A Clean Sweep

The poster children for the NFL's mission to eradicate head hits from the game? Look no further than the Seahawks, who were the opposite of dirty birds en route to winning the Super Bowl. Plus, readers react to Michael Sam coming out

(Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
The Seahawks made a point all season to hit the strike zone—breastbone to knees—with the helmet outside the framework of the opposition, as demonstrated by Richard Sherman here. (Damian Strohmeyer/SI/The MMQB)

In a season that drew so much attention for the controversial defensive strike zone, there’s something about Seattle’s playoff dominance that got far too little attention. For a team that hit very, very hard, the Seahawks played very, very clean.

Seattle had 188 defensive snaps in the postseason, and zero penalties on defense for unnecessary roughness, late hit on the quarterback, helmet-to-helmet hit on a receiver or any hit on a defenseless player. Thus, the Seahawks earned zero fines from the league on any defensive player for an egregious hit. (Richard Sherman did draw a $7,875 fine for taunting Michael Crabtree in the NFC title game.)

You get fined in the NFL these days for breathing heavily on receivers. And these Seahawks, with one of the best postseason defensive performances of the Super Bowl era, were totally legal.

“I just really think America should know there’s a right way to play defense,’’ Bobby Wagner said. “There’s a lot of talk about player safety. We believe in that. As the game evolves, the players have to too.”

It wasn’t an accident. Kam Chancellor, the baddest strong safety in football, did it right in the biggest games of the year. Same with big hitters Brandon Mebane, Michael Bennett, K.J. Wright and Earl Thomas.

“I just really think America should know there’s a right way to play defense,’’ middle linebacker Bobby Wagner told me. “There’s a lot of talk about player safety. We believe in that. We want to hit hard, hit right, hit in the right target. All this talk this year about the defense having to play soft, and all these rules and fines taking the big hits out of the game. We don’t buy that. As the game evolves, the players have to too. You can evolve. All our hits are legal. They are all clean. We are physical like the great old defenses. We’re proud of that.”

The Seahawks’ clean D is a result of some trickle-down coaching from head coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn—and from defensive passing game coordinator Rocky Seto. Each week, Seto would put together a tape of hits the NFL ruled illegal that week and show it to the defense. Each week, the coaches would hear the same grousing over the rules being slanted toward the offense. Each week, the coaches would tell the guys it doesn’t matter what you think—them’s the rules.

As Quinn told me: “The message was clear. We can either bitch about it, or we can adjust and play by the new rules and move on. All the blowup shots from the past, they’re over. Adjust.’’

Quinn said he used a baseball-type strike zone—breastbone to knees—to show players where they could hit. And over and over, they focused on taking out the head hits and putting in the midsection hits.

Bobby Wagner (56) and the Seahawks pride themselves on physical play. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Cliff Avril (56) and the Seahawks pride themselves on physical play. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

“We want to focus on playing clean, and playing hard,’’ Wagner said. “One particular week, I think we were coming out of our bye, and we had a chance to watch a lot of the games, and that week there were so many missed tackles and so many fines. That’s how we were taught all year. It wasn’t easy. But there’s a way to hit a guy hard, and we found it. I have not been fined this year. Kam used to get fined a lot in the past. But not now.”

“I don’t think anyone embodies being physical more than Kam Chancellor,’’ said Quinn. “But he doesn’t violate the strike zone. Pete coaches us. This began at the start of camp. We showed legal hits, illegal hits. You’d hear the groans from the guys—That’s not a penalty!—and I’d say, ‘These are the rules of engagement. We have no control over it.’ Rocky really helped educate the team. We’d have weekly meeting about ball security, and about the strike zone. It paid off.”

Tell you what I’d do if I were the NFL: I’d have Bobby Wagner or Kam Chancellor go to the Rookie Symposium in late June in Ohio and tell them what they did in the postseason. Tell them you can take the head out of the game and still be great on defense. It’d be a great lesson for the rookie class of 2014. They saw how great the Seahawks played in the postseason, and the lesson should be drilled home: not a dirty flag in 188 crucial snaps.

***

Now for your email, much of it about the Michael Sam story

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178 comments
FlyToTheGame
FlyToTheGame

Peter, I appreciate your columns each week, and I've been a loyal reader for many years now.  I hate that we live in a world where we have to let the GMs speak anonymously to hear their true opinions, even if we don't like what they have to say.  I'd rather they speak the truth under a veil of secrecy than have them lie to our faces in public. @FlyToTheGame

AJ_in_SH
AJ_in_SH

Michael Sam will only be a distraction on a losing team. He'll likely get drafted by a team like SF or SEA, where he'll only be newsworthy based on his play, and the culture of competition and team unity will supercede any concerns about his showering habits or wandering eyes. Most of the players in the NFL are from the generation for whom sexual orientation is a non-issue. And even the most bigoted of fans predominantly care about W's and L's, not so much about who wants to put their D in some B's.

And the Tebow comparison is ludicrous; his fans see a guy who objectively sucks at the skills required of a pro QB, yet he just WINS. Why? Because God chose him. And the fact that Tebow can't get a job somehow becomes religious persecution. The story has so much traction because there can be no resolution, and the rest of the world likes to laugh at Tebow and his rabid fans. Michael Sam will be a story until after the first week, then a minor story as he plays in each city for the first time. After year one, it's over, and the idea of this being such a big deal will be laughable.

ianlinross
ianlinross

The best defensive player in the SEC -- the SEC, not the Missouri Valley or the Mid-American Conference -- is only a middle of the draft player. I guess all that trash talk about SEC dominance is just that.


MisterSpeth
MisterSpeth

"Why shouldn’t such a fan be banned from that arena forever?" They probably should. Does that justify moving verbal stuff to physical violence? No. Just because the fan is a jerk doesn't mean that the player should be justified in attacking him.

ColinKnapp
ColinKnapp

Thing is, Peter, this: 


"If a GM granted anonymity is asked about Sam and believes being gay will hurt his draft stock—whether by his team or teams in general—he can say it without being hurt. So, which would you rather have? A GM on the record saying something that very well might not be the truth because the guy doesn’t want to be burned? Or a GM who is told his identity won’t be revealed and so can speak honestly?"

Is the heart of the argument. You are doing nothing but allowing these guys to get off because you don't want to hurt relationships. They should be vilified if they are bigoted - this is the 21st century.  

But...I guess you have to maintain that click count somehow.

SolidStateMind
SolidStateMind

Good lord, people!  You're still not over the fact that Seattle won the Super Bowl?!?  You're going to make excuses, blame the refs, and claim that the Seahawks are cheaters??


How old are you people?  Five?  Grow up and look forward to next year instead of behaving like spoiled brats, because your incessant whining isn't going to change anything but what others think of you!

HughJardonn
HughJardonn

Quick, someone go tell Andy Lee that the Seahawks never committed any roughing penalties in the playoffs! He nearly had his plant leg snapped in half against them when one of them ran into him as he was punting, but golly, I reckon since it wasn't called (like several Seattle penalties that day), it never happened.

As to their big bad defense hitting people legally - it would sure be nice if other teams who do the same were treated the same as Seattle players. No question in my mind if say Donte Whitner was putting the same hits on Denver in the SB that Seattle's DBs did, he would have immediately been flagged for 15. It's precisely what happened to him in Seattle. The fact that Whitner clearly hits harder than any DB wearing a Seahawk uniform, therefore the pathetic refs see the violent impact of his blasts and they wet themselves, is his own curse I guess. Peter King needs to get out from under the Seahawks' collective jockstrap.

cornersss
cornersss

did they have these pentlities during the regular season though? Because having a reputation goes a long ways if you have a habit of causing pain to people. Nobody wanted to play the steeler for a while because their defense was ruthless till the NFL had them "fixed"

RogerMcCray
RogerMcCray

Your first comment is exactly what that law was written to prevent, you have two people with an equal skill set and you hire one over the other because of their sexuality. You have proven the original person's response while trying to disprove it.

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

The Seahawks are the best coached team in the league.

Serena
Serena

Aaah the "Clean Seahawks" well clean apart from the Aderall stuff and continually making contact with receivers after 5 yards isn't that what you meant Peter?

JubJub
JubJub

The article with respect to the Seahawks is accurate.


I'm a Broncos fan, but even I have to admit that those were clean, hard hits in that game.  Kudos to that coaching staff for training their players properly.  

DavidLandry
DavidLandry

You should be ashamed for having brought up Jackie Robinson given your defense of cowardly and  bigoted NFL general managers.  If only Branch Rickey had been as craven as these guys, the color barrier would never have been broken.  "Signing Jackie and putting him on the team will create a distraction," said the Brooklyn GM in Peter King's world, "Everywhere the players go, they're going to be asked about Jackie, instead of focusing on baseball.  That's just reality.  Not saying it's right or wrong, but there it is."  What a pile of crap.

HughJardonn
HughJardonn

@SolidStateMind Weren't you crying like a little puss about the refs after the Steelers mopped the floor with the Seahawks in the SB a few years back? Yeah, you were.

BigSchtick
BigSchtick

@HughJardonn Hugh, are you 11 or 12? Still bitter with your parents about telling you there is no Santa?

My goodness, you have even been called out by fellow niner fans for your incessant whining. Get over it..

Reality-Based
Reality-Based

@HughJardonn Uh, Seattle WAS penalized on that play, though 5 yards instead of 15, and it's ridiculous to say his leg was nearly snapped in half. Actually he landed on the defender.

4clake4
4clake4

@HughJardonn  Yeah, I guess you didn't hear that Donte Whitner is thinking about changing his name to Hitner. I think that someone who considers doing that might deserve to be flagged more.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Roger

Yeah, it's called affirmative action.

BreadenBoye
BreadenBoye

@Serena  Hey Sweetheart-

ESPN Classic is playing the Whiners Super Bowl winning games all week. 

To get the full effect ... turn off your cell phone, disconnect the Internet, huddle around a 21 inch tube TV and get your great-grandma to tell you what watching the games was like.

ROTFL 

Arzu
Arzu

@Serena - Bitter much?  You can fantasize all you want, facts are facts.  Deal

Mike26
Mike26

@Serena  Well Serena, the league takes care of most of the first part and the officials the second part.  

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@JubJub   There is no doubt that some NFL players still use the helmet to try to "knock out" opposing players.  I think it was a guy on the Washington team that lead with his helmet on one play, and ended up knocking himself out!  But if it works, a 15 yard penalty is a small price to pay for taking the other teams best player out of the game.  That seems to be the mentality for the guys who are still spearing with the helmet.


It comes down to coaching too.  The Seahawks have clearly been coached to hit a certain way.  Going back to the 2012 season, Kam Chancellor concussed Vernon Davis with a shoulder hit to the chest. A penalty was called, but later that week the NFL said it was legal and should not have been a penalty.  Brutal hits are still allowed, they just have to be the right technique.

Mike26
Mike26

no, he should be ashamed for comparing racism to homosexuality. THAT is the tragedy in all of this - the "struggle" of gays is not in the same galaxy as what blacks went through in our history. That's terrible.

BillHeinsonSr.
BillHeinsonSr.

@HughJardonn @SolidStateMind  

Your statement wouldn't be so stupid if it were not for the fact that referee in that game, Bill Levey has publicly stated that officiating mistakes were made in Superbowl XL. I still have the article; "Ref Admits Mistakes in Super Bowl" it's dated August 10, 2012, it's hanging in my office. Were people upset about it? You bet! So many people feel that the officials effectively took Seattle out of that game. 
If 21 to 12 is classified as "Wiping the floor"  43 to 8 must be a slaughter! 

HughJardonn
HughJardonn

@Reality-Based I suggest you look closer at the play. Lee was hit on his plant leg while his punting leg was still in the air, and he could have easily had his leg lower leg/ankle snapped in two. It was clearly "roughing the kicker" and should have been 15 yards and a SF first down, instead of Seattle getting the ball nearly at midfield. Like several other plays that day, the call was blown (or ignored) horribly, and once again in Seattle's favor. 


See YouTube video -- NFL RIGGED - 49ers defeat Seahawks / Refs Defeat 49ers

HughJardonn
HughJardonn

@4clake4 As opposed to an entire defensive backfield that loudly refers to itself as the "Legion of Boom." Nothing to see there, I guess.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Buck

So what is your supporting data? According to Wikipedia, it looks like Seattle had 3 suspensions as did Jacksonville and the Rams, and 4 other teams had 2. I don't know what the correct data is, but it looks like it is statistically irrelevant. Nobody wants to lose players, but the whole thing looks like an "issue" for whiners.

Epacific
Epacific

@Buck2185 @unitcaptain11  And the most drunk.  Oh wait, that's Aldon Smith and the 49ers.  But they had that alleged rape case against the QB right?  Sorry, that was Big Ben of the Steelers.  How about that murder deal?  Hold the phone, that was Hernandez of the Patriots.  Soo . . . what did the Seahawks do?  Take the college drug that students use to study?  Adderall?  MEIN GOTT!!  The inhumanity of it all!  Besides, they're the only ones who took it right?  Get over it Bucko and stop whining: the Seahawks were the best team in the NFL this season.

HughJardonn
HughJardonn

@unitcaptain11

 " Brutal hits are still allowed, they just have to be the right technique."

No, they have to be by the right team, as in Rah, Rah, Shish Boom Bah guys like Carroll, as opposed to guys the refs don't like (Harbaugh)


Arzu
Arzu

@unitcaptain11 @JubJub The hits laid on Percy Harvin during the New Orleans playoff game were blatant in their intent to take him out of the game.  I have great respect for the Saints, but their defense played to maim in that game

deggie
deggie

@Mike26  Didn't he bring up Jackie Robinson in the letter about Marcus Smart going into the stands? What does this have to do with homosexuality and why should Mr. King be ashamed?

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Mike

Tell that to the gays who have been beaten, burned, lynched throughout history or the teens who have such a high suicide rate or have been thrown out by their parents or who, until recently, have been denied the opportunity to marry. Tell it to those whose church's have called them an abomination in the eyes of God or that their only choices are to somehow change their sexual orientation or be celibate for their entire lives.

It's so obvious that you have a deep empathy and knowledge of growing up gay in the U.S. Let's not bother to talk about many African countries or Russia.

You are about as clueless as you can be on this subject.

MoeLarryJesus
MoeLarryJesus

@Mike26 What's really terrible is that you see no similarity between those two forms of bigotry.

HughJardonn
HughJardonn

@SolidStateMind Golly, I completely lack reading comprehension? Wow. I guess you told me, huh? How will I ever get by. Now, let me guess, genius - because their defense received no flags, that means they didn't actually commit any penalties, huh? The stupidity is mind boggling. The Seattle defense was bailed out by the refs repeatedly at home this year.

SolidStateMind
SolidStateMind

@HughJardonn @Reality-Based  Not only are you clearly biased, you're also completely lacking reading comprehension:  the Seattle DEFENSE received no flags for illegal hits or roughing during the playoffs.  The penalty you refer to was committed by the special teams, doofus.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Buck

Subsequently I looked up the data reported by ESPN and comments by other posters. The numbers are not very significant.

cornersss
cornersss

@BillRobinson if seatle wasn't winning nobody would talk about it.If lance Armstrong never won 7 tours in a row he never would have been caught.

ericwkillian
ericwkillian

Browner and Thurmond were suspended for recreational drugs (pot) not PEDs, Irvin was the only PED suspension

MichaelDuerre
MichaelDuerre

@cornersss Since 2011, Seattle starters suspended--Brandon Browner 2012, 2013 (PED and substance abuse), Bruce Irvin 2013 (PED), John Moffitt 2011(PED--traded to Denver in August 2013).  Thurmond is a back-up/situational player.


Do a lot of teams have a lot of starters suspended the last 2 years?  Let's see . . . 

Tampa Bay (Aquib Talib and Eric Wright, 2012--both PEDs)


Cleveland (Joe Haden 2012--PEDs, and Josh Gordon 2013--substance abuse)

Washington (Fred Davis and Trent Williams 2011--both substance abuse, Rob Jackson and Jarvis Jenkins 2013--both PEDs, Fred Davis again 2013--substance abuse)

Denver (Von Miller 2013--PED)


Jacksonville (Justin Blackmon, Justin Blackmon, and Justin Blackmon--substance abuse)


Minnesota (Kevin Williams 2011--PED, Jerome Felton 2013--substance abuse)


Washington has 9 suspensions since 2011.  Seattle has 7.  Why is it that no one is villifying the Redskins?  Oh, right, because they sucked this year!

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Mike

Incidentally, I was rooting heavily for the Broncos, and I don't consider myself a Seahawks fan. But I am impressed by the Seahawks organization from the owners down to the players.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Mike

See my comment above. Hardly a compelling difference over a four year period (1-3 total difference over 4 years). Now that it has Pete's attention, I would be very surprised if those numbers don't change, just as the number of illegal hits has. It has become an item of focus because nobody wants to lose players to suspensions.

Personally, I'm more concerned with DUI's, physical abuse to women, and the high rate of bankruptcies after retirement of players, not that I want to understate the importance of controlling the use of PEDs. The Seahawks are a young team, and I'm really surprised that instant wealth with young players doesn't create a higher rate of problems. If I recall correctly, the incidence of these problems is lower than the general population.

Mike26
Mike26

@cornersss  It's been well-reported that Seattle has had the most the past few seasons - especially once Pete Carroll came aboard.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Mike

Yeah, the Seahawks had 1-3 more suspensions over a 4 year period than half the teams in the NFL, followed closely by the Broncos, Giants, and Patriots. Somehow, now that the problem has Pete Carroll's attention, I think we'll see those numbers change.

cornersss
cornersss

do lots of teams have a lot of starters suspended the last 2 years for peds?Or are you just guessing?

Mike26
Mike26

@Epacific @Buck2185 @unitcaptain11  Virtually every team has had some drug suspensions/behavioral issues/etc.   The Seahawks have just happened to lead the league in them the last couple of seasons.   When someone else jumps them, nobody will mention the 'Hawks anymore.  Until/unless that happens, enjoy the win!

Thundrra
Thundrra

@Arzu @unitcaptain11 @JubJub  What?!!  That first hit by Bush was flagged, but should have been a legal hit.  The second hit in the endzone he just hit his head on the turf. I'm sorry, Harvin's a great player, but is anyone surprised that the guy who played one game the whole season before the Saints-Seahawks game with long history of debilitating migraine headaches left the game?  

You guys beat a very talented Saints team.  Quit whining and enjoy the victory.  Don't believe me?  Ask Percy Harvin.


http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/seahawks/2014/01/23/percy-harvin-seattle-seahawks-new-orleans-saints-nfl-playoffs/4807957/

AJ_in_SH
AJ_in_SH

The article is about the failings of the APA and their classification system - it does not lament the reclassification of homosexuality as not being a mental illness. In fact, the point of the article is to decry the lack of scientific method, by starting with a conclusion and then finding supporting "evidence" - sound familiar, imbecile?

PatrickMurphy
PatrickMurphy

@BillRobinson Gee, you're right, I just dreamed up (a couple of days ago) my argument that mental illness was 'cured' in 1973 and luckily for my credibility, went and found an article to support my position, with no previous exposure to the facts.


Now who's being foolish? 

HughJardonn
HughJardonn

@BillRobinson wrote: "How else do you explain that Michael Gay is the first player to openly acknowledge his sexuality, "

LMFAO How nice - "Michael Gay." You just couldn't get through one week without letting your true bigotry out, could you? Even in this covert way of hiding it in the middle of another long diatribe.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Patrick

What you do is selectively seek articles that support your previously held biases. You have no idea of what constitutes scientific research. Your link is not to a credible scientific journal; nor do you offer any peer reviews of the article. The clear consensus of the scientific community is that we are dealing with a sexual orientation that is based on complex factors with a lot of continuing research going on, but I know of no credible body of scientists that think homosexuality is either a mental illness or a preference.

But if you want to appear foolish, keep posting your nonsense. I doubt you're convincing anybody.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Patrick

Read much scientific literature? If we want to talk about mental illness, perhaps you should look in the mirror.

PatrickMurphy
PatrickMurphy

@BillRobinson The reason that they have such a high suicide rate is because they are mentally ill.  That's a fact and just because some easily intimidated members of the medical profession have changed their minds and no longer consider it as such, many still do.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Mike

You're the one who is oversimplifying the discussion with false either/or comparisons. I'm surprised you so blithely brush off the effects of discrimination on gays to state they are in another galaxy compared to racial discrimination. All the things I mentioned happened to gays in the U.S. In many ways the discrimination is worse with gays than with blacks. As bad as the effects of discrimination were (and still are to some extent), blacks didn't turn on members of their own families. Black churches didn't cast out members as being abominations in the eyes of God. The suicide rate for black teenagers isn't at the level of gay teenagers.

Equality should be a goal for all, and it's rather pointless to try to rank the effects of inequality among the various groups - racial, gender, or sexual discrimination hurt us all. Your comment about the galactic difference between racial and sexual orientation did not seem to be restricted to the NFL. And I don't begin to understand your comment that nothing is stopping the hiring of gays in the NFL. How else do you explain that Michael Gay is the first player to openly acknowledge his sexuality, or that NFL GMs and scouts say that doing so will harm his chances of imployment.

You're the one who rather forcefully suggests that unless you're a player of transcendent talent, it simply is a bad business decision to risk selecting a gay. Aside from the moral absurdity of your position, it's a profoundly short-sighted, indeed stupid, decision to not maximize the potential of your players who are gar but in the closet or to reduce the potential talent pool by not even giving an openly gay player a chance. There is no way to support such a practice as being a good BUSINESS decision or that somehow the NFL business is different than any other business in this regard.

Mike, you're a smart guy, and I hope you read this even though it's late in this thread. I'd love to hear your comments in reply.

Mike26
Mike26

@BillRobinson  Bill, while I am aware of other cultural values regarding homosexuality around the globe, this article and this situation is about the NFL.  Bringing up other countries is completely irrelevant to the NFL equation - whether Sam is welcomed with open arms or shunned, it's not going to make a difference on the other side of the globe.  I'm enjoying (most of) our discussion without bringing in peripheral issues that aren't going to be affected one way or another by Michael Sam's potential NFL career.

Mike26
Mike26

@BillRobinson  Bill, I've been around for a lot of changes too over the years.  At this point, I respect your opinion because you've given reasonable, rational responses even though I don't agree with all of them on THIS topic.  I don't believe we're that far apart actually; what I've done is simply pointed out a few things that aren't discussed a whole lot, partially because they're true.  


Personally, I don't care if the NFL is full of gay players or just one (well, we all know there's a 99% likelihood that there's already gay players in the league that HAVEN'T "gone public").  I don't.  I just get worn out hearing only one side of any discussion.  I've yet to call anyone a name - but have described a few as naive.  I've been called a multitude of names for simply describing some observations and reality.  I've seen my industry undergo many, many changes through the years (as I'm sure you have yours too) - racial, gender-based, even age-based - and that was far from the daily media spotlight that this Sam situation is likely to entail.  I am simply pointing out a few rather realistic situations that some folks either refuse to accept as reality or are just too simplistic to understand when it comes to the NFL.

BillRobinson
BillRobinson

@Mike @BillRobinson

I certainly don't want to understate the cause of Civil Rights, which I have been involved with since the '50's. I don't recall black teenagers being thrown out by their parents or being condemned by their churches for being gay - something they have no more control over than the color of their skin.

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