The Seahawks slowly are learning what they can do with all of the talent they have on defense.
The unit had a dominant game Thursday night in a 34-22 win against Arizona. The Hawks sacked quarterback Carson Palmer seven times and held the Cardinals to 30 yards rushing.
Arizona had just 69 yards in the first half despite possessing the ball for more than 16 minutes.
Seattle's big men owned the line of scrimmage all night.
"A lot of guys played hard and played tough, and we had a lot of good sacks and stuff and a lot of good line-of-scrimmage play on defense," coach Pete Carroll said. "When you give up 30 yards rushing and (get) seven sacks, the guys up front did a great job. So, we’re really proud of those guys for putting together a really good night.
"It’s really just been that way for a couple weeks now," he said, referring to the 20-13 win over Tennessee in which the Hawks held the Titans to 66 rushing yards while sacking QB Ryan Fitzpatrick twice. "We expect our guys to play like that, and so it was great to see them."
Nearly every player on the unit stood out at one time or another vs. Arizona. It started up front with
Tony McDaniel, Clinton McDonald, Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane. The first three all had sacks, and the McD's played behind the line of scrimmage for most of the night, tallying four tackles for loss and three QB hits.
“I think scheme-wise we’re playing the defense really well," Carroll said. "We’re playing to their strengths and Red and Mebane are doing really well."
Michael Bennett, perhaps the most versatile lineman, tallied a sack, tackle for loss and three QB hits, including one that forced an interception.
"Mike has done a lot of neat stuff as we move him around," Carroll said. "He’s been effective in a number of different ways."
The Hawks continued to rotate pass rushers Cliff Avril (37 snaps) and Chris Clemons (31), who bounced back nicely from an elbow injury suffered Sunday. They each had a sack, Avril forcing a fumble out of bounds on his and Clemons adding a couple more QB pressures.
Add to that Bruce Irvin, who seems to be picking up the linebacker spot well and also contributed pressure.
"Bruce was rushing the third downs a lot," Carroll said. "I didn’t see him get a lot of numbers, but you know he was a factor just rushing out there, so we have a lot of nice combinations of guys to mix in there.”
The Seahawks had just 16 sacks entering the game and have been steadily adding players back to the lineup. The seven sacks were a product of the waves they now can send, plus a below-average Arizona offensive line.
"It’s great to see the production of the pass rush; that’s getting better," Carroll said. "We said earlier it’s going to take us awhile before we figure out how to mix our guys in the pass rush, because we have a number of different kinds of athletes to mix in there. So we’re still finding that out.
"We said about eight or nine games, and I’d like to speed that up a bit," he added. "Seven sacks is a pretty good showing, but we’re going to get better there. We’re going to improve mixing our guys properly and using them to the best things that they can do."
The best defensive player on a night full of them was Malcolm Smith. Starting at weakside linebacker because K.J. Wright is in the middle for the injured Bobby Wagner, Smith had easily his best game as a pro. He led the team with eight tackles, including a sack and two other stops for loss, and also got another hit on Palmer and knocked down a pass. He was all over the field.
So was Brandon Browner, who responded to his momentary benching in Week 6 with a very good game while playing every defensive snap along with the rest of the Legion of Boom. His biggest misstep was literally tripping as he approached the end zone on his interception in the third quarter.
“Brandon had a terrific game," Carroll said. "He was all over the football. He challenged everything. I challenged him a little last week and he came right back and had a great week. I can’t believe he stumbled there on the 5-yard line, but it was a great night for him. That kind of shows the kind of competitor he is and how much we count on him and why we went right back to him in the second half last week. And I’m really proud of him.”
The rest of the Legion of Boom was not quiet either. Earl Thomas came up with another diving interception on a deep pass to Larry Fitzgerald that Browner managed to tip. The play was initially ruled incomplete, but review showed Thomas quite obviously made a great catch.
Kam Chancellor was active, too. His best play came in the first quarter, when he blew up tackle Eric Winston on a running play and made the tackle for loss.
Richard Sherman tied Wright for second on the team with seven tackles and also knocked down a couple of passes. Sherman nearly intercepted three passes and helped shut down the hobbled Larry Fitzgerald, although Fitzgerald exacted a little revenge by de-cleating Sherman on a clean blind-side block in the fourth quarter. (The ever classy Fitzgerald then asked Sherman if he was all right.)
All in all, it was the most dominant performance by a defense that already has produced several excellent games and is merely getting better by the week.