Do the 2019 Seattle Seahawks Have a Problem on Their Defensive Line?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

Is Quinton Jefferson going to be a key cog to an improved 2019 Seattle Seahawk defensive line? We shall see.

On June 22nd 2019, I posted a player profile on defensive tackle Jarran Reed labeling him as the third most impactful player on the 2019 Seattle Seahawks roster. I noted his monster 10.5 sack season in 2018, and the fact he was heading into a contract year with the aim of an even more monster sized contract extension. I felt that no other player on the team had more incentive than him to make a major impact. About three hours later, news broke that he was to be suspended for the first six games of the regular season for a domestic violence incident that happened in 2017.

If you are anything like me, and had high hopes for an improved 2019 Seattle Seahawk defensive front, your heart probably sank down into your rectum when you saw this flash on your sports ticker. With pass rusher Frank Clark no longer on the team, and possibly no Ziggy Ansah to start the season, this six game loss of Reed initially felt borderline disastrous.

Then, the following week, another bit of bad news flashed on the sports ticker. Rookie defensive lineman and first round pick LJ Collier suffered an “unusual” ankle sprain that will have him miss at least all of the preseason. The hope was that Collier would compete for the starting five technique defensive end position that Michael Bennett once held, and he would also become a pass rushing defensive tackle option on passing downs. If you are like me, you probably had talked yourself off the ledge with the Reed suspension saying, “of course Collier is the solution to Reed being absent for six games,” and suddenly those hopes were even dashed. Even if Collier is healthy enough to be available during the Reed suspension, he will still be a rookie that is raw, and will have missed practically all valuable preseason time to help develop his craft.

So, looking at this defensive line today, a few days before Seattle plays it’s first preseason game, is there grounds to determine that Seattle is looking at a horrendous situation on it’s defensive line?

Objectively, I think that, yes, of course there are clear grounds to be concerned, but I also think it is way too early to fully reach that determination, and with my ever optimistic views that match the head coach and quarterback, I think that there still exists the possibility that Seattle will be okay there, and here is why.

Seattle might actually be in position to be a whole lot better stopping the run with this group, and through a collection of bodies, they might have enough edge rush to get by without adding from the outside. Allow me to explain.

In 2018, fans got all stoked up about the 13 sacks from Frank Clark and the 10.5 sacks from Jarran Reed. They also felt somewhat good about the few sacks and pressures from defensive ends Jacob Martin and Quinton Jefferson. However, Seattle’s defense was really bad against the run, and that is not a mark of a Pete Carroll coached team. They missed the stoutness of Michael Bennett at five technique for sure, hence the drafting of LJ Collier, but they also (in my humble opinion) missed the stoutness of someone like Ahtyba Rubin at defensive tackle, even with Jarran Reed. This is why we see Al Woods and Earl Mitchell on this roster.

I’ve never heard Coach Carroll say this, I haven’t heard this talked about a lot on Seattle sports radio, and I haven’t seen a lot of this written about it either, but a big part of me had wondered, during the 2018 season, if Carroll and company had gotten away from a core philosophy with their defensive tackle play to make up for the lack of pass rush presence with no more Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. That is to have Jarran Reed charge upfield more maybe at the expense of gap integrity, and, as the season went on, offenses were able to take advantage of that running the ball.

Traditionally, almost as much as a hallmark as cover three on Seattle’s Pete Carroll era defense, has been the rather conservative two-gap style of play at defensive tackle. This style requires tackles to lock up with blockers, hold ground to determine the play, and then attack. Simply, it requires more discipline and patience, and above all, a total selflessness to potentially give up making the splashy play in order to muck up the middle of the line.

In the heyday of the great Seattle Seahawk teams under Carroll, this is what the defensive tackles did. It also just so happens to be what Al Woods, Earl Mitchell do, and what younger players Jarran Reed and Poona Ford can do.

We are going to touch a lot on Poona Ford in the coming days. I think there is genuinely a lot to get excited about with this second year player, but let’s get back to these older veteran defensive tackle additions for now.

When Seattle signed Al Woods last Spring, I got pretty excited. I realize I might be in the minority of this excitement, but it still holds to this day. For me it felt that the Woods signing marked a signal for Seattle to get back to it’s defensive line DNA. I have actually been a bit surprised by the lack of excitement around this guy by others that follow and write about this team. In 2017, Pro Football Focus had him rated as the 10th best defensive tackle in the game. With only two years removed from this 2017 campaign, heck yeah I will take him on this roster. His veteran counterpart Earl Mitchell isn’t as big or strong, but again, Pro Football Focus fully identifies his plus abilities against the run.

If Seattle’s most likely defensive objective in 2019 is to be better against the run, and brining in Woods and Mitchell to mix with the youth of Reed and Ford is not a bad start. Extending linebackers Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, and Mychal Kendricks, along with drafting linebackers Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven only confirms their commitment to being a better tackling team. But linebackers can’t tackle as well if they are not kept clean from blockers. This is the impact good run stopping defensive tackle play brings.

I’ve seen it suggested recently that Seattle has a bunch of backups on the defensive line, and the four that will start the year will be the four best out of the hoard of backups. Personally, I think that’s a harsh outlook, and I also think it’s a trap to get hooked up into the big name game.

No, they didn’t chase Ndamukong Suh, or Gerald McCoy or recently released veteran Green Bay defensive tackle Mike Daniels. Would I have loved to have seen one of those guys land in Seattle? Sure, but you also have to ask why these big names found themselves on the market in the first place. Would they be a culture fit for this team?

In 2017, Seattle’s defensive line boasted Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Jarran Reed, Frank Clark, and Sheldon Richardson when they traded for him. On name recognition alone, that was five potential pro-bowlers. Now, of course, they lost Avril early in the season to a career ending neck injury, but still that four other big names. Was that line dominant?

The team didn’t even make the playoffs and was steam rolled by the Los Angeles Rams at home for the first time in ages. That defensive line certainly wasn’t as dominant of the 2012 line that featured run stuffers Red Bryant, Alan Branch, Brandon Mebane, and pass rusher Chris Clemons. Two of those guys were, at one point, thought of as scabs from other teams, and the other two were thought of as kinda just guys, but they gelled. They played well together as a collective, and had just enough with the addition of rookie Bruce Irvin to be formidable.

You see where I am exhaustedly going with this? Stop the run first and foremost, and then pass rush.

Think I am wrong with this money ball philosophy? Was the 2018 defensive line of the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots that special with Adrian Clayborn, Tre Flowers, Danny Shelton, and Lawrence Guy? Now, those aren’t terrible players, but outside of Flowers, none of those guys are likely to sniff a pro bowl anytime soon.

Personally, I’m intrigued by this money ball philosophy with this 2019 Seahawks defensive line, and on the plus side, Carroll has stated that he fully expects Ziggy Ansah to be available at the start of the season. If this is the case, that is huge. That’s your marquee name. I also think Seattle might already have enough on this roster behind Ansah to help with the edge rush.

Veteran edge rusher Cassius Marsh is no where near a star player, but is serviceable and was decent last year as a starter for the 49ers, getting 5.5 sacks. In my opinion, veteran player Barkevious Mingo was playing out of position as a 4-3 strong side linebacker last year, and with the depth at linebacker this year, Seattle has moved him back to his more natural spot as a 4-3 rush end. Mingo, a former high first round pick, still has the rare combination of length and athleticism that is hard to come by in this league, and it sounds like Seattle is going to give him every opportunity during the preseason to show his worth pass rushing. Mingo and Marsh are also two veteran players that are essentially playing for their NFL livelihood. I like them playing with that kind of edge.

I haven’t even gotten to promising second year players Jacob Martin and Rasheem Green. Martin is the flashier of the two with his quick twitch, but Green might have the better path to becoming an eventual starter because of his size and length. Now that Collier is injured likely through the rest of camp, Green will clearly be given long looks at the five technique spot along with Quinton Jefferson, Brandon Jackson, and maybe Nazair Jones.

The five technique law firm of Jefferson, Jackson and Jones are not likely going to excite many fans, but I for one, thought Jefferson held up decent enough in his first year starting in 2018, and like Reed, he will be playing in a contract year in 2019. In fact, the more I consider it, Jefferson might be the single one player to not sleep on heading into these preseason games. Jefferson is a family man who has every incentive to build off his first year as a starter. Even if Seattle chooses not to keep him beyond 2019, a solid campaign this year makes his free agent market all the more attractive to another team next year.

But, we need to see some preseason games. We need to see how these linemen gel with each other, and with the linebackers. Can they keep the promising group of linebackers clean to make plays?  Can they stack the run, and set the edge? Can they be disruptive on obvious passing downs?

If the answer is yes to all those things, Seattle will be fine. Sacks are sexy, but pressures are equally (if not more) important, and stopping the run, even in a passing league, is still the number one task of any starting defensive lineman.

So, I guess I’m here to say that, one way or another, I think Seattle is probably going to be fine here. There. That’s my sunny outlook. Ultimately, I trust Pete here.

Some folks might feel uneasy about this group because of the lack of names and a lot of “might be” types. Cassius Marsh and or Barkevious Mingo might be a decent edge rushers opposite Ansah. Poona Ford might develop into a legit inside pass rushing threat to match his run stopping play. Jacob Martin might explode into a eight sack type of season. season. Rasheem Green might live up to his somewhat hyped potential, and beat Quinton Jefferson out at five technique, or Jefferson might elevate his game to a place where beating him out isn’t realistic for Green. It’s cool. I get it. Ultimately, we don’t know yet, and we can’t feel good until we get answers.

I will just say this. Seattle has salary cap money to spend, even after the extensions of Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. They likely knew some sort of suspension was coming with Jarran Reed. They could have signed former pro bowl defensive tackle Mike Daniels after Green Bay cut him last week, but they didn’t act on it. They had the money to afford him. That said something to me. Might likely mean that they see big things out of Poona Ford this year, and a one year rental on Daniels could hinder Ford’s growth.

One thing I know is that Pete Carroll absolutely will not go into the 2019 regular season with issues about stopping the run and creating quarterback pressures. He will not do that. If they aren’t satisfied with what they see on the roster towards the end of the preseason, expect them to make additions either by trade, or free agency. Seattle has the cap space and trade capital with a slough of picks in 2020 to deal if they feel it is necessary. If they don’t move on a player, take that as a positive. I will.

So, in a word. Relax.

I think it’s going to be alright.

Go Hawks.








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