RENTON, Wash. — At least once per home game it seems like the voices inside Bobby Wagner’s helmet go silent.
Gone are the voices that relay plays from the sideline to the Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker through a small speaker implanted inside his helmet. And it’s not because Wagner’s coaches aren’t trying.
He simply cannot hear what they are saying, overwhelmed by the noise coming from his home fans.
“It gets so loud that we just use hand signals and I try to read coach (Ken) Norton’s mouth,” Wagner said. “It’s hard but I think we do a good job and I feel like we’ve played here so many times we’re grown accustomed to the noise and adapted really well so it doesn’t really affect us.”
Everyone knows about the noise that cascades upon visiting teams from the fans at CenturyLink Field and the difficulty all the sound creates. It causes communication problems, untimely penalties and headaches both real and imagined.
But the flip side is that it makes it kind of hard for the home team to communicate on defense. Even the Seahawks’ coaches struggle sometimes and are forced to scream through the headsets.
No problem. After some early acclimation, the Seahawks have figured out how to thrive even if they can never hear one another.
“Sometimes you’ve got to look at each other and understand the situation and be on the same page,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You’ve got to slow yourselves down and slow the game down and understand situational football. You’re not going to be able to tell them, ‘hey, hey, alert the corner, alert the spot route or alert that.’ You’ve got to look at him and know, ‘You see what I’m seeing? Yes, we’re on the same page,’ and play it out.”
Playing through the din, Seattle has forced 21 turnovers at home in the regular season and no offense gained more than 350 total yards. Jacksonville and Minnesota were the only teams in the regular season to pass for more than 200 yards on the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, but both games were blowouts where Seattle combined to force seven turnovers against the two.
The members of Seattle’s secondary said this year they’ve noticed how much easier it’s become to communicate non-verbally and how often they’re all seeing the same thing from the offense.
“It just sort of happened. You didn’t even realize it at first until you kind of sit back and watch film like, golly, we’re tied on a string,” safety Earl Thomas said. “Everybody’s on their role, they’re into it, and we’re in sync. We’re in a good place right now as a whole defense.”
Seattle is helped getting its calls made by the fact that the Seahawks don’t make wholesale defensive changes or run multiple packages. For the most part, Seattle stays relatively simple, especially in the secondary where its base plan of playing with one deep safety and pressure from the cornerbacks is consistent.
The majority of Seattle’s changes come on the defensive line and most of those are swapping a group of run stuffers for a group of pass rushers.
“It helps a lot because you don’t see a lot of people running in and out on the field,” Wagner said.
Even the lack of changes doesn’t mean the communication stops. Wagner and fellow linebackers Malcolm Smith and K.J. Wright are often seen tapping defensive linemen to shift one direction or another to adjust their alignments. Last week against New Orleans, Thomas and fellow safety Kam Chancellor regularly ran up to one another when they saw specific formations from the Saints, then relayed what they were seeing to Sherman and fellow cornerback Byron Maxwell through hand signals.
It’s an art the Seahawks have worked at. They spend time in meetings early in the week deciding what signals they will use to communicate knowing anything verbal will get drowned out by the home fans.
“There is a lot of communication that goes into our defense and it’s not easy. It’s almost as if we’re the offense having an away game,” Smith said. “We just try and work through it. We know it’s going to be loud.”