Bobby Wagner’s reminder: Seahawks’ defense still has star power

RENTON, Wash. — The final tally of everything the Seattle Seahawks lost on defense in the 12 months between Cliff Avril’s career-ending neck injury last year and Earl Thomas‘ broken leg in September: six Pro Bowlers, two first-team All-Pros and two potential Hall of Famers.

The final tally for Bobby Wagner on Sunday: a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown plus another pass defensed, a forced fumble that he recovered, a sack, another QB hit and a game-high 12 tackles.

“He’s the best linebacker in the game and nobody can argue that,” said quarterback Russell Wilson.

What Wagner did in the Seahawks’ blowout win over the 49ers and what he’s done during another All-Pro season is a reminder of what Seattle still has on its reshaped defense despite all the big-name firepower that left.

To refresh your memory: Avril was hurt in October 2017, five weeks before Kam Chancellor suffered a neck injury that would also end his career. Richard Sherman, who tore his Achilles the same day Chancellor was hurt, was released in March a few days after Seattle traded Michael Bennett. Sheldon Richardson left in free agency. Thomas returned from his holdout only to go down in the fourth game of the season.

To many observers, Thomas’ absence all offseason was one more reason to think the Seahawks and their defense would be in for a drastic decline in 2018. Some particularly pessimistic projections even had them with double-digit losses. Never mind that they still had a Super Bowl winning quarterback in Wilson. Wagner was among several other reasons why that wasn’t going to happen.

“We understand there’s a lot of people sleeping on the talent that we have,” Wagner said at the start of training camp.

Seattle’s defense is tied for ninth in points allowed (21.6) and 16th in Football Outsiders DVOA rankings. To be sure, that’s a long way from what the Seahawks did during the historically-great Legion of Boom seasons. But it’s been good enough to get Seattle to a 7-5 record and the inside track to an NFC Wild Card berth, which ESPN’s Football Power Index projects as a 93.5 percent likelihood heading into Week 14.

Wagner’s pick-six on Sunday was the longest in franchise history. The official stats mentioned above don’t include another fumble that he appeared to force on a two-point try.

Wagner recently became the franchise’s second-leading all-time tackler and is one tackle away from reaching 100 for the seventh time in as many seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s made 100 consecutive tackles (solo or assisted) without missing one.

All of that has Wagner headed for his fifth straight Pro Bowl and perhaps his fourth first-team All-Pro selection over the past five seasons (he was a second-teamer in 2015).

“He’s playing as good as you can play the game,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a phenomenal football player, really in the peak of his career, doing a great job, making all the plays.”

Carroll also praised Wagner for becoming the leader of Seattle’s defense now that so many of the mainstays are gone.

“His voice is bigger than ever and he’s taken to it,” Carroll said. “He’s really the voice of our guys. He’s done a great job with handling that and he doesn’t look like he’s all by himself. He doesn’t look all lonely and stuff because the other guys aren’t there. He doesn’t act like that at all. He’s been very much a part of all of the newness that’s there and been a really great voice for the guys, not just in the rah-rah type of stuff but just in how consistent he is and he performs.

“We’re able to hold him up to a standard the other guys say, ‘this is what it takes’ and ‘this is what you can expect if you want to be a great player; it’s going to look like this,’ and he’s having a great year.”

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