Seahawks build a new championship model

ASSOCIATED PRESS Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith rides in a parade at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith rides in a parade at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Posted: February 05, 2014

NEW YORK - What were the lessons of Super Bowl XLVIII for the Eagles?

It's kind of hard to ignore the fact that the Seattle Seahawks are young and deep and aren't going anywhere as an NFC power. Yeah, it's been 9 years since an NFL champion repeated, but Seattle looms as a huge obstacle in Chip Kelly's path, next season and beyond.

The 43-8 Super Bowl dismemberment of the Denver Broncos and the league's No. 1 all-time offense seemed to underscore that the NFC is where the power is these days, especially the NFC West, where San Francisco nearly defeated the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game, and Arizona missed the playoffs at 10-6. The Eagles play all four NFC West teams in 2014.

The Eagles, like most teams, are a long way from being able to compete defensively on the Seahawks' level. Seattle's safeties and linebackers are big, fast and physical, on a unit that seems to function seamlessly, with one mind.

"They're big and they're long and they're strong," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said yesterday of his "Legion of Boom" secondary, Carroll having left the Seahawks' victory party long enough to hold the traditional day-after winner's news conference.

Carroll noted that safety Earl Thomas (5-10, 202) isn't really very big, but "is maybe the most impressive, competitive guy you'd ever want to see."

Despite a promising defensive line, the Eagles, who famously failed to draft Thomas in 2010, are nowhere close to being able to hit, cover, pursue and tackle the way the Seahawks' back seven do. That will take several personnel additions and a good bit of meshing.

But the news isn't all bad for the Eagles. The Seahawks showed that your quarterback doesn't have to dominate, contrary to what seemed to be the case for several years there. Russell Wilson played a solid, clutch game, but he threw for only 206 yards and wasn't even in the conversation as Super Bowl MVP. Six of the previous seven SB MVPs were quarterbacks.

Wilson, taken 13 spots ahead of Nick Foles in 2012, proves that having a quarterback who takes good care of the ball, sees the field and converts key third downs is enough to win. You don't have to be one of the all-time greats (not that Wilson won't be someday).

Like the Seahawks, the Eagles won't be hamstrung under the salary cap by having to pay their Pro Bowl QB this offseason. Neither Wilson nor Foles can get a new deal until after the 2014 season.

Of course, sometimes what looks like genius is really more a twist of fate. Carroll recounted last week how he and general manager John Schneider tried to court Peyton Manning, when the now-37-year-old QB became a free agent in 2012, coming off those four neck surgeries. Manning chose Denver. Had he gone to the Seahawks, they probably wouldn't have had the money to bring in Percy Harvin at $67 million, or make some of the other moves to flesh out their roster.

The Seahawks are built around defense instead of offense, unlike the Eagles, but Carroll shares Chip Kelly's emphasis on turnover margin, and on producing points from turnovers. This was what Carroll pointed to when asked to explain how a game everyone thought would be evenly matched became the Seahawks' biggest rout of the season.

"Whenever you play turnover football like that - it's the formula we try to live by - when you get four turnovers and they get none, the game's gonna go that way," Carroll said.

As tempting as it might be to fret over not having a defense that attacks in waves of talent the way Seattle's does, the fact is, in six of the last eight Super Bowls, the team with the higher-ranked defense lost. One year does not a trend make.

It's not clear exactly what sort of template Seattle provides, beyond showing us that it's really great if your GM is Schneider and can regularly pluck difference-makers out of the talent pool left on the final day of the draft.

It's clear that the Seahawks expect to get back to the big stage.

"The first meeting that we'll have will be tomorrow . . . We really have an eye on what's coming. We don't dwell on what just happened," Carroll said. "We'll take this in stride, and we'll have a decent celebration on Wednesday in [Seattle]. We'll enjoy the heck out of it; everybody will enjoy the heck out of it. We won't miss the fun part of it, but that doesn't mean we can't set our sights on [the future] . . . I think we are in a fortunate situation. John Schneider has done an extraordinary job of structuring this roster contractually."

Linebacker Malcolm Smith, the Super Bowl MVP, was a 2011 seventh-round draft choice, who played for Carroll at USC. Smith wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.

"Guys that are not the heralded guys coming in competed in our program and found a way to contribute in enormous ways," Carroll said. "He's had a huge impact. It's because he's such a well-rounded athlete, and he knows our system so well . . . He's a great asset to us. He plays all kinds of positions, and he's a fantastic special-teams player, as well."

Smith also appeared at yesterday's news conference, to accept the keys to the Chevy truck given to the MVP. Unlike Carroll, dapper in a suit despite the lack of sleep, Smith wore a camouflage-pattern, long-sleeve T-shirt and cargo pants.

"I'm dressed to go to Disney World," he said. "Sorry about that."

Nobody seemed to mind.

On Twitter: @LesBowen


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