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Was Seattle’s defensive performance the best in NFL history? It’s in the conversation

Frank Schwab
Shutdown Corner

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(USA Today Sports Images)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Denver Broncos came into Super Bowl XLVIII as arguably the greatest offense in NFL history. They scored more touchdowns and had more points than any team ever.

The Seahawks held that group to one touchdown and thoroughly dominated the Broncos in a 43-8 win. So what does that say about the Seahawks?

"We're the best defense since the '85 Bears," Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett answered.

The 2000 Ravens and some of the best Buccaneers defenses would argue that of course, but how about this argument: No defense in the history of the NFL had a better single game performance than the Seahawks did on Sunday night.

[Photos: Seahawks fans celebrate Super Bowl XLVIII win]

Who's better? Maybe the 2007 Giants knocking off the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The aforementioned 1985 Bears and 2000 Ravens had dominating performances in their Super Bowl wins, but they didn't exactly play juggernaut offenses. The Seahawks took on an offense that scored an NFL-record 606 points and held them without a first down in the first quarter. Denver didn't score until the final play of the third quarter. At one point the Broncos had 11 yards and the Seahawks had 15 points. Denver had 306 yards (just a measly 4.8 per play), and a lot of that came after the game was well out of reach.

This wasn't Tony Eason or Kerry Collins that the Seahawks took apart. They made the great Peyton Manning, the NFL's only five-time MVP, look like those guys though.

Given the magnitude of the game and the quality of the opponent, it would be tough to find another defense that clearly had a better night than these Seahawks. Keep in mind, there were only three shutouts in the offensive-minded NFL all season. And Seattle came fairly close to shutting out an offense that has a legitimate claim to be the best ever.

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"Our defense was ridiculous," quarterback Russell Wilson said.

The funny thing is how simple their plan was.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn didn't change much to face Manning and the Broncos. The Seahawks play predominantly "Cover 3" zone, with the cornerbacks and free safety each taking a deep third of the field. That's what they played on Sunday. A few times early in the game they showed two deep safeties, but played "Cover 3" at the snap. Later in the game, when the lead had grown, they had a few more snaps of man coverage and sent a few more blitzes than usual.

But they decided in preparation if the Broncos were going to beat their scheme, so be it. And, of course, Denver came nowhere close to doing that.

"That was as prideful as anything, knowing our style works," Quinn said.

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The scheme is sound and the players are tremendous. Regardless of how the defense as a whole ranks in history, the secondary is unquestionably one of the best ever. Richard Sherman is one of the game's best corners. Earl Thomas is probably the NFL's best safety. Kam Chancellor is one of the top strong safeties. Cornerback Byron Maxwell is underrated, and made a huge play on Sunday to force a Demaryius Thomas fumble. They go by "Legion of Boom" and they back up all their talk.

Quinn took a detour by Thomas' interview podium after the game and caught Thomas' attention.

"I told you anything you're going to call, it's going to work!" Thomas said.

Seattle is a great defense for many reasons, but a major one is its preparation and recognition. They are masterful at diagnosing what the opponent is going to do based on tendencies. They were one step ahead of Denver all night.

They also are physical. The line manhandled Denver's front, forcing Manning to be uncomfortable in the pocket or scramble out of it, something very few teams accomplished this season. Cliff Avril hit Manning's arm on one rush, forcing an interception that was returned 69 yards by Malcolm Smith to give Seattle a 22-0 lead.

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The secondary hit hard too. Chancellor was looming on every route across the middle. If he wasn't the first one there, someone else took care of it.

"If they were going to catch those, they were going to deal with us when they caught them," Sherman said. "That's what we do best. Run and hit. If they come out there and take that and taste their own blood and keep going and beat us, then they deserve to win. Great defenses play like that."

The Seahawks certainly have the right to classify their defense as great. They were just about perfect on Sunday.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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