Secret Superstars: Super Bowl Preview - Seahawks
With a 13-3 record which was tied for the best in the NFL in 2013, the Seattle Seahawks used their home field advantage to its fullest in the playoffs, beating the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers in front of a boisterous Seattle crowd.
They boast one of the best quarterbacks in the league, despite a few shaky performances recently, in Russell Wilson, and everyone knows all about Richard Sherman and the ‘Legion of Boom’ as the best secondary in the league. But what about those players that don’t necessarily get a lot of credit but have made plays throughout the year for the Seahawks? One of the primary reasons why they’ve made it this far is the strength and depth of their roster, with players ready to step up and play well throughout the team.
We’re highlighting a wide receiver, a defensive tackle, and a pair of defensive backs in this edition of Secret Superstars, shining the light on four players who could have a bigger impact in the Super Bowl than you might expect.
Jermaine Kearse, WR
The team invested heavily in wide receiver Percy Harvin in the offseason and, while it hasn’t paid off yet, you wouldn’t count him out to be a difference-maker come Super Bowl Sunday. Still, the time missed by Harvin and Sidney Rice at wide receiver has meant other players on the roster have had to step up. 2011 undrafted free agent Doug Baldwin has been the team’s No. 2 receiver for much of the year while Jermaine Kearse (+3.9), who arrived after going undrafted last year, has seen his role increase as the year has gone on.
While he doesn’t offer the shiftiness of Harvin or Golden Tate, Kearse is more than capable of making a big play. Catching all five of the catchable deep passes thrown his way this year, including the playoffs, he has pulled in four touchdowns of 20 yards or more. That included the 35-yard touchdown grab on 4th-and-7 with 13:52 to go in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s NFC Championship game. Beating Carlos Rogers on a go route from the slot, he gave the Seahawks the lead for good. While it’s clear that there is plenty of talent on the Seahawks’ offense, don’t be surprised to see Kearse step up and make a big play at some point on Sunday.
Clinton McDonald, DT
What the Seahawks were able to do along their defensive line this year should be considered robbery of the highest order. Already a solid unit in 2012, they took advantage of other teams wariness to add Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril on short-term contracts. That extra presence on the outside of the defensive line has been vital in 2013, but it’s the improvement shown from one of the players on the interior of the line we’re going to focus on here. Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Clinton McDonald (+7.3) found his way to Seattle via trade in August 2011. Since then, he has been part of the Seahawks’ defensive line rotation, with this year being by far his best season to date.
Generally used on obvious passing downs, McDonald has been one of the better interior pass rushers in the league this year, racking up six sacks, 11 hits, and 17 hurries from 328 pass rushing attempts in the regular season. That gave him a Pass Rush Productivity rating of 8.9 which was tied for seventh among defensive tackles. That came from plays like his sack against the St. Louis Rams in Week 17. Breezing past right guard Shelley Smith on his outside shoulder, McDonald was able to bring down quarterback Kellen Clemens in the backfield on 1st-and-10 with 13:14 to go in the game. With so much of the Broncos’ success coming from their passing game, his ability to get pressure on Peyton Manning could be huge for the Seahawks.
Walter Thurmond, CB
The depth on their defensive line may come from being able to take advantage of other team’s mistakes in free agency, but when it comes to their defensive backfield it’s all due to some excellent drafting by the Seattle front office. Earl Thomas is the lone high draft pick of the group, with six defensive backs on the roster who were drafted in the fourth round or later with a overall grade of at least +2.8. One such player is 2010 fourth-round draft pick Walter Thurmond (+4.8), who has been the team’s nickel back with the exception of the four-game suspension he served in December.
Thurmond has been targeted 53 times in the playoffs, giving up 34 receptions for just 252 yards. That works out at 7.4 yards per catch, the second-best mark among cornerbacks playing at least 25% of their team’s defensive snaps. More importantly, he’s yet to allow a touchdown this year while picking off one pass and breaking up four more. Topping it all off nicely, he has also given up just one penalty all year, a pass interference infraction against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1. Sherman, Thomas, and Kam Chancellor get all the credit but Thurmond has been a solid part of their secondary in 2013.
Jeremy Lane, CB
While Thurmond established himself as the team’s nickel back, our fourth Secret Superstar to watch out for on Super Bowl Sunday hasn’t quite managed to entrench himself as an consistent member of the secondary just yet. Still, stepping up when he’s been needed Jeremy Lane (+4.6) has shown himself more than capable of impressing when called upon, while establishing himself as one of the best in the league in an area that doesn’t attract much attention.
He saw most of his playing time at cornerback come when Thurmond was suspended, giving up just 13 receptions for 131 yards throughout the regular season. That included a 63-yard reception given up against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16, with that being the only catch of more than 13 yards he allowed from 126 snaps in coverage in 2013. Where Lane really stands out, however, is on special teams, finishing the regular season as our third-highest graded special teamer. Excellent work on punts, both as a gunner and as a vice on the opposite side lead to his high grade, with his best game coming in Week 3 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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