Why Seattle’s Legion of Boom was the best defense of its era

In 2012 the young, upstart Seattle Seahawks took the league by storm. Five seasons — two NFC titles, one Super Bowl win — later the ‘Legion of Boom’ era is over.

General manager John Schneider has the ball rolling on the team’s ‘transition’ period. Seattle has officially released Richard Sherman, the poster boy of the rowdy bunch, just days after trading Michael Bennett to the defending Super Bowl champs. Additionally, Earl Thomas is on the trade block while Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril are dealing with career-threatening injuries. The once trend-setting franchise is waving the white flag on quite the six-year stretch. Sure, the Seahawks will revamp their defense around Bobby Wagner, the NFL’s best inside linebacker, but it won’t quite feel the same.

This defense was fast, talented and loud, sending a ripple effect throughout the NFL as other upstart teams attempted to mirror their philosophy of building a lengthy, athletic defense (with an offense led by a Quarterback who can run or scramble) to make a Super Bowl run.

The Panthers, Falcons and Jaguars have all enjoyed some success on a model loosely based on the Seahawks, but none of have enjoyed the same amount of success, and it’s likely none ever will. The LOB’s defensive dominance was unprecedented.

This sparks the question: Where do they rank among great defenses of this era?

I’d say pretty much at the top, beating out the early 2000’s Ravens, 2002 Buccaneers, mid-2000s Bears, mid-to-late-2000s Steelers, 2008-2012 Ravens, early-2010’s 49ers and 2015 Broncos for bragging rights this century. 

Before Seattle, no defense had ever featured a secondary with such size:

Richard Sherman (6’3″, 197 pounds)

Brandon Browner  (6’4″, 221 pounds)

Byron Maxwell (6’1″, 198 pounds)

Kam Chancellor (6’3″, 232 pounds)

Earl Thomas (5’10”, 202 pounds)

Thomas, the only average-sized defender of the group, was the most important. His tenacity and range covering the the deep middle allowed the Seahawks to flourish in their Cover 3 scheme.

With Sherman and Browner (and Maxwell) covering their third of the field in the middle and deep portions, they were allowed to neglect the shallow areas in front of them. The lightening-quick Bobby Wagner and the savvy K.J. Wright took care of that.

Then there was Chancellor. The beast at strong safety played up in the box, terrorizing receivers as basically an extra linebacker in a middle zone. His athleticism and brute force forced you to be aware of him at all times.

At times, the Seahawks did play man coverage, and basically played a form of man in their zone scheme.

Wanger and Wright will remain on the team so the linebacking core will be intact, but the once-great pass rush has since seen change.

The secondary and linebacker core mixed with Bennett, Avril, and Bruce Irvin was the cherry on top of a delicious Sundae (Sunday?) defense. Now Bennett is gone, Irvin is long gone and Avril may not play again.

For four straight seasons (2012-2015) the Seahawks led the NFL in scoring defense and were No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. They built the perfect defense to matchup with this era’s high-flying offenses. The best example of this was their 43-8 dismantling of the 2013 Denver Broncos (statistically the best passing offense of all-time) in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Someday either NFL Network’s ‘A Football Life’ or ESPN’s ’30 for 30′ will do a documentary special on this group. But that’s for another day.

Today we reflect on the greatest defense of this century, which doubles as one of the most important units of all-time in how it combated the new era of offenses.

It was great while it lasted, and how long it lasted is part of what makes them great.

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