RENTON – Note to vendors at CenturyLink Field: You might want to stock up on those giant foam fingers that proclaim the Seahawks No. 1.
Seattle fans can wag them without fear of overstatement whenever their defense is on the field Sunday against the New England Patriots.
The Seahawks are ranked No. 1 in the league in total defense, No. 2 in total points allowed and No. 3 in rushing defense.
Fresh off a 16-12 win over Carolina that took the Hawks to 3-2, coach Pete Carroll on Monday talked to the press about the performance. He did not wave an oversized No. 1 finger to liven up his statements.
“It doesn’t mean much right now … it’d be really nice to be No. 1 at the end,” Carroll said. “It’s a good statement at the beginning of the season that our guys have gotten off to a great start. … It’s fun for those guys to know – it’s a very prideful group – but does it mean anything? Not really. What we’re going to do this week is what counts.”
Carroll’s Seahawks have been stout against the rush the past two seasons, so their performance in that area is not a surprise. But thus far, they’ve significantly improved their pass rush and overall defensive speed.
Through five games, they’ve piled up 16 sacks, which is almost half of last season’s 16-game total of 33.
Carroll pointed to the speed displayed by rookies Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin, who tracked down fleet Panthers quarterback Cam Newton at full sprint in the backfield.
He also noted the coursing speed of Wagner and Earl Thomas on a play to drop Newton near the goal line late in the game, which he called “just crazy speed and acceleration.”
But speed is a wasted attribute if players don’t know where to run.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley “is doing a great job of keeping these guys clear about their assignments so they can play fast,” Carroll said. “It’s the No. 1 issue for us, to play quick every time we go out there.”
With the defensive starters averaging 26 years of age (fourth-youngest in the NFL), Carroll expects the team to continue to improve.
Carroll cited improvement by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who “did some really good things,” he said. “We got the ball down the field better than we had.” Efforts by tight end Zach Miller, receiver Sidney Rice and running back Marshawn Lynch contributed to that, he said.
Wilson improved his season passer rating to 75.2 – 27th in the league – by going 19-for-25 for 221 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He finished with an 82.3 rating Sunday.
The Hawks’ staff focused last week on improving anemic third-down performances on both sides of the ball. Carroll said he saw enormous improvement as the Hawks converted on seven of 14 third-down attempts and held Carolina to two of 14.
NOT ALL GOOD
The game was nonetheless frustrating to review, Carroll said, because of the number of mistakes that kept them from taking control. Three third-quarter turnovers would generally prevent a team from winning any game, he said.
The Hawks also were flagged for seven penalties and 65 yards, but the numbers are misleading since several nullified big plays, particularly the holding on right tackle Breno Giacomini that brought back a 56-yard Wilson completion to Golden Tate.
STATS AND SUCH
The Seahawks are the NFL’s most frequently penalized team (44 flags). … Lynch dipped to second in the NFL in rushing as Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles outgained him 140 to 85 yards on Sunday. … The Hawks are still No. 32 in red zone offense but have moved out of last place in passing offense to No. 31.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling