Reid rammed home to Philadelphia Eagles fans for 14 years. As maddening as Reid could be, it was difficult to argue which direction the sport was trending through his tenure as head coach of the Birds. All evidence pointed to the NFL being quarterback-driven.

The truly great, dominant defenses were a thing of the past, left for dead because rule changes made things easier for offenses; because the talent pool has been stretched and diluted by expansion; because wide receivers and tight ends were becoming enormous monsters that are impossible to match up against.

Then the Seattle Seahawks came along and won a Super Bowl the old-fashioned way—on the back of a punishing, hard-nosed defense.

The Seahawks didn’t merely win the game, they absolutely demolished Manning’s Broncos, by a final score of 43-8 in case you tuned out early. Manning, who when it’s all said and done might finish his career as the most prolific passer of all time, was limited to 5.7 yards per attempt and was responsible for committing three of his team’s four turnovers.

Not that the outcome was all Manning’s fault—far from it. Denver’s offensive line was no match for the Seahawks’ pass rush, nor would you have guessed the Broncos had hands down the best receiving corps in the league this season given how easily the Seahawks were able to take away everything but short dinks and dunks over the middle.

The loss wasn’t really on Manning at all. Denver’s offense, the No. 1 offense in the NFL this season by almost any meaningful measure—and by a wide margin at that—was completely overmatched by Seattle’s defense in every aspect of the competition.

Until Sunday, when was the last time a team reached the playoffs and went on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy almost entirely on the strength of its defense? Probably the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. That’s the class of defense the Seahawks have entered, in 2013, when some might’ve believed it impossible.

And it was no fluke. Seattle was ranked No. 1 against the pass in 2013, surrendering a paltry 172.0 yards per game during the regular season—22.1 yards per game better than second place. Only two quarterbacks all year threw for over 300 yards in a contest including playoffs, and only seven of 19 opponents even accumulated 200 yards through the air.

Seattle was eighth with 44 sacks, first in interceptions by five with 28, and posted the best opponents’ passer rating was 63.4, the lowest in the league by a whopping 10.8 points—the lowest of any defense since 2009.

So, like we do every year in the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl, we wonder aloud what the Eagles and the rest of the league can learn from the victors, and it boils down to a very simple line of questioning. Have the Seahawks come up with the solution to defeating the modern-day, pass-happy, quarterback-friendly NFL?

Does defense once again win championships?

If Seattle was the only team in the league getting it done with defense right now, that would give us pause, but one look around the NFC tells that’s not the case. The San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers featured two of the toughest defenses this season, and to a lesser extent, the New Orleans Saints did too. All four franchises advanced to the Divisional Round of the tournament. Their combined record was 54-19.

It’s no secret how these great defenses are being built, either. The emphasis is on size and speed at every level, period.

The Seahawks’ D isn’t full of blue-chip prospects as you might suspect, either. Only linebacker Bruce Irvin and safety Earl Thomas were even first-round picks. However, the unit is built to play big and fast. They can run around or through the opponent’s offensive line. They can match up with the offense’s tallest and speediest players. Everybody is physical and they all can tackle.

Although, to suggest any of this changes the Eagles’ blueprints for this coming offseason would be a tad disingenuous. Based on their many of their recent moves, the organization has already started moving toward the Seahawks model.

Head coach Chip Kelly has discussed what he looks for in personnel at certain positions, and those feelings are probably best summed up in one quote: “Big people beat up little people.” And when we dissect what the Birds did in the last two drafts under general manager Howie Roseman, you can see the premium that’s been placed on all-around athleticism.

Since 2012, the Eagles have come away from the draft with Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, Brandon Boykin, Bennie Logan and Earl Wolff. If nothing else, there’s a lot of speed in that group.

Also, just last offseason, the front office signed Connor Barwin, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher to free-agent contracts. The additions provided a boost to the overall size and physicality of a defense that was in abysmal shape before Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis arrived on the scene.

The Eagles need more athletes like the players listed above—a lot more in fact, and in several cases, better. At least it’s a start. In many respects, Philly is ahead of the curve, having won 10 games and earned a playoff berth with major contributions from a young core in what many assumed would be a rebuilding year.

However, it would seem Philadelphia’s 32nd-ranked pass defense still has a long way to before reaching Seattle’s level on defense, or even San Fran, Carolina or New Orleans for that matter. That should be the goal of every team in the league as of today, because those defenses are proving the likes of Peyton Manning and similarly prolific passers in the modern-day NFL can be slowed and in fact shut down.

Apparently, that’s become the way to win again in pro football.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.