- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

SEATTLE — Names that come to mind when discussing the Seattle Seahawks: Mike Holmgren, Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, Walter Jones, Darrell Jackson, Paul Allen, the 12th Man.

Notice that none of them plays defense?

The Seahawks defense always has operated in the shadow of an offense that has five Pro Bowl players, a coach who has won a Super Bowl and an owner who is a billionaire. But now names like Lofa Tatupu, Rocky Bernard, Marcus Trufant and Grant Wistrom are starting to get noticed — and rightly so.

Those four players and the rest of the defense have flummoxed Washington and Carolina during the postseason. Against the Panthers in Sunday’s NFC Championship game, the Seahawks had four takeaways in a 34-14 victory.

“We’ve always got a chip on our shoulder — they always say the offense has to pull us through,” defensive tackle Chuck Darby said. “But in order to win games in the playoffs, we knew our defense had to step up.”

And so they have. The Seahawks have allowed a total of just 24 points in their two playoff wins and will face Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5 at Detroit’s Ford Field. It will be Seattle’s first Super Bowl appearance.

Sure, Hasselbeck and Alexander played excellently against the Panthers, but the win also was made possible by a defense that didn’t allow a pass completion in the first quarter.

Seattle entered the postseason ranked 16th in yards allowed (316.8) and seventh in points (16.9). But the Seahawks led the NFL with 50 sacks, were fifth against the run (94.4) and second in red zone defense.

The Redskins and Panthers had trouble getting into the red zone. Washington scored only one touchdown and had six three-and-outs; Carolina’s first six possessions ended in four punts and two interceptions, and the Panthers gained 103 of their 212 yards in a meaningless fourth quarter.

Seattle hasn’t blitzed much during the postseason, relying on the defensive line quartet of Wistrom, Bernard, Bryce Fisher and Darby to put pressure on the passer.

That plan worked perfectly against the Panthers. In a unique game plan, Seattle defensive bosses Ray Rhodes and John Marshall put reserve linebacker Kevin Bentley out wide on Steve Smith. He would, Bentley said afterward, “beat up” Smith for 5 yards before releasing him to cornerback Trufant. Smith had five catches for only 33 yards.

“They took away a lot of things,” Panthers receiver Ricky Proehl said. “They took us completely out of our game, and that’s a tribute to them.”

It’s also a testament to the effectiveness of president of football operations Tim Ruskell, hired after last season to oversee personnel moves, a responsibility relinquished — or wrested away — from coach Mike Holmgren.

In one offseason, Ruskell signed three starters in free agency — Darby, defensive end Fisher and cornerback Andre Dyson — and drafted starting linebackers Tatupu (second round) and Leroy Hill (fourth round).

Holdovers include big-name free agent additions (Wistrom in 2004), a plucked-off-the-street safety (Marquand Manuel), an undrafted linebacker (D.D. Lewis) and solid draft choices Trufant, Bernard and safety Michael Boulware.

Boulware, a converted college linebacker, points to Tatupu and Hill as the revelations of the season. Tatupu’s interception of Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme led to a Seattle field goal.

“They’ve been the difference makers,” Boulware said. “They haven’t been selfish, and they’ve worked very, very hard. I’m proud of what they’ve done and how they’ve handled their success.”

But the Seahawks’ defense will need to be great again in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh has scored 86 points while winning three consecutive road playoff games.

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