What the Seahawks lose with Earl Thomas sidelined

SEATTLE -- After colliding with teammate Kam Chancellor in the second quarter, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas tried to get back up.

But he couldn't put weight on his left leg, and he'd find out later that it was broken. So Thomas went back to the ground where he was surrounded by teammates and members of the Seahawks medical staff.

Cornerback Richard Sherman was asked what Thomas was talking about in the moments immediately following his injury.

"He said, 'That was a hell of a break by me,' " Sherman said with a prideful smile. "And it was. It was a perfect break. He said, ‘I read that.’ That’s Earl being Earl. He wasn’t talking about the injury at all. He said he read that play. He was waiting on that. And he made a play."

Thomas has been a key cog in the Seahawks' defense since the organization drafted him in 2010. He played in 118 straight games (playoffs included) before missing last week's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a hamstring injury.

Now he's going to have to watch -- most likely for the remainder of the year.

It's a tough break for Thomas and for a defense that went into Week 13 leading the NFL in fewest points allowed even before limiting the Carolina Panthers to a single touchdown in a 40-7 win Sunday night.

Pete Carroll has always believed in playing defense with a single high safety. It's probably his biggest philosophical difference from one of his mentors, Monte Kiffin. And Thomas was the safety that made the scheme work.

A five-time Pro Bowler, he has always had great range. Thomas shuts down post routes and takes away seams. He's a big-time hitter who has seven interceptions in his past 26 games and also serves as the last line of defense against the run.

Along with Sherman and Chancellor, Thomas has been a major part of one of the great secondaries of his era.

"It's hard to see your brother go down like that," Chancellor said. "Somebody you care about dearly, somebody you came into the league with, somebody you look at like a brother. All I can do is send my prayers to him and keep checking on him and help him fight this battle."

Thomas often talks about the members of a good secondary moving together like they're connected by a single string. Going forward, the Seahawks will have to connect with Steven Terrell, who has one career start under his belt. They'll try to keep playing the same scheme, but if it doesn't work, they have options, like going with more two deep safety looks.

Overall, there will be a smaller margin of error. The offense will have to look more like it did against the Carolina Panthers and less like the version that showed up in Week 12 against the Buccaneers.

Even if Terrell plays well, there's no downplaying how much the defense is going to miss Thomas.

"Earl's been a fixture here for a long time," Carroll said. "He had missed two games in his life playing football. We're going to miss him enormously. Like I said, Steve Terrell knows how to play the game. He knows what we're doing. He knows how to give us what we're looking for, and he's played very well.

"We're all going to miss the heck out of Earl because we love having that guy back there, but we don't get to. Steven will step up, and we'll count on him to come through for us."