NFC West: Michael Bennett

Golden Tate to visit the Lions

March, 11, 2014
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Seattle Seahawks free agent receiver Golden Tate is about to find out how much other teams want him, and if they’re willing to pay the $6 to $7 million a year he wants to leave Seattle.

Tate
Tate
Tate will be in Detroit on Wednesday to visit the Lions. Obviously, Tate would be the No. 2 receiver there behind Calvin Johnson. Other team visits, the Jets could be one of them, are possible before he makes a decision.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider said keeping Tate is a priority, but the price could become a factor. Seattle released wide receiver Sidney Rice, which saved $7.3 million of cap money. But it’s unlikely the Seahawks would go higher than $5 million per year for Tate.

Seattle had a big signing Monday in keeping defensive lineman Michael Bennett, which proved to be even more important Tuesday when they lost defensive tackle Clinton McDonald to Tampa Bay and defensive end O’Brien Schofield to the New York Giants.

The Seahawks now are working to keep defensive tackle Tony McDaniel. The team also might be interested in one of the free agent defensive ends -- Jared Allen, Julius Peppers or maybe even Demarcus Ware -- if the price is right on a one-year deal.

It appears Seattle could lose cornerback Walter Thurmond to the Jaguars, who are becoming the Seahawks-East. Thurmond is making a visit to Jacksonville on Wednesday.
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Mission accomplished. The Seattle Seahawks did what they wanted to do and kept the man they really wanted to keep.

Michael Bennett, possibly the No. 1 defensive lineman among this year's free agents, signed a four-year deal with Seattle on Monday that will pay him $28.5 million-plus, including $16 million guaranteed and $10 million for 2014.

“It was close, but I'm happy to be coming back with the Seahawks," Bennett said. “I have a good situation, so why would I want to change it? And I got as much guaranteed as any other contract out there. This is a great team and great organization. I want all our guys to come back."

Seattle general manager John Schneider said all along that re-signing Bennett was a top priority, along with keeping the core of the Super Bowl-winning team together.

Bennett was the team's best defensive lineman last year after signing a one-year contract for $5 million. He had 8.5 sacks and was a constant disruptive force with his ability to play tackle or end.

So the question is, can the Seahawks still re-sign their other top free agents after spending this much money on Bennett? Does this signing mean wide receiver Golden Tate is gone? Does it mean they can't keep defensive tackles Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel? Does it impact the ability to re-sign kicker Steven Hauschka?

Not necessarily.

The Seahawks were able to keep Bennett for less money than some people thought it would take for him to stay. Some thought Bennett would get as much as $40 million over four years.

What Seattle is paying Bennett is similar to what they would have paid defensive end Red Bryant this year if they had kept him.

Tate is probably Seattle's next priority. The Seahawks released receiver Sidney Rice to free up money to try to keep Tate. But Tate believes he can get more than $7 million per year, possibly from the New York Jets. If so, he is probably gone. If the Seahawks can keep him in the $5 million range for four years, he could return.

Top kickers in the league are getting $3 million or more, which is what Hauschka will want in order to stay. He's worth it. Hauschka missed only two field goals all season, and one of those was blocked.

The Seahawks probably will need to choose between McDonald and McDaniel. If so, they should keep McDonald. He made only $592,000 last year and had a breakout season with 5.5 sacks.

So the price was right for keeping Bennett, who turned down more money from the Chicago Bears. They offered Bennett $32 million over four years. However, Illinois has a state income tax and Washington doesn't, so it's probably a wash.

Bennett said the contract details did play a small part in his decision, but not a big part. The fact is that Bennett wanted to stay in Seattle, despite his earlier words that “this isn't Costco” when asked about giving a hometown discount.

"It's about the fans, the team and the city," he said. "I think this is the No. 1 football city in America."



Bennett also said Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman begged him to stay and influenced his decision.

The Seahawks also are likely to make a couple of more moves with veteran players to add salary-cap space. Defensive end Chris Clemons, whose cap value is $9.6 million in 2014, probably will be released, but could re-sign for less money. Tight end Zach Miller, with a cap value of $7 million this year, probably will need to restructure his contract in order to stay.

Once again, Schneider is showing he is the master manipulator on salary-cap issues. He managed to keep one of the defensive stars of a Super Bowl-winning team, and did so for less money than many thought it would take.

Don't count the GM out when it comes to keeping most of the other key free agents who helped Seattle win a championship.

Franchise/transition tags: Seahawks

February, 17, 2014
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The Seattle Seahawks have three top-priority free agents they want to keep: defensive end Michael Bennett, receiver Golden Tate and kicker Steven Hauschka.

But considering where the team is headed with it salary-cap issues one year from now, it appears unlikely Seattle would use a franchise tag on any of them.

There are three possible franchise designations -- exclusive tender, non-exclusive tender and transition player. All three are explained here.

The Seahawks know a day of reckoning is coming after next season when the contracts are up for cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas, and quarterback Russell Wilson is eligible to renegotiate his original contract.

That’s going to cost $35 million to $40 million to keep all three of them. A franchise designation could make sense next year for Sherman or Thomas.

But for now, the cost is just too steep for Bennett or Tate. Bennett would receive a raise of almost $8 million, going from $4.8 million to $12.6 million. Tate’s salary would be an astronomical increase from $880,000 against the salary cap to $11.6 million.

That’s just too steep a price to pay for a team that has to plan ahead for the enormous salary issues coming soon.

However, a franchise tag for Hauschka isn’t completely out of the question. It would cost the Seahawks a comparatively low $3 million, moving Hauschka from $620,000 to $3.6 million.

It may seem a little far-fetched to use the franchise tag on a kicker, but the Seahawks have done it before. General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll opted to use it on kicker Olindo Mare in 2010, but they haven’t used it since.

Hauschka was one of the best kickers in the league last season, missing only two attempts, and one of those was blocked. He also improved his distance on kickoffs with touchbacks on 52 percent on those kicks.

Nevertheless, it’s more likely the Seahawks will try to sign Hauschka to a multiyear deal than use the franchise tag.
RENTON, Wash. -- A quartet of Seahawks are spending the day at ESPN headquarters Friday, appearing on various shows and several editions of SportsCenter.

Defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, along with middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and receiver Jermaine Kearse, are in Bristol, Conn., for the ESPN Car Wash, as we call it, making the rounds all day on the campus.

But having four guys fresh off a Super Bowl victory is being called the Mega Car Wash.

"I don't know how rare this is, or if anything like this has even happened before at ESPN," said ESPN's Shaun Wyman, the lead booker for the NFL players. "This Seahawks team is full of guys on the verge of becoming stars.

"To have this opportunity to welcome four players to Bristol and feature them in-studio on our programs just days after their Super Bowl victory is an opportunity we couldn't pass up. Their agents, publicists and Seahawks PR are all great to work with and we couldn't do this without their support."

The four players flew back to the East Coast on Thursday following Wednesday's Super Bowl victory parade in downtown Seattle with more than 700,000 fans lining the streets.

Kearse, who turned 24 on Thursday, said he can't wait for the day to start. He caught four passes for 65 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass, in the 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos.

"I can't imagine a better birthday week," Kearse said. "I'm pumped for the opportunity and can't wait to spend the day on ESPN's campus with a few of my teammates."

The foursome will appear together on Friday's editions of SportsCenter at 6, 8 and 10 a.m. PT, along with 3 p.m. show.

Here's the list of other radio and TV programs that will feature the Seahawks (all times Pacific):
  • Mike and Mike (3 a.m. on ESPN Radio, simulcast on ESPN2)
  • First Take (7 a.m. on ESPN2)
  • The Herd with Colin Cowherd (7 a.m. on ESPN Radio, simulcast on ESPNU)
  • Numbers Never Lie (9 a.m. on ESPN2)
  • SVP & Russillo (10 a.m. on ESPN Radio, simulcast on ESPNEWS)
  • NFL Live (1 p.m. on ESPN).
  • Highly Questionable (1 p.m. on ESPN2)
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Peyton Manning might be the best quarterback in NFL history, but Mr. Manning was no match for the Seattle Seahawks' defense in Super Bowl XLVIII.

He and his Denver Broncos were helpless, hopeless and hapless in a 43-8 loss to Seattle, which turned in one of the greatest defensive performances in Super Bowl history against the greatest offense in NFL history.

Manning had the best season of any quarterback, and the Broncos offense scored a record 606 points.

No. 1 offense versus No. 1 defense. It’s all everyone heard about going into this game.

No contest.

Manning and his Broncos were completely outmanned by a defense like no other. This was men against boys, Super Bowl style.

"Our defense is one of the best that has ever played," Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett said without hesitation. "We just have so many great players. I can’t believe the NFL even lets us all play on the same defense. Guys like me, [free safety] Earl Thomas and [defensive end] Cliff Avril. It’s just unfair."

It looked unfair to the Broncos, a team that had manhandled almost every defense it faced this season.

But then they met the Seahawks' defense and became unwatchable.

"Watching the film on them, we saw they hadn’t played a defense like ours," middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "They hadn’t played a defense that flies around like we do, that hits like we do and does it on every single play."

Seattle had two interceptions and two forced fumbles. The Seahawks shut out Manning and the Broncos in the first half before allowing one meaningless touchdown in the third quarter, long after the outcome had been decided.

Seahawks outside linebacker Malcolm Smith was the Super Bowl MVP, the first defensive player to win it since Tampa Bay's Dexter Jackson in 2003. Smith had a 69-yard pick-six, a fumble recovery and 10 tackles. And he spent most of the season as a backup.

"It’s unbelievable," Smith said. "No way I thought this could happen, but it feels good. I just feel so fortunate to be a part of this defense.

"Peyton is a great quarterback, and they have a great offense, but we felt they hadn’t seen a defense with the amount of speed we have."

If ever the MVP trophy should have gone to a group, this game was it. You could have picked a half-dozen guys on Seattle's defense, including strong safety Kam Chancellor -- who had 10 tackles and an interception -- and Wagner, who had 10 tackles.

Avril had two pass deflections, one of which led to Smith's pick-six. Defensive end Chris Clemons forced a fumble and had a deflection.

Officially, the Seahawks had only one sack, but they were in Manning’s face most of the night.

"We knew if we got pressure on Manning, we could affect the outcome of the game," Avril said. "That’s what we did tonight."

They did it without any tricks or surprises.

"We didn’t change anything we do," Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "We let our guys play in the situations they are comfortable with. It wasn’t about [Denver]. It was about us playing the way we play."

And that meant getting after Manning.

"I know our guys know how to rush," Quinn said. "But we didn’t talk about sacks. We talked about moving Peyton off his spot. If we did that, we knew they would have to deal with us."

Manning has the ability to outsmart and out-think any defense. But Sunday, he looked like a confused kid against the neighborhood bullies.

Some people said this Super Bowl would determine his legacy. Hogwash. Manning’s legacy is secure. But no man, not even Superman, could have gotten it done against the Seahawks' defense Sunday night.

Don’t be misled by the statistics. Manning set a Super Bowl record for passes completed with 34 out of 49 throws. And receiver Demaryius Thomas had a record 13 receptions.

How utterly meaningless those numbers are. Most of those completions and catches came long after the outcome had been determined.

From the first play, it was a disaster for the Broncos. The opening snap sailed over Manning’s head for a safety.

It only got worse.

The Seahawks' defensive line dominated the game -- ferocious, fierce and overwhelmingly physical. They smacked the Broncos in the mouth, and Denver's offense couldn’t smack back.

"We know when we play up to our capabilities, no offense can beat us," Bennett said. "I think a lot of people who doubted us feel pretty stupid right now."

One historically great player was no match for a defense full of hungry, young players with a bad-boy image and a toughness that defined a championship season.

"I couldn’t be more proud of these guys," Quinn said. "We played the game on our terms. We just talked about playing our style, which is fast and physical. It’s an attitude."

It was an attitude that made history against a quarterback for the ages. In a season to cherish, Seattle's defense finished with a Super Bowl performance to remember.
NEW YORK -- The talk is over, and the day finally is here: Super Bowl Sunday.

Here are five things the Seattle Seahawks must do well to defeat the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium:

1. Pressure Peyton Manning: It’s a mammoth task against a quarterback who gets rid of the football so quickly, but it isn’t so much about getting sacks as it is putting enough pressure on Manning to take him out of his comfort zone.

Everyone knows Manning is a classic pocket passer. He likes to step up in the pocket to make his throws. That will make it difficult for a talented edge-rusher like Cliff Avril to get to Manning.

Bryant
So the Seahawks have to get pressure up the middle with their defensive tackles -- Brandon Mebane, Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel. Big Red Bryant will also get a push in the middle sometimes, and they might use some stunts with end Michael Bennett rushing up the middle when he lines up outside. Also, look for middle linebacker Bobby Wagner to blitz a couple of times.

"There’s no certain way to get to Manning," Bennett said. "It comes down to doing what we do and beating your man."

2. Let the quiet Beast loudly rumble: It’s been a strange and somewhat stressful week for Marshawn Lynch, having to do media sessions on three consecutive days. Not his cup of tea, and a distraction the Seahawks could have lived without, but that is all behind them now.

Lynch
Lynch was successful on runs up the middle in the first two playoff games this season, but the Seahawks should try more off-tackle runs and toss sweeps against Denver. The Broncos have Terrance Knighton at nose tackle, a mountain of a man at 340 pounds. He’s a run-stuffer.

When asked what his biggest concern was regarding the Denver defense, Lynch didn’t hesitate. "Pot Roast," he said, which is Knighton’s nickname. "He’s a big boy."

The Seahawks might use a third tackle with Alvin Bailey, as they did against the 49ers, to line up with tight end Zach Miller and use a muscle push to run Lynch off the edge of the line and hope he goes Beast Mode.

3. Keep the Broncos guessing with Harvin: The Seahawks need to make the most of their X factor in receiver Percy Harvin. The Denver defense can’t know exactly how to account for a guy who played only six quarters this season, but they know he’s faster than a cheetah with its tail on fire.

Harvin
So make them worry about Harvin on almost every play by putting him in motion and lining him up in different spots. Get the ball to him early so Denver will know he’s part of the plan. Someone for Denver will have to spy him, meaning someone else on the Seattle offense -- receivers Golden Tate or Doug Baldwin -- will get free.

"We’re excited to have Percy back, because he brings more to the table," Tate said. "He's going to open it up for other guys more."

4. Punish the Broncos on crossing routes: The Seattle defense can’t allow Manning and his receivers to nickel-and-dime them to death with short passes over the middle and quick slants.

Chancellor
And if receiver Wes Welker wants to try a pick-play block, have strong safety Kam Chancellor waiting to greet him. Linebackers Malcolm Smith and K.J. Wright also have to get physical on these plays and let the Broncos know there is a price to pay every time they catch a pass in the middle of the field.

"We are a physical bunch," Chancellor said. "We like to be physical. We like to be hands-on. We like to make you feel our presence. That’s how we operate."

5. Play with poise: This is the most important point. Seattle is the more talented team overall, but the Seahawks must play smart and not get over-amped in the biggest game of their lives. Careless personal fouls and false starts can be the difference in the game, and too much emotion can cause a player to make a mistake he wouldn’t normally make.

Sherman
The Seahawks did a great job of controlling their emotions in the NFC Championship Game against the hated 49ers. Well, until the end when cornerback Richard Sherman went on testosterone overload after the game-saving play. But the game was decided at that point, so have at it.

The same is true in the Super Bowl. Play your game and don’t give the Broncos a freebie. Do what you did to get here.

"Respect the journey," said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. "But at the same time, enjoy the moment. Take it all in. It is real. Just be poised and respect the process. I’m going to play with a smile on my face and just go for it."

Good advice. If the Seahawks follow it, that should be enough.

There was a time, when John Elway wore a helmet at work instead of a tie, when the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were division rivals.

From 1977 to 2001, the two teams did their football business together in the AFC West and now these former division rivals, who have gone their separate ways since -- through good times and bad -- now arrive to Super Bowl XLVIII as the matchup many wanted to see.

The Broncos' league-leading scoring offense -- which produced an NFL record 606 points with Peyton Manning at quarterback -- against Seattle's league-leading defense (14.4 points per game), a physical, brash group that led the league in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense and interceptions.

It is the first time the league's No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense have met in the Super Bowl since 1990, when the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants authored a classic, a 20-19 Giants win decided when Scott Norwood's kick drifted wide right.

ESPN.com Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game:

Legwold: Terry, in your mind, what are some of the major decisions John Schneider and Pete Carroll have made to put the Seahawks in this position?

Blount: Jeff, first and foremost, the one decision that almost everyone will point to is selecting Russell Wilson with a third-round draft choice two years ago when so many experts felt Wilson was too short to be an effective starter in today's NFL. That led to another big decision when Carroll named Wilson the starter after the team had signed Matt Flynn to a big-money deal -- a brave move, to say the least. But pointing to one move doesn't begin to tell the story of a team that Schneider and Carroll completely revamped over the past four seasons. Only four players remain from the team they inherited in 2010. Schneider and Carroll's strengths are their trust in each other and their ability to make stars, or at least quality starters, out of players that other teams overlooked such as cornerback Richard Sherman (a fifth-round pick), slot receiver Doug Baldwin (undrafted) and guard J.R. Sweezy (a seventh-round pick). They also made one of the best trades in team history, acquiring Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo in 2010. It's an example of how Schneider and Carroll are willing to take chances on players who might have had off-the-field issues.

Let me ask you a similar question, Jeff. Elway gets huge props for convincing Manning that Denver was the place for him to end his career, but obviously, it took more than one move to get the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Aside from Manning, what has made Elway's tenure so successful?

Legwold: Elway's mission, for owner Pat Bowlen, when he took the job, wasn't just to make the team competitive as quickly as possible after the 4-12 finish in 2010, but to fix the cracks in the foundation. This meant addressing the personnel and salary-cap issues that needed to be dealt with if the team was going to succeed over the long term. Elway always says people talk to him about a "win-now philosophy," but he wants the team to win from now on.

Elway and the Broncos' front office cleaned up the cap a bit, and though Elway is a former quarterback, he thinks big picture. They've drafted plenty of defensive players -- 11 of 23 picks under Elway -- and they've made finding the guy they want more important than simply making big-ticket splashes in free agency, other than Manning of course. Signing players to one-year deals with little or no signing bonuses, such as Shaun Phillips (10 sacks), Paris Lenon and Quentin Jammer (two starters and a situational player in the defense), have made it go. Starting center Manny Ramirez was released by the Lions at one point. John Fox, hand-picked by Elway, and his staff also have gotten more from players who were holdovers such as Knowshon Moreno and Demaryius Thomas. Toss in some big-time draft hits -- Von Miller and Julius Thomas -- and you have back-to-back 13-3 finishes.

For their part, the Seahawks have played quality defense all season long. Terry, how do you think they will attack Manning?

Blount: They will line up and say, 'This is who were are and what we do. Beat us if you can.' I honestly don't think they'll change a thing. Whether it's a rookie calling the signals or one of the all-time greats such as Manning, the Seahawks don't believe anyone can outperform their defense. They are as talented a group as I've seen. Two things set them apart: incredible overall speed, especially at the linebacker spots, and a physical approach that borders on all-out violence and intimidation. Calling for crossing patterns over the middle against this bunch is asking for punishment. The one thing defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said they will do is change the wording and signals on their calls. And what they must do in this game is get a push up the middle on the defensive front and force Manning to move in the pocket. Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald have to outmuscle Denver interior linemen in this game.

Seattle's Legion of Boom secondary is an extraordinarily talented group that includes three players who were voted into the Pro Bowl. They play a lot of press coverage and almost dare a quarterback to try to beat them.

Jeff, does man-to-man coverage help or hurt Manning and his receivers?

Legwold: Man coverage almost never hurts Manning, unless those defensive backs consistently knock the Broncos' receivers off their routes, or Mother Nature brings a windy night. And not just a breeze, but something on the order of the 40-mph gusts the team faced on a frigid night at New England this season. But even then Manning was sharp and aggressive on a late drive to tie the game at 31-31. Where some defenses have had some success this season -- Indianapolis, New England and to a certain extent Jacksonville -- was when they essentially tossed aside the idea of adding pressure to try to get Manning, because he gets the ball out too quickly, and play as physically as possible against the Broncos' receivers to disrupt their routes and disrupt the offense's timing. That said, Manning still threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts to go with 295 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars. And while the Patriots held him to a season-low 150 yards on Nov. 24, Manning still looked sharp late, throwing the ball in a game in which the Broncos rushed for 280 yards because New England often left six-man fronts after dropping so many players into coverage. In the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, who used much the same philosophy as in November, Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns. The mix for some kind of defensive success is usually to get the Broncos receivers out of sorts and find a way to pressure Manning in the middle of the field so he can't step into the throws.

Staying at quarterback, Terry, how do you think Wilson, certainly well-known for his poise and maturity, will handle his first Super Bowl behind center?

Blount: I realize it's a lot to ask of any second-year quarterback to enter this setting and not have it effect his performance, but Wilson is an extraordinary young man. I've said all season that he has the unusual quality of being at his best when things appear to be at their worst. He thrives on the big stage. I've never seen him rattled, and when he does make a mistake (such as fumbling on the first play in the NFC Championship Game), he acts like it never happened. And I've never seen any athlete who prepares with the time and detail that Wilson prepares. You can't fool him. People often compare him to Fran Tarkenton because of his scrambling ability, which is true. But in some ways, I see him more of a Bart Starr-type quarterback, a man who had the ultimate respect of his teammates, understood the skills of the men around him and made them better. Wilson said his goal every game is to be the calm in the storm and stay in the moment. Well, there's no moment like this one. It's cliché to say, but I think he truly believes he was born for this moment.

Jeff, there has been a lot of talk about how extreme weather conditions could benefit the Seahawks and hinder Manning's ability to throw the football the way he normally would. Do you think that's overblown?

Legwold: There may be no more overblown idea circulating around than Manning's ability to play in the cold. The cold-weather stats are always tossed around, but there are at least two of those games in some of the totals people are using when Manning played only one series because the Colts had their playoff position wrapped up. One of those was in Denver to close out the 2004 regular season (32 degrees at kickoff; Manning threw two passes in the game). The wind has been a far-bigger deal for Manning. Post-surgery, he has had to make some adjustments to his game because of some grip issues in his right hand. He wears a glove on his throwing hand in a variety of temperatures now. This season, he wore it in New England (22 degrees, wind chill of 6 degrees), against Tennessee (18 degrees), as well as in Houston (kickoff temperature was 58 degrees) and at Oakland in the regular-season finale, when the kickoff temperature was 70. And with the glove on his throwing hand in 10 games this season, including both of the Broncos' playoff wins, Manning has thrown 33 touchdown passes to go with five interceptions. He's had four 400-yard games and six games when he attempted at least 40 passes. People have scrutinized every wobble of every pass this season, but somehow he threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. And wobbles or not, Manning has not been sacked and the Broncos have punted only once in this postseason.

In the Seahawks' defense, Terry, how big of an impact did signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency have on that group?

Blount: It's this simple: The Seahawks would not be playing in the Super Bowl without them. Seattle's big weakness last year was the lack of a consistent pass rush and a lack of depth on the defensive line. Not anymore. Along with those two, Seattle also signed veteran defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, a mountain of a guy who has been a disruptive force inside. Bennett may be the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL. He has been everything the Seahawks hoped for as a hybrid down linemen who can play end or tackle effectively. He is a relentless, high-motor guy who never takes a play off. Avril is a gifted speed-rusher whose claim to fame is his uncanny ability to knock the ball out of a quarterback's hands and force a fumble, something he has done five times this season and 13 times over the past three years.

Jeff, everyone talks about the matchup between the Seahawks' No. 1 defense against the Broncos' No. 1 offense, but how do you think Denver's defense matches up against Seattle's offense and its power-running game with Lynch?

Legwold: Since Champ Bailey's full return from a left foot injury he originally suffered against the Seahawks in the preseason -- Bailey played in just five games in the regular season and was shut down for several weeks after a failed return in early December -- the team has played far better. It's surrendered 17 or fewer points in each of the past four games, including both playoff wins. And while Denver's numbers, as well as its play at times for that matter, haven't always been pretty, the Broncos do play better out of their base defense.

They will be in their base defense against the Seahawks if Seattle chooses to pound Lynch out of a two-tight-end or two-back set. They inserted a veteran, Lenon, into the middle linebacker spot down the stretch in the base to add some bulk. With Lenon, Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan at linebacker, they have speed to the ball if their defensive end can consistently set the edge. Against some of the power teams they have faced this season, including those with some read-option things in the offense such as Washington and Oakland, the Broncos showed a little more of a 3-4 look on early downs. It will be intriguing if the Seahawks -- seeing the Broncos have done far better in the heavier looks -- try to run against the nickel and dime packages and how the Broncos respond.

Terry, if the Seahawks win, what players beyond Wilson will have had the biggest roles to make it happen?

Blount: Probably the defensive linemen we mentioned earlier: Bennent, Avril and the defensive tackles getting pressure on Manning. If they do, the Legion of Boom will shine and come up with an interception or two that could change the outcome. No matter how well this rugged defense performs, it won't matter unless Wilson can throw effectively. Having receiver Percy Harvin on the field could help, but it really comes down to the same story all season. If Lynch has a punishing day running the ball, someone will be open for a big play in the passing game.

Jeff, if you had to pick one thing that Denver must do to win this game what would it be?

Legwold: Overall, they have to manage the moment. Teams don't win the Super Bowl as they go through all the build-up, but plenty have lost it when they got distracted by the bright lights and attention only to forget why they were in the Super Bowl city in the first place. As Phillips put it: "If guys want to party in New York, New York will still be there next week." But on the field, they have to keep Manning clean, give him some space to work in the pocket and with that their receivers have to play with an edge, fight for both their real estate and the ball.

Michael BennettAP Photo/Jeff RobersonMichael Bennett is focused on Sunday's game, but a big offseason pay day might be in his future.
JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Michael Bennett was in the Super Bowl spotlight Monday, and the Seattle Seahawks defensive end seemed to be enjoying it.

"It's just like being in the Willy Wonka chocolate factory right now," Bennett said. "All I see is cameras, lights and chocolate."

No, candy was not being served in the Westin Hotel ballroom. But six Seahawks players were offered to reporters, and one of them was Bennett, who led the team in sacks this season, and could challenge Richard Sherman for the team lead in personality.

Bennett is, after all, the player who described his unique sack dance earlier this week as "two angels dancing while chocolate is coming from the heavens on a nice Sunday morning."

Sweet talk aside, Bennett could be one of the key players in Super Bowl XLVIII. To win, the Seahawks must stop, or at least slow down, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos' prolific offense.

The Seattle secondary gets most of the attention, but the front seven getting pressure on Manning will be critical. Denver allowed only 20 sacks during the regular season, the fewest in the NFL. But the Seahawks had 44, tied for eighth in the league, with Bennett racking up 8.5. He also has 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in two playoff games.

"You just gotta beat your man faster. It's as simple as it gets," Bennett said. "Everybody wants to make football more than what it really is. It's just beat your guy, tackle him, and running the ball better than the other team."

Bennett has a lot on the line personally come Sunday, and not just a championship ring. He's playing for a new contract, and there's no bigger stage than the Super Bowl.

After four seasons in Tampa Bay, the 28-year-old settled for a one-year, $5 million deal with the Seahawks -- the team that originally signed him as an undrafted rookie -- this past offseason. The Buccaneers let Bennett walk, despite a career-high nine sacks in 2012.

"It was frustrating, because as a player you go out there and put everything on the line for the organization, and when it's time to get your just due and you don't get it, you feel a certain type of way," Bennett said. "But at the same time, you have to put everything in God's hands, and God had a plan for me and the plan worked out good."

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has been delighted with the addition to his D-line. "Michael's been an exceptional player. He's had a great season for us," Carroll said. "He has tremendous versatility, plays inside and outside, he's got a great motor and great savvy about him. He doesn't always do things in an orthodox manner, but he's very, very savvy."

Bennett's brother, Martellus Bennett, spent a season here in 2012 as the starting tight end for the New York Giants. Martellus, now with the Chicago Bears, displayed a quirky personality as well, such as the time he labeled himself "a black unicorn."

Michael was asked Monday if Martellus had given him any advice.

"My brother, he's a good guy," Michael said. "He supports me and just tells me to keep my head up and not get too focused on the media and the fans and just go out there and play a great game."

When asked if he might be interested in playing in New York one day, Michael played it straight, and smart.

"Um, I don't know," he said, smiling. "I like playing for the Seahawks right now."

Seahawks wanted Manning all along

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks didn’t take any time last week thinking about whom they might play in the Super Bowl. Taking on the rival 49ers was a big enough task. Super Bowl questions would have to wait.

Manning
But now that it’s here, the Seahawks players say this is what they wanted all along, a showdown with possibly the best quarterback ever to play the game in Denver's Peyton Manning.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way," Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “They’re an unbelievable, record-setting offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback. That’s as good as it gets. And that’s as tough a game as you can get in the Super Bowl.

“The No. 1 defense [Seattle] against the No. 1 offense [Denver]. It doesn’t happen like this too often where both No. 1 seeds make it. It’s a testament to the hard work on both teams. I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic game."

It may be the first snowy game in a Super Bowl. Temperatures in MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 could be in the teens, and snow always is a possibility that time of year in New Jersey.

“We’re ready for it,” Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “Whatever happens, we don’t care about the weather. We just want to go out there and win the game."

And winning against one of the all-time greats would add to the moment for many of the Seahawks.

“Going heads-up with Peyton Manning is special," Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith said. “Just knowing all the things he’s done for football, it’s really an exciting opportunity.”

Free safety Earl Thomas can't wait to test his skills against Manning.

“As a competitor, you always want to play the best,” Thomas said. “We know what’s at stake. We know a chance like this is rare.”

Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks

January, 11, 2014
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SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 23-15 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC divisional-round playoff game at CenturyLink Field:

What it means: The Seahawks advance to the NFC championship next weekend in Seattle, one home victory away from the Super Bowl. The Seahawks have won 16 of their past 17 games at CenturyLink Field.

Stock watch: Despite giving up 409 yards, most of them in the fourth quarter, it was another solid performance by the Seattle defense against the explosive Saints offense. In two games at Seattle this season, the Saints scored a total of only 22 points. New Orleans was scoreless in the first half Saturday, when quarterback Drew Brees had only 34 yards passing. But it is a little disturbing how the defense continues to give up long drives in the fourth.

Beastly again: Apparently, all that exhaustive talking to the media the past two weeks didn’t tire out Marshawn Lynch. He carried the load all day, rushing for 140 yards on 28 carries and scoring two touchdowns, a 15-yard run in the second quarter and a 31-yard scamper that put the game away late in the fourth quarter.

Harvin suffers a concussion: Once again, receiver Percy Harvin was impressive in his return to the field, but it only lasted a half. Harvin hit his head on the turf while falling backward as he tried to make a leaping catch in the end zone late in the first half. His status for the NFC Championship Game will depend on how he makes it through the concussion protocol steps during the week.

Big day for Bennett: Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett had two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and half a sack. Bennett has been the best player on the Seahawks defensive front all season.

What's next: The Seahawks (14-3) will watch Sunday’s game between the 49ers and the Panthers in Charlotte to see which team they play next weekend. Seattle split its two games with San Francisco this season and beat Carolina 12-7 in the season opener at Charlotte.

Seahawks have a lot to say

December, 21, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks were quite a talkative group this week, so here are a few interesting quotes that stood out:

Defensive linemen Michael Bennett, who has 7.5 sacks this season and 22 quarterback hurries, was asked the difference in playing for the Seahawks and playing for his previous NFL team at Tampa Bay:

Bennett
“At Tampa you just had one position and kind of stayed there,” Bennett said. “Here, everybody [on the defensive line] has to be able to play multiple positions. I think that’s one of the strengths of our defense. You can’t know where one player is. We move around and make plays.”

Bennett on the Seahawks' chances of clinching the NFC West title and home-field advantage in the playoffs with a victory Sunday against Arizona:

“We don’t want to put too much emphasis on it,” Bennett said “When you do that, guys get afraid to make mistakes and get too uptight. They don’t play the way they are capable of playing.”

Cornerback Byron Maxwell, on playing so well he will cause the coaches to make a tough decision next week on who starts when Walter Thurmond returns from his four-game suspension.

"That’s a good thing, I guess,” Maxwell said. “The end goal is getting to the Super Bowl, so it’s all about what’s best for the team. It’s a blessing we have all these guys [in the secondary]. We’re getting each other better.”

Maxwell also was asked when was the last time he had two interceptions in a game, which he did against the Giants last weekend:

"High school," he said.

Sherman
Cornerback Richard Sherman on who should be the NFL defensive player of the year between him and Seattle free safety Earl Thomas:

“I would have to give it to Earl,” Sherman said. “I think if there is anywhere that the defensive player of year should be, it should be in Seattle, whether it’s myself or Earl.”

Outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield on whether the NFL should expand the playoffs:

“I think they should keep it just like it is,” he said. "We don’t have a seven-game series like baseball or basketball. You show up and get it done or you don’t. If they added [playoff] teams, I think the competition goes down. I think the way the system is now is what makes the NFL what it is. You’ve got to be in the right position to get in the playoffs, and that makes any division race tough.”

Quarterback Russell Wilson on how important consistency is to his progress:

“Well, that was my number one goal, to be honest with you,” he said. “My number one goal coming into the season was being consistent, so that’s kind of my approach to the game, to practice, to just each day. I think that’s been a good thing so far.

“I want to keep growing. There’s so many more things that I can do better, and so many things I can learn. That’s the exciting part about being a quarterback in the National Football League. You never really know it all.”

Seahawks have no fears over this loss

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
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Russell WilsonCary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports"We should have won it," Russell Wilson said, echoing the Seahawks' version of events Sunday.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco 49ers got it done, winning 19-17 over the Seattle Seahawks in archaic Candlestick Park. If you think it made a statement or caused the Seahawks to shiver with fear, think again.

San Francisco was the better team on this day, but the best team lost.

The home team, playing in front a frenzied crowd in a game it had to have against its archrival to stay in good playoff position, won it with a field goal in the final minute.

“Penalties killed us today,” Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “But you can’t make too much of it. This is a tournament, one game at a time, and the ultimate goal is the Super Bowl.”

The Seahawks still firmly believe they are on the right path to get there. Losing a close one to the 49ers didn’t place any doubts in their heads. And there’s no way the 49ers walked away from this one and honestly said to themselves, “Oh yeah, we’re better than they are.”

The Seahawks, now 11-2 and still needing only one victory in the final three games to clinch the NFC West crown, walked away firmly believing they’re the better team, despite the slight hiccup Sunday.

And they’re right. San Francisco (9-4) did nothing more than hold serve, barely, thanks to some sloppy play by the team that had beaten them by a combined score of 71-16 in the previous two meetings.

All this game proved is that Seattle can’t have nine penalties for 85 yards and get a punt blocked, and still beat a strong team on the road.

“It was a terrific, hard-fought football game, just a slugfest,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “It was one of those types of games where one play can make a big difference. But we couldn’t get out of our own way with the penalties. That dictated the flow of the game.”

Seattle entered the game with a seven-game winning streak. They now have lost twice this season, by a total of eight points.

“We should have won it,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. “The penalties really hurt us offensively and got us off schedule. We play so physical that sometimes those calls are going to go against us. But we have to eliminate that.”

Neither team led by more than six points Sunday. The lead changed hands six times. Seattle led 17-16 before a 51-yard run by Frank Gore gave the 49ers the field position they needed to set up a winning field goal, a 22-yarder by Phil Dawson with 26 seconds to go.

“We fought hard all the way, but they got the big run at the end that gashed us,” Seattle free safety Earl Thomas said. “We didn’t take care of the little things today, and when that happens, anyone can beat you. We just were not disciplined enough against a good team. But you can’t let a game like this one define you, and it doesn’t.”

In the locker room afterward, the Seahawks kept saying the same thing over and over.

“All our goals are still in front of us,” defensive end Red Bryant said, a nine-word statement that was the theme of the moment. “It was a great game to be in and you have to give them credit. They made the plays to win the game, but we can handle it. We’ll lick our wounds and be just fine.”

In other words, no big deal. The 49ers won it. A soft “congratulations” came from the Seahawks, but with a look in their eyes that said, “Now, catch us if you can.”

“It’s good to get this out of the way now,” Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin said. “We knew it would be a hard-fought battle because they are a good football team. But it’s really about us taking care of our business now. That’s all that matters.”

Cornerback Richard Sherman, who was called for defensive holding twice (one of which was declined), sat at his locker without the least bit of concern.

“This doesn’t change anything for us,” Sherman said. “They got some fortunate penalty calls and that was the difference. It happens sometimes. When you lose like that it’s hard to be upset.

Maybe the worst news of the day for Seattle was that linebacker K.J. Wright suffered a broken foot, an injury that Carroll said likely would sideline him at least six weeks.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesMarshawn Lynch scored a touchdown in the first half, but for the game he was held to 3.6 yards per carry.
And guess what his teammates were thinking? That Wright could return for the Super Bowl.

“The season wasn’t going to end today, one way or the other,” Carroll said. “Everything is still out there for us.”

Unless the Seahawks have a total collapse in the final three games, including the last two at home against Arizona and St. Louis, they are going to have home-field advantage in the playoffs. Seattle has won 14 in a row at CenturyLink Field.

Had the Seahawks come to Candlestick and stunk up the place, as New Orleans did last week at Seattle, maybe they would have some concerns. That didn’t happen. Aside from the penalties, they played pretty well in a tough environment. The defense gave up one touchdown. Wilson completed 15 of 25 passes for 199 yards and one touchdown. His only interception was a desperation deep throw at the end of the game.

This was like one hitless game in a season in which your slugger has a .350 average and 30 homers.

“We’re still in great position,” Wilson said. “There’s no panic. We just need to stay positive.”

Keeping a positive attitude is not a problem for this team.

“You can’t win them all,” Wilson said. “The goal is winning the last one.”

Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 34-7 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Monday night at CenturyLink Field:

What it means: The Seahawks proved they are the best of the best in the NFC with a convincing victory over the Saints, which gives Seattle a two-game advantage in the race to have home-field advantage in the playoffs. But in reality, it’s more than two games because the Seahawks have defeated both the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans, which gives Seattle the tiebreaker over both teams that are two games behind them with four games to play, and the Saints and Panthers have to play each other twice.

Stock watch: In MVP considerations, Russell Wilson has moved ahead of Drew Brees by clearly outplaying his idol Monday night. Wilson was sensational in the first half, completing 14 of 19 passes for 226 yards and two TDs. And the Seattle defense destroyed the potent New Orleans passing game, including a 22-yard touchdown for defensive linemen Michael Bennett after defensive end Cliff Avril knocked the ball out of Brees' hand and Bennett caught the deflection.

Miller a tough tight end, too: This game was supposed to be about the Seahawks defense against New Orleans star tight end Jimmy Graham, but the Saints had a tough time covering Seattle tight end Zach Miller, who had a 2-yard TD catch after a 60-yard catch in the first quarter.

Maxwell and Lane up to the task: Fears of Brees lighting up the Seattle backups in the secondary were unfounded. All the distractions this week surrounding the suspension of Walter Thurmond and possibly Brandon Browner, who is out with a groin injury, didn’t hurt the Seahawks at all. Byron Maxwell played well as the starter, and Jeremy Lane also did a good job in the slot on the nickel packages.

What's next: The Seahawks fly south to play their archrivals, the San Francisco 49ers in Candlestick Park. This was expected to be a game that might decide the NFC West, but Seattle has a three-game lead with four to play, so it isn’t the game it might have been, but it is important to San Francisco’s playoff hopes.

Five Seahawks under the radar

November, 24, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks have their share of limelight players who receive plenty of recognition nationally, like quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch, cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas.

Here are a few players who don't receive that type of praise but who have contributed to the 10-1 record:

Best rookie: Tight end Luke Willson was a steal as a late fifth-round pick. Few people had heard of the 6-5, 250-pound Canadian who played college ball at Rice -- another example of GM John Schneider's ability to find quality players other teams overlook.

Willson
Willson has 12 receptions for a 14.2-yard average per catch. The Seahawks knew he could catch and had good speed, but he has performed better as a blocker than most people expected.

He started two games when Zach Miller was out with a hamstring injury, but officially, Willson has started seven games because the Seahawks opened with a two-tight end set, showing their confidence in Willson.

He is an all-around athlete who played, hockey, soccer and baseball in high school, including a stint on the Canadian Junior National Team, along with football. But he also is a brainiac (typical of Rice grads) who had a 4.0 GPA.

Best new position: It's Bruce Irvin moving from defensive end to outside linebacker. After missing the first four games due to a PED suspension, Irvin stepped into his new spot and made an immediate impact with a sack in his first game back.

Irvin
Irvin's speed has enabled to do things at linebacker that he didn't do at defensive end, like intercepting a pass 30 yards downfield in the game at St. Louis.

Irvin has 28 tackles (20 solo), two sacks, five quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. Irvin loves playing linebacker and believes he can do more things without constantly taking on huge offensive tackles.

Most underrated player: This one will surprise you. I'm going with punter Jon Ryan, the other Canadian on the Seahawks. Ryan doesn't rank among the league leaders in yards per punt, which is a misleading stat in regard to a punter's value.

Ryan's success comes from how high he kicks the ball. Returners appear to wait forever for the ball to come down, so they don't get many opportunities to gain any yards after the catch.

Only 11 of his 44 punts have been returned. But here's the eye-popping numbers. The 11 returns totaled a measly 15 yards. And one of those was 10 yards, so the other 10 totaled only 5 yards.

Eighteen punts were downed inside the 20. Ryan completely shut down the best punt returner in the league -- Marcus Sherels -- last week against Minnesota. All Sherels could muster was three fair catches. On the other two Ryan punts, one was downed at the 7 and the other went out of bounds at the 20.

Ryan is a major field-position asset for the Seahawks.

Best offseason acquisition: Now this is a tough one because Seattle has three new players -- Cliff Avril, Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett -- who have made a big difference on the defensive front line, but I'll go with Bennett at defensive end.

Bennett
Bennett is tied with Avril for the team lead with 6 1/2 sacks, but he also has 16 quarterback hurries and 20 tackles.

Avril missed the first game of the season with an injury and feels like he's just starting to find his rhythm. He has three forced fumbles, including one on a sack in the Minnesota game.

But McDaniel also is a good pick from his defensive tackle spot. He has 44 tackles, including tying his season-high with seven against Minnesota when coach Pete Carroll singled him out as having his best game.

Honestly, I'm good with picking any of these three guys. They have dramatically improved the defensive front for Seattle, which was one of the team's top priorities after last season.

And, of course, I haven't even mentioned receiver Percy Harvin, who could win this category by the end of the season.

Best return: Some would say defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, whom I listed earlier this week as the most pleasant surprise on defense this season since he came back in Week 2 after being released at the end of preseason.

But my pick here is fullback Michael Robinson. He has helped throw some key blocks for Marshawn Lynch in the last three games, but maybe just as important is his leadership in the locker room and the respect he has from all his teammates.

As this young team heads toward a possible Super Bowl run, having a veteran leader like Robinson is a big asset to keep everyone pointing in the right direction.
RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was walking on crutches Wednesday and wearing a protective boot over his sprained left ankle.

“Bobby will see if he can make it back by game day,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday. “But it will go all the way to Sunday.”

If Wagner doesn’t play, K.J. Wright will move from his outside linebacker spot to Wagner’s middle linebacker spot. Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin would start at the outside spots.

Carroll is confident that Pro Bowl center Max Unger will return this weekend after missing the last two games with a triceps injury. Unger was a full participant at practice Wednesday,

“We’re counting on him coming back this week,” Carroll said. “We’re really hoping Max will secure the calls.”

The Seahawks were missing four starters up front in the 34-28 loss to Indianapolisn on Sunday: Unger, tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini and tight end Zach Miller.

Okung and Giacomini still are out, and Miller (strained hamstring) will be a game-day decision, Carroll said. But Carroll believes Unger’s return is a big key to the backup players performing at a higher level.

“Max is one if your team leaders,” Carroll said. “He is the guy who has the greatest command of what we’re doing up front. He will help other guys play well and make the right choices. And he’ll help the quarterback [Russell Wilson], too, in identification.

“We missed that the last couple of weeks and it’s made a difference in our pass protection. There are some spacing issues that we don’t want. Max can get everybody on the right guys. The biggest issue has been the inconsistency on communication. We’ve had to suffer through that and it’s why Russell has had to run more.”

Carroll also was asked how wide receiver Percy Harvin looks since returning to the Seahawks facility after rehabbing in New York following his hip surgery Aug. 1.

“Percy has been working hard,” Carroll said. “He’s excited and he’s running and we’re hoping there are no setbacks along the way. We’ll keep progressing with it.”

Harvin is eligible to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list for the game against the Arizona Cardinals next week, but Carroll does not see that happening.

“I don’t think that is realistic,” Carroll said. “I think that’s too soon, but it’ll happen when he’s ready to go and we get a chance to prepare him so he’s physically capable of being safe.

“He’s a full-on, full-speed football player. He’s got to be ready to go. When he comes back, we want him to be able to endure the rigors of the end of the season. It’s not important to rush him back. It’s important to wait it out and be patient and get him out there when he’s ready to go and withstand the load of the game.”

Defensive tackle Michael Bennett (quad) and cornerback Walter Thurmond (knee) did not practice Wednesday. Running back Marshawn Lynch also did not practice, but he is not injured.

Carroll also said that cornerback Jeremy Lane (hamstring) and running back Spencer Ware (ankle) will be game-day decisions this week.

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