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Seahawks’ hard-hitting secondary could be hindered by tight calls

Updated: March 3, 2014 5:06PM

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — As brash as he is physical, cornerback Richard Sherman typifies the brazen nature of the Seahawks’ dominating secondary — he plays the game the only way he knows how and literally dares the officials to call a penalty. In an NFL Films segment from last year’s playoffs, Sherman was warned by an official for crossing the line. ‘‘Throw the flag, then,’’ he said in response.

That’s one big reason why the Seahawks aggressive, intimidating defense is as good as it is. But on the NFL’s biggest stage, it’s no sure thing that the tacit ‘‘they-can’t-call-everything’’ philosophy will work. NFL officials have been under fire the entire season. Indications are they’re not going to let the Super Bowl turn into a slugfest.

‘‘It’s going to be really interesting how they call the game,’’ said Hall of Famer and Fox television analyst Howie Long this week. ‘‘From what I’ve heard fom the league, they’ve told the officials, ‘If it’s pass interference, if it’s holding, you call it. I don’t care if it’s called six times in a row.’

‘‘That puts a lot of pressure on the officials to maybe change the complexion of the game. And Seattle is banking on the fact that you’re not going to make that call five plays in a row. They play right to the line and a little bit beyond. That’s who they are.’’

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll of course is making no apologies for instilling that kind of aggressiveness in his players. His secondary of cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, and safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas is the best in the NFL — they’re so physical they’re almost like their own pass rush, which alleviates the pressure off the front seven.

‘‘The style of play has always been about playing the line of scrimmage and affecting receivers right from the get-go,’’ said Carroll, a former secondary coach with the Bills and Vikings. ‘‘That’s our bump-and-run stuff that we do and I’ve been coaching that way — exactly that way — since I was at North Carolina State [as defensive coordinator in 1980-82].

‘‘The style of play has gained notoriety because of the physical nature of our players. As far as the rules — we don’t want to break any rule. We don’t want penalties. We’re so constant with our technique that we’re ... on players from the momemt they leave the line of scrimmage until the play is over. That’s all and that’s it.

‘‘So any criticism of that I think is somebody trying to figure out a way to beat us. They’d like to point out that ... maybe we’re stretching the rules. We’re not. We’re just playing great technique and playing the style that our guys are capable of playing.’’

Be that as it may, if Phil Jackson were coaching the Denver Broncos, it’s a good bet the Zen Master would have spent the last two weeks planting a seed in the officials’ minds that the Seahawks are breaking the rules. But, perhaps because football is football, that’s not the way John Fox played it this week.

‘‘Certainly the way the game is called can have an impact on any football game,’’ quarterback Peyton Manning said. ‘‘So our philosophy has always been to find a way to win a game in spite of what’s called or what’s not called.

‘‘They have the all-star [officiating] crews in the postseason, the Super Bowl. I think the games are called or have the opportunity to be called differently. It’s part of the postseason. You’ve got to find a way to win no matter what penalties are called or not called.’’

If the game is going to be called closely, Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker will have to see it to believe it. But he knows that how the game is called can make a difference. ‘‘It definitely plays a big part,’’ he said.

Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas doesn’t think it will make a difference how the game is called.

‘‘Lately, they’ve been letting everybody play,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘We haven’t had too many penalties in games. It’s the Super Bowl. I think they’re going to let us play and have fun. Let the two teams figure out who gets the ‘W.’’’

That would seem to favor the Seahawks, but Thomas isn’t so sure. And tight end Julius Thomas said it doesn’t matter. He almost sounds like he’s looking forward to it.

‘‘We expect a physical game,’’ Julius Thomas said. ‘‘We expect to earn everything. If the game is reffed more physical, then we have to step up the physical nature of the way we play. I think we’ll be fine either way.’’

The members of the Seahawks’ ‘‘Legion of Boom,’’ who aren’t bothered by much, were unconcerned that the way the game is called might cramp their style. ‘‘Not at all,’’ Sherman said.

Chancellor, who already has refined his physical game in response to crackdowns on dangerous plays, is ready for anything.

‘‘We can’t worry about the refs,’’ Chancellor said. ‘‘Some games are officiated tighter than others. But you can’t put it in their hands. We have to play smart. That’s all. We’ve got to play smart.’’

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