Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sports

Secondaries stress toughness

RENTON, Wash. — Big, bad football players don't get intimidated. Not by noise, weather, statistics or hard hits.

Tell that to the defenses about to attempt to dominate the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. Or to the offenses, for that matter.

Seattle and San Francisco ranked first and third, respectively, in points allowed this season. The Seahawks won the NFC West with the stingiest defense in yardage allowed, and the 49ers, their division rival, were fifth in that category.

The Seahawks led the league in takeaways (39), interceptions (28) and turnover margin (plus-20), while the Niners had a plus-12.

They did it with units that didn't back down. Physical, aggressive, relentless. Choose your favorite term.

"I think DBs playing physical is the way football should be," Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. "A lot of people want to see great offense. You see great offense all the time, people running through zones and guys not being able to cover them.

"We stand up there and have a dogfight every play. You know, there are going to be some pushing-offs and grabbing here and there, and that is the game of football. That's how it is. That's how it's always been."

Seattle's secondary instills trepidation in opponents by specializing in tight coverage and rugged tackling. It doesn't back down.

Neither do the 49ers. For every Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett in Seattle, there are Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Donte Whitner and Justin Smith in San Francisco.

"You have to be physical, you want to make them think about you out there," Whitner said. "That's an important part of the game."

It works both ways, too. Bowman, an All-Pro linebacker, touts former Florida State standout Anquan Boldin, who is among the league's toughest receivers.

"Him making the big plays for us when we need it, understanding where the stick is when he's catching the ball, all those things," Bowman said. "And intimidating those cornerbacks. He's so strong that corners understand that, so they back off on him and just try to make that tackle. But he just does a great job with just making big plays for us."

Yet Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, whose style always has leaned toward the assertive — he made his mark as a defensive coordinator whose units attacked to the whistle — doesn't quite buy the intimidation label.

"That's a word I would not go to," Carroll said. "It does not seem like it fits, to me. There are a bunch of guys on this football team and that football team who are very serious about playing good ball on defense."

And serious about letting offensive players know who is boss.

"Ask Kam Chancellor," Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said of the safety he often practices against. "I would say yes to some degree, some players get intimidated, some don't. I always tell Kam if he ever tried to mess with me, I'll punch him in the mouth. I don't take to intimidation very well."

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