RENTON, Wash. (AP) — As the newest starter in the Seattle Seahawks secondary, cornerback Byron Maxwell had plenty of time earlier in his career to be an observer.
What he noticed about his teammates on the back end of Seattle's defense was a desire to be great in practice that transferred to the playing field.
"Guys around here they just want that. They want it. They want to be successful. They want to be great," Maxwell said. "You've got two dudes who argue, Earl (Thomas) and (Richard Sherman). They go at it. They're passionate about it. They want to be the best in history."
Seattle finished the regular season with the best pass defense in the NFL and one of the best in the past decade. They gave up 172 yards passing per game, grabbed 28 interceptions and had an opponent passer rating of 63.4, one of just 15 teams since 2000 to hold opposing passers to a rating of 65.0 or less.
The Seahawks' best performance came in Week 13 against New Orleans, holding Drew Brees to one of the worst games in his career in Seattle's 34-7 blowout victory. Brees threw for just 147 yards in the loss, the fewest for him in any game since the 2006 season.
Now comes the challenge of duplicating that success in Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game against the Saints, knowing that Brees, coach Sean Payton and the rest of the New Orleans offense will try to counter what Seattle does so well.
In the first meeting the Seahawks were strong in two areas. They got significant pressure on Brees with their defensive line to disrupt timing. The Seahawks also didn't allow deep throws over the top, forcing Brees to choose secondary targets on short passes.
Brees wasn't able to find openings in a Seattle secondary that features three All-Pro selections — Thomas and Sherman were first-team picks while strong safety Kam Chancellor was a second-team choice — and was dominant the final nine games of the season.
Only once over the final nine games did Seattle allow a team to have more than 200 net yards passing. That distinction belonged to Minnesota, which finished with 204 yards passing in a game Seattle led 41-13 early in the fourth quarter before giving up a late score in a 41-20 win.
"We are just situationally aware," Sherman said. "We study together as a group, as a defense. We study concepts. We study plays. We study tendencies, quarterbacks, their movements. We are really a very disciplined film-watching football team."