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.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Red Wings' Vanek, Nielsen score in 6-5 SO win over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski lead Sharks past rival LA Kings, 3-2
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in overtime to lead Oilers past Panthers 4-3
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."