John Elway tried calling out the signals. He really did. The Kingdome crowd was doing its best to play defense through endless waves of sound, and it often worked. Rufus Porter stood along the edge in an upright sprinting stance. Elway was going to unwittingly fire the starting gun of a race where the finish line was his face. Somewhere in the din, the Broncos quarterback yelled, “Hike!” and the race was on. Porter has taken two steps before the lineman moves to block him. It’s too late. Porter is running the perfect parabola around the blocker and is closing quickly on his target. Boom.
The late 80’s, early 90s Seahawks defenses that featured players like Porter, Jacob Green, Jeff Bryant, Eugene Robinson, Joe Nash was fun to watch. They were more effort than flash, but Porter provided his fair share of excitement with arguably the best speed rush in franchise history. Green was still posting big sack seasons (12.5 in 1990) in his early 30s, but was more likely to beat a lineman with his hands or a move than run right around him. Porter became one of my favorite Seahawks of all-time. His presence was a big part of why that era of Seahawks defense makes my Top 5. Here they are in descending order:
Note: I became a Seahawks fan in the mid-80s, so I never saw arguably the best defense in franchise history in 1984.
#5 – 2005 Seahawks
To understand the appeal of the 2005 Seahawks defense, one first needs to appreciate the frustration of the 2004 squad. While Shaun Alexander was running for 1,700 yards and 16 TDs, partnering with Matt Hasselbeck to lead a potent Seahawks offense to lofty offensive rankings, the Seahawks defense was starting players like Chike Okeafor, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Rashad Moore and Cedric Woodard. They finished 22nd in the NFL in scoring defense and 26th in the NFL in yards allowed. Then came Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, D.D. Lewis, Chuck Darby, Andre Dyson, and even Marquand Manuel. Seattle’s 2005 squad was disciplined and sure-handed. It felt like no tackle was ever missed. Tatupu famously was seen re-arranging the defensive lineman pre-snap to put them in the best position to succeed. For the first time, Seattle’s defense seemed smart and a step ahead. It helped to have the franchise’s best offense possessing the ball and scoring the 2nd most points in the NFL, but the defense was vastly improved. Marcus Tubbs was the Red Bryant of that squad. A major difference maker who had only one great season before succumbing to injury. The overall rankings showed 7th in points against and 16th in yards allowed, but it was the Red Zone defense that was memorable. Few teams exited with touchdowns.
#4 – 1996 Seahawks
This team won’t show up on many lists outside of this one. They finished last in the AFC West, and did not enjoy many top rankings. What they lacked in overall effectiveness, they made up for in pass rush. No Seahawks defensive line has ever been this dominant. Michael Sinclair put up 13.0 sacks, Michael McCrary put up 13.5, Cortez Kennedy had 8.0, and a young Sam Adams had 5.5. Those four players accounted for 40 of the team’s 48 sacks. They spent so much effort getting off the ball to chase the quarterback, that they were one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Still, a ton of fun to watch whenever the opposing quarterback dropped back to pass.
#3 – 2011 Seahawks
Nothing is more emasculating as a football fan than when opponents can run at will. It is a hopeless feeling. The 2011 Seahawks started by stopping the run. Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch and Chris Clemons made up one of the best run-stopping lines in franchise history. They were supported by thumpers like Kam Chancellor, Hill, David Hawthorne and K.J. Wright. Earl Thomas darted in and around the opposing line to pull down backs before they got started. Opponents who tried to pass were faced with the most physical secondary in the NFL with Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Tackling was superb, and the youth made it feel like every new game was going to be better than the last. The only thing holding this defense back from being the most fun to watch was an inconsistent pass rush and an offense that failed to possess the ball for the first eight games. The linebackers were largely ordinary as well. If only they could add a speed rusher, an interior rusher, and some quicker players at the linebacker position…
#2 – 1992 Seahawks
Only a historically terrible Seahawks offense could obscure what very well could have been the franchise’s best defense. Kennedy was the most dominant player Seattle had seen on that side of the ball. Jacob Green and Kenny Easley were fantastic, but their positions made it impossible to control a game the way Kennedy did from the middle of the line. He was a wrecking ball slamming into opposing lines snap after snap, and the lineman looked like bowling pins getting knocked every which way as they bounced off of him. Nobody blocked Kennedy that year. Nobody. He registered 14.0 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and an astounding 92 tackles from the DT position. Kennedy wrecked the interior while Porter crashed the edge for 9.5 sacks. Robinson took advantage to the tune of 7 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks rarely had a chance. Seattle was ranked 4th in passing yards allowed and 1st in passing TDs allowed. Their lower ranks in rush defense were a direct result of opposing offenses being on the field for nearly the entire game due to the inept Seahawks offense. The fact that this crew ended the season ranked 10th in the NFL in total yards allowed was miraculous. Even a league-average offense would have made this defense best in the NFL.
#1 – 1998 Seahawks
Surprise! Most Seahawks fans remember the 1998 season for the Vinny Testeverde “helmet-gate” play where Seattle was denied a playoff spot when Testeverde’s helmet was mistaken for the football and declared a touchdown. What people forget is Jim Johnson bringing the most entertaining brand of defense seen around these parts. Blitzes came from everywhere and everyone. Turnovers popped out of opponents hands and found their way back to their endzone at a dizzying pace. There were eight, EIGHT, defensive touchdowns that season. Darrin Smith and Shawn Springs had two apiece. Willie Williams, Anthony Simmons and Adams each had one. Chad Brown was a revelation at linebacker, putting up 7.5 sacks and making plays literally all over the field. Watching Brown make open-field tackles was like watching Picasso paint the Mona Lisa. He never missed a tackle, no matter how much green field was around him. No other defender has matched his skill on the outside in that way. Springs picked off seven of the teams 24 interceptions, and did it with flare. Sinclair added 16.5 sacks and Phillip Daniels chipped in 6.5. Heck, even Matt LaBounty had 6.0. It was honestly disappointing when the Seahawks offense would come out on the field because the defense was so much fun to watch. Johnson was the mastermind, and letting him go became one of Mike Holmgren’s worst decisions. Eagles fans got to watch his defenses punish opposing quarterbacks for a decade after he left.