SEATTLE – Late in the fourth quarter at Qwest Field on Sunday, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu sidled up to fellow linebacker Julian Peterson, and nodded his head at some scoreboard bulbs off in the distance.
"San Diego's putting up another shutout," Tatupu said, lamenting the Chargers' 33-0 lead over Tennessee that eventually became a 40-7 win. The Seahawks had already blown their own shutout of sorts, allowing their first touchdown in eight quarters this year – a 40-yard flick from quarterback Kurt Warner to Bryant Johnson in Seattle's 21-10 victory. That left Tatupu agitated, weaving from one teammate to another and giving periodic updates.
"Man, he came over talking about San Diego shutting out another team and I was like ‘Stop worrying about other defenses,'" Peterson said. "We don't need that. We need to think about us. But …"
Peterson hesitated for a moment, and then relented.
"The greed," he said. "That's a good thing."
Maybe that's the change that will deliver this defense to where it thinks it belongs. Mentioned with the likes of Chicago and Pittsburgh and maybe even the gold standard.
"Baltimore … the one that won the Super Bowl," Peterson said of the 2000 Ravens. "That's a special defense to me. That was a team with an offense that hardly did anything, but they won games. That's the real measuring stick. We don't want to be the good-on-paper guys. We want to be legit."
Allowing only 16 points through the season's first two games is at least a quality start, even if it came at the expense of a feeble Detroit team and a Cardinals franchise that wears the heavyweight belt of NFL paper champions. What's more impressive is the way Seattle has stacked up, notching countless pressures and eight sacks (from seven different players) in the first two games. The defense looks fast, active and nasty – trademarks that helped propel Pittsburgh and Chicago defenses to elite status last season.
Peterson, who signed a whopping contract in the offseason despite still not playing up to his Pro Bowl form of 2005, is suddenly looking like one of the league's most dynamic defenders again. He can line up at any of the linebacker spots, defensive end, safety, the slot, or shadow the occasional offensive freak (read: Michael Vick). His biggest impact against the Cardinals came with his hand on the ground, rushing from the end, as the Seahawks mixed up their blitz packages and sent defenders at Warner from every area of the field.
That pressure forced only two turnovers, but also caused Warner to fumble four times and throw three other passes that were bobbled and dropped by Seattle defenders. The end result was Arizona's offense gaining only 256 yards despite having its full complement of skill position players in Warner, running back Edgerrin James and wideouts Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
"We have good team speed on defense," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. "We're not a bulky defense, but we're fast. The only thing I would say today is that we had our hands on the ball defensively two or three times, and didn't come up with the interceptions. If I really wanted to be a stickler about it, when we touch the ball, I expect them to catch it."
As chemistry comes, it's likely the play-making will too. That would be a welcome change from a defense that until last season, typically supplied plenty of highlight hits from safeties Ken Hamlin and Michael Boulware, but rarely had the consistency to win games on its own.
"I think we're better than we have ever been when it comes to that (consistency)," Hamlin said. "It seems like the last couple of years, we've always had some young guys developing or learning something. There are still young guys, but they all got that experience last year. Now we're pretty much dealing with veterans who know the system."
As the offense sputters, the defense has gotten Seattle off to a 2-0 start. The Seahawks grinded out a 9-6 win over Detroit in Week 1 and Sunday's victory never seemed in question despite a pair of Matt Hasselbeck interceptions and Shaun Alexander's dragging 3.4 yards per carry average. Subtract the defensive edge and the Seahawks could easily be staring up at the rest of the NFC West with an 0-2 anchor around its ankles, much like Carolina, Tampa Bay and other teams expected to jockey for the postseason.
"You feel good that you're 2-0, but it's too early for any sort of thought process to consider that good or bad," Holmgren said. "It's too early."
Yes, it's only two games. But that's enough time to come to at least one conclusion, whether Holmgren wants to admit it or not: Barring a spate of injuries or Qwest Field caving in on itself, the Seahawks still own the NFC West. These Cardinals were supposed to challenge that throne, a hollow expectation that should sound familiar after Arizona's expected divisional coup last season went off like the Bay of Pigs.
So it's taken two weeks to find the clarity that often eludes the NFL world in the preseason. In reality, Arizona's offensive line, even with new assistant coach Steve Loney in hand, still looks like it's a half season away from finding any cohesion. That explains why James has posted a limp 137 rushing yards to go along with his 3.1 yards per carry average through two games. If anyone is counting, that's about as bad a start as the two-headed monstrosity of Marcel Shipp and J.J. Arrington experienced last season.
The rest of the NFC West? The 49ers are posturing like a team that can compete with the mediocre and scare the above average, but not much else. Even the Rams, who were saluted after a Week 1 win against Denver, are still playing inconsistent defense and looking slightly worse without the wild offensive machinations of Mike Martz.
Meanwhile, Seattle is right where it should be – getting into sync on offense and flourishing with a young defense that appears to have maintained last season's Super Bowl rhythm.
"Special defense – what that means to me is a team that can go out and win games without having to score a lot of points or be perfect on offense," Peterson said. "That's the kind of place we are pushing to be in."
Only two games into the season, Seattle might have already found it.