Sunday, February 2, 2014

Let the copycatting begin

The National Football League has the reputation among its coaches of being a copycat league. Especially around this time of the season.

Watch how the Super Bowl champion plays the game and how it wins the game and chances are at least a few coaches will take note and begin mapping plans to replicate it if at all possible.

Take, for example, Sunday’s dismantling of the great Denver Broncos offense by the even greater defense of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 48. Now that was a brilliant lesson in how the game should be played from a defensive standpoint.

The 43-8 victory was as close to being a perfect game for the Seattle defense as you will ever see. It wasn't a fair fight. One can make an argument that it was even better than the 1985 Chicago Bears or 2000 Baltimore Ravens, both of whom had amazing defenses.

Seattle totally dominated Denver’s record-setting offense from the outset, making Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning look more like a journeyman quarterback than a future Hall of Famer.

It was as though Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn somehow managed to tap in on Manning’s brain waves all evening and come up with the perfect defense for just about every play.

The veteran quarterback had absolutely no chance to succeed against one of the best defenses I’ve seen in a long time. The Seahawks knew exactly what the Broncos were going to do and didn’t appear to miss an assignment.

This was a total team defensive effort by a team that plays not only with passion, but with brains. They rarely were caught out of position. That side of the ball set the tone for the evening.

Seattle defenders’ flew to the ball as if drawn by a magnet. As soon as a Broncos receiver caught a ball, he was hit almost immediately. Their sudden quickness and tremendous ability to actually tackle whoever has the football is a treat to watch in this day and age when that aspect of the game is practically deemphasized.

The ability of all 11 players on the Seattle defense to close on the ball carrier so quickly and arrive with an attitude that can truly be labeled truculent is such a joy to watch. Few teams can play that way for an entire game.

Why not? Because most teams don’t have the kind of athletic football players the Seahawks have. Notice I put athletic and football side by side. It’s hard to find good athletes who are also good football players. They are either one or the other.

The Seahawks’ defense is loaded with athletic football players, especially in the back seven. The upfront four-man defensive line does it the hard way. By themselves. Rarely did Seattle blitz Manning and yet he received solid pressure most of the evening.

The Browns wish they had linebackers like Malcolm Smith, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin and K. J. Wright. Or large members of the secondary like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Byron Maxwell.

They are all quick, have a nose for the ball, tackle well and tackle with a viciousness that makes the opposition wary of making plays in the middle of the field. It is a defense for the most part constructed through the college draft. Many of them were selected on the second or third day of the lottery.

It’s the kind of defense new coach Mike Pettine no doubt aspires to have with the Browns. Only one problem. He does not have the pieces and parts with which to cobble together anything close to what we saw in the Super Bowl.

That’s because the Browns’ roster on defense is clogged with players who are either too slow or possess mediocre football instincts. In many cases both.

Browns fans would love to be able to watch a defense like Seattle’s. But until the club’s philosophy changes on the type of player it seeks, we’re going to be subjected to the same results.

Now here’s where the copycat thing comes into focus. If – and this is a monstrous if – Joe Banner, Mike (The Ghost) Lombardi and Ray Farmer begin looking for players like Seahawks General Manager John Schneider has brought to Seattle, then maybe we’ll see some improvement.

Perhaps Pettine can put in a good word or two to at least get their attention in the event Banner and his minions paid more attention to the commercials than the game Sunday.

There’s an old axiom in football that was proven thoroughly by the Seahawks in their victory. With few exceptions, a great defense will always beat a great offense.

Offense, as they say, wins games. Defense wins championships.

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