Well, in the short term, there’s no difference when it comes with Browner. He was going to miss a few games regardless. His loss was always going to test our depth, because that’s what losses like this do.
However, having Thurmond suspended is another thing entirely. It’s rare to have a cornerback with near-elite speed who can move from outside to inside and not miss a beat. I actually thought he was struggling to start the season, but as the year has progressed, his skillset has really shined. I think some people are making a bigger deal out of him replacing Browner for a few series here and there; in the long run, we play a lot of 3-cornerback sets, so Thurmond was going to get his playing time anyway. Nevertheless, rare is the position on this or any football team where a starter would be knocked out and I wouldn’t worry one iota about the next man up. Thurmond was that security blanket, and now he’s on ice for the next four weeks.
When you take numbers 2 and 3 out of the equation, then you’re left with numbers 4, 5 and 6. In this case, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, and Player X From Off The Street. Maxwell has been good. His playing time has increased quite a bit this year and he has acquitted himself nicely. I trust him fully against the likes of the 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals as a #2 corner (presumably with Richard Sherman handling #1 duties). Against New Orleans, though? With Drew Brees elevating the talent level of the receivers around him? I’m a little shakier. Moreover, with Jeremy Lane as the new #3 … I dunno.
Lamp Lane. He’s a top-notch special teamer. I’m less familiar with him on the defensive side of the ball, though, which is worrisome. I’m seeing him matched up a lot with Lance Moore and it kinda scares the bejesus out of me.
Truth be told, I just see matchup problems all day in this game. I think a guy like Kenny Stills – a burner who does the bulk of his work down field – could make someone like Maxwell look silly. I think Colston is someone we should probably easily shut down, but he’s still a pro and he’s still their best receiver. He’s going to draw his fair share of the coverage. Then, of course, you’ve got Jimmy Graham. I would assume Kam Chancellor is assigned this major task, with possibly Earl Thomas taking over if Graham wins that matchup too often.
Which brings us to Sproles. Good God! If Sproles is back for this game, THEN WHAT? Bruce Irvin? K.J. Wright? And on top of all that, we have to worry about stopping a running game that’s always a little bit better than people give it credit for?
The Saints can beat you any number of ways. That’s the point I’m trying to get at. They were always going to be a dangerous opponent. Take away Browner and Thurmond, though, and they’re damn near lethal.
I’ve seen this point made on Twitter and probably elsewhere, and I think it’s valid: I wasn’t worried about the Seahawks beating the Saints before we lost Browner and Thurmond, so why should I be worried now? Indeed, they’re just two guys. In a vacuum, if you picked two random Seahawks not named Russell Wilson and forced them to sit out, I don’t think we’d be too concerned.
BUT! When you pick two random Seahawks from the same position, then you’re playing with fire. I still think our secondary is the best in football, as it stands right now; but lose one more guy? Like, say, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, or Kam Chancellor? Now, you go from elite to average. An elite unit like that can really mask a lot of deficiencies elsewhere on a defense. Make that unit less-than-elite, and all of a sudden those deficiencies come front and center. We always think about the loss of Browner and Thurmond in terms of how it affects coverage down field; we tend to forget how that’s going to affect the pass rush. Or coverage out of the backfield. Or gap assignments or our ability to tackle well. How will the loss of these two affect the rest of the group mentally? Will they truly treat it as a Next Man Up scenario? Or, will other guys start to press and try to do too much? Will they forget their assignments because they’re so worried about what the new guys are doing?
I have a bad feeling about this. In the long run, I don’t think it hurts us too bad, because I still think we’re good enough to win the rest of our games after Monday night. I still think we lock down our division and at least a Top 2 seed. But, I can’t help feeling like our home winning streak comes to an end. I hope I’m wrong. Luckily for all of us, I frequently am.