DENVER – Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett noticed a little something different against the Broncos, something you don’t always see in a preseason opener.
He thought there were a few more wrinkles than usual from the Broncos’ offense. Maybe a little more of a challenge from their starters, who played 19 plays. But the game plan definitely wasn’t basic, as you'll often see in the first week of the preseason. And that was yet another moment since Super Bowl XLVIII in which it was clear that everyone is now hunting the Seahawks, the defending champs.
“That’s just how it is,” Bennett said after Seattle’s 21-16 loss. “They’re getting us from the beginning, from the preseason on to the rest of the season, it’s going to be like that.”
There are dozens of reasons defending Super Bowl champions fail to repeat, and most champions do fail. It has been especially tough on recent champions. The last time a defending Super Bowl champion won a playoff game was nine seasons ago. You can chalk that up to a lot of different factors (“Maybe because they get pressured by all the questions about it?” safety Earl Thomas wondered, probably rhetorically), and it’s impossible to ignore the history, but the Seahawks don’t seem worried about it.
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Mostly they think they'll avoid the hangover by keeping last season in the past. There’s an intense focus on what’s in front of them this season.
“Once I’ve tasted that success and got on that level, I never want to go back to where I was,” said Thomas, the Seahawks’ All-Pro safety. “It’s motivation. It’s a big level, and I understand what it takes to get there.”
There’s no question the Seahawks’ roster is good enough to repeat. They were the best team in the NFL over the course of last season. Though, there are some minor concerns. A few injuries have hit early in camp, which is a reason key players like linebacker Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith, safety Kam Chancellor, offensive tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger didn’t play. Running back Marshawn Lynch was also out, but he reported to camp late after a short holdout and the Seahawks didn't want to risk him playing. The shorthanded offensive line gave up too much pressure when Wilson was in the game. The defensive line has taken some depth hits this offseason. Losing receiver Golden Tate as a free agent to Detroit isn’t a positive for an offense that doesn’t have a ton of proven playmakers in the passing game.
Still, everyone believes the Seahawks are at least one of the top few teams in the NFL. To repeat they’ll need to avoid the other roadblocks that trip up many champions, but the players pointed to the veterans in the locker room and the coaching staff preventing anyone from getting comfortable.
“It’s about the leadership,” Bennett said. “We’ve got a lot of older guys who have played a lot of games. I don’t worry about it. What we’ve done, the coaching staff, Pete Carroll and the rest, is talk about the next game. They haven’t talked about last year.”
Carroll has a philosophy built around competing every day, which he thinks will help. His “Always Compete” philosophy might sound corny at times but it definitely has worked. And he thinks the constant focus on winning each particular day will keep the team from thinking too much about the rest of the noise that surrounds defending a Super Bowl title.
“Had we just started the conversation now after a championship season, I’d be wondering what was going to happen,” Carroll said when training camp started.
Also, the Seahawks have the type of talent to avoid the Super Bowl hangover. It helps when you have a quarterback in Russell Wilson, entering his third season and already a Super Bowl champion, a running game with Lynch and up-and-coming Christine Michael (who had a couple runs on Thursday night that showed why Seattle is so high on him), a healthy Percy Harvin at receiver and an elite defense. Oh, that defense.
The common refrain from the Super Bowl was that the Seahawks provided a blueprint on how to beat the Broncos’ great offense during last season’s 43-8 Super Bowl victory. That blueprint looks a lot clearer when a secondary that consists of Richard Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas and Byron Maxwell is carrying out the plan. Try that same physical, aggressive approach with other personnel and see what the results are.
“Teams are probably trying to imitate us and do what we do but I don’t think it’s possible,” Chancellor said earlier in training camp. “You can go get guys our size, our speed or whatever but you can’t teach the heart side of it. You can’t teach the ‘want to.’”
Thomas wasn’t too thrilled after the first preseason game. He talked about needing to get into the film room and grade themselves tough after a performance that included some “ups and downs.” He talked about how the team still needs to gel, a process that will take some time. It’s almost like Thomas wanted to will any complacency on the team away with his words.
And it’s great to be overly critical and focus on the improvements that need to be made, but Seattle did have one of the great defenses in recent memory last year ...
“Yeah, that was last year,” Thomas said, looking up as he interrupted the question and pausing for just a beat to get a point across.
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