Fans in every NFL city agree that offensive coordinators are the least intelligent subset of all bipedal primates.
But they can be taught through simple and immediate negative consequences.
The Seattle Seahawks’ secondary over the years has conditioned opponents against passing the ball into certain areas of the field.
It’s the same principle as shock collars.
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Interceptions resulted, receivers took jolting hits, and the person who called the play suffered the equivalent of being spanked with a rolled newspaper and having his nose rubbed in the mess he created.
Through the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the Seahawks intercepted 46 passes. But after the league-high 28 in 2013, the interception total plummeted to 13 last season — 18th in the league.
Opponents mostly stopped throwing to the deep middle (an area inhabited by All-Pro safety Earl Thomas) and up the right sideline (patrolled by All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman).
Sherman, alone, had eight interceptions in both the ’12 and ’13 seasons, higher totals than several NFL teams.
Last year, opponents awakened to the wisdom of going conservative and throwing shorter routes, and focusing on finding the gaps and seams in the Seahawks’ zone coverage. The yards came tougher, but offenses were able to keep the ball.
So, Sherman’s interceptions fell to four in 2014, and Thomas and fellow safety Kam Chancellor were left to stay busy making a lot of tackles against the run or passes completed in front of them.
Thomas has 18 career interceptions including the postseason, but hasn’t had one in the past 13 games and just one in the last 30 games.
But now, the Seahawks face a team inclined (by necessity if nothing else) to test the Seahawks secondary. Detroit comes to town Monday night with the worst rushing game in recent NFL history.
Before my eyes started going crossed from looking at the small print, I went back through the stats for the last 20 seasons, and no team finished the season with anything near the paltry output of 45 rushing yards a game the Lions are averaging now. Since the NFL went to a 14-game schedule in 1961, the lowest per-game rushing average is 66.4, set by the 2000 San Diego Chargers.
So, the winless Lions are left to wear out quarterback Matthew Stafford’s arm with an average of 43 passing attempts a game.
And even though he can target talented receivers such as Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, Stafford has thrown as many interceptions (5) as touchdowns this season.
What a perfect time for the Seahawks’ so-called Legion of Boom to make a splashy prime-time revival.
Not that any of them are concerned about statistics, nor the long-term implications of the numbers.
“It’s kind of a rhythm thing,” Sherman said of interceptions. “Just like the fumbles, we got three in one game. I think when the ball comes out, it’s just one of those things. It’s hard to explain, I don’t think there’s a logical explanation to it, but they come in bunches usually.”
He’s right there. The Seahawks had only two interceptions in the first six games last season, but came up with 11 in the final 10 games, and added six more in the three playoff games.
“You don’t worry about those things,” Sherman said. “They fall into place eventually.”
Still, the current numbers are striking. In 2013, the Hawks held opposing passers to 59 percent completions and a passer rating of 63.4. In the first three games this season, quarterbacks have completed 68 percent of passes with a rating of 104.3.
And that includes the Bears’ scatter-shot Jimmy Clausen.
Thus far, opponents have risked only 77 passes, on pace for a mere 410 over the 16-game season. The Bears took the cautious approach to extremes, as Clausen completed nine of 17 attempts.
In the end, Earl Thomas played all 47 defensive snaps against Chicago. And, in a rarity, Thomas was not involved in a play that resulted in a single defensive statistic.
He called it the best game he ever played. But he made one thing clear — “it was boring.”
Stafford and the flailing Detroit offense will make sure the ball heads his way Monday night.