By Danny O'Neil
After taking a closer look at Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin, Danny O'Neil puts the focus on another player who could be a major factor in Saturday's divisional-round playoff game between Seattle and New Orleans: Earl Thomas.
• Position: Free safety, center fielder
• Height: 5-10
• Weight: 202
• Age: 24
• Experience: Fourth season
|• Pick'em | 'Pete Carroll Show' | John Clayton||• O'Neil: Hawks mantra: They deal with us||• O'Neil: QBs Wilson, Brees play different roles||• O'Neil: TE Jimmy Graham is the mismatch||• O'Neil: WR Percy Harvin is the wild card||• Moore: Don't expect another blowout win||• Moore: Harvin should be turned loose||• Huard: Seahawks should be able to run||• Henderson: Wilson hopes for pressure||• Henderson: Carroll stressing right mindset|
Earl Thomas came into the league as a high-wire act, someone with blazing speed who had both the instincts of a playmaker and the courage to act on them. The result was five interceptions in his first six regular-season games.
But those instincts – and Thomas' eagerness to act on his hunches – left Seattle vulnerable at the back end. That was something veteran quarterbacks feasted on, specifically New Orleans' Drew Brees when he faced Seattle first in the regular season and then in the playoffs.
"He had his way with me," Thomas said. "He was looking me off. But when I look at the truth of the matter, I always want to be around the ball. My mentality as a playmaker, I just want to get it. I just want to do it.
"But you've got to harness it. There's a time and a place. You pick your spots."
Thomas is now a three-time Pro Bowler and someone who is a top candidate for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year not just for the plays he made this season, but the ones he prevented. He is often the single safety back in Seattle's defense, a one-man safety net who can cover more ground than anyone else.
"He has such tremendous acceleration," coach Pete Carroll said, "and he's so confident in what he sees now, when he goes, he just flies. That's what stands out when you evaluated his play over other guys. He's really fast, but now he's confident and committed and boy, he gets everything out of his ability level. He's all over the field."
As a rookie, Thomas felt picked on by Brees. In his fourth year, Thomas is the cornerstone of the defense that allowed the fewest points in the league for a second consecutive season. And when a defense starts drawing up a game plan against Seattle, it is no longer about baiting the headstrong rookie into a mistake so much as not giving him an opportunity to make a game-changing play.
"I'm a grown man, now," Thomas said. "I'm ready for everything."