The safeties for the Seattle Seahawks want to dare quarterbacks to throw over the middle.
In the Seahawks' defensive scheme, Earl Thomas isn’t always a free safety in the traditional sense. He often plays close to the line of scrimmage, like an outside linebacker. A small linebacker at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, but the goal is to disguise coverages and confuse quarterbacks.
“We use a single-safety defense look," Thomas said. "So everybody is going to try to attack us in the middle of the field on seam routes and maybe quick glances.”
Attacking is one thing. Succeeding is something else.
Now the Seahawks have wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis to deal with Sunday against the visiting San Francisco 49ers. Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown in his 49ers debut; Davis also had a big game in the 34-28 victory over Green Bay, with six receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
But Davis had just one catch for 27 yards in the 42-13 Seahawks win at Seattle last December. A big reason for that was Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor.
Thomas showed against Carolina why he might be the best free safety in the NFL. He led the team with 10 tackles, including eight solo. Chancellor added six tackles. Thomas also made the play of the game on defense, stripping the ball from Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams at the Seattle 8-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
Both Seattle safeties have a big test against the 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. It's a test of who can outsmart the other.
When Thomas cheats up, quarterbacks are tempted to challenge the Seahawks with deep throws on seam routes. But whether it’s Chancellor (6-3, 230) or Thomas back deep, it’s a gamble the Seahawks are willing to take because of the talent those players possess.
“We knew that’s what [the Panthers] were going to do and they did," Thomas said of the throws over the middle.
It didn't work for the Panthers. Will it work for the 49ers?