If you are anything like me as a Twelve, you’ve probably been pulling your hair out a bit the last month. While you’ve been amazed at how well your star quarterback and his merry band of receivers and runners have been in the offense, you’ve been probably equally appalled at the lack of pass rush, the missed tackles, and blown coverages on the defensive side (let’s not even get into special teams). Presently, this team feels incomplete. They have an offense led by a quarterback who is hot enough to take them to a championship, but they have paired that with a defense that doesn’t feel like they can stop anybody.
In two weeks, they couldn’t stop Matt Schaub, and Jameis Winston; two quarterbacks nobody thinks about then thinking about how to start a franchise, yet they both put up numbers that would make you go “yowza” when looking at them on paper. This is troubling for any Seattle Seahawk fan who has followed this team for about the last ten years. This does not feel like a Pete Carroll defense, not anything close, and it feels like this club is destined, at best, for a short lived playoff appearance because of it.
This doubly stings because that would be a waste of potentially a historic season from Russell Wilson and company. It’s a shame simply because if this defense could just get to middle of the pack, or something closer towards, that could be enough for Seattle to capture the division, and make a deep playoff run.
So, as we sit here through nine games, my question is “can this defense be fixed enough this season with seven games left to go?”
My short answer is one of pure optimism. It’s possible. Here are my thoughts.
Possible Fix Number 1. Players on the Roster stepping in and stepping up.
As of right now, Seattle’s defense ranks 25th in total defense out of 32 teams. That’s bad, but I have to be honest, when I was looking into these rankings, I was expecting worse. A lot worse. So, for me, this is at least a bit of a positive.
They are 5th in the league in creating turnovers, and that’s pretty darn good. However, they are 25th in sacks, and that isn’t great at all. They’ve given up a bunch of yards through the air and have been somewhat middle of the pack in yards given up on the ground. They have actually been a fairly decent red zone defense. That all feels about right. They have been classically “bend don’t break” all season long, at best.
Here’s the thing that I think is the long and the short of it. There has only been one player that has consistently brought pressures on the quarterback and that is Jadeveon Clowney, and that’s been a big problem.
Prior to trading for him, this team was likely banking on Ziggy Ansah to help mitigate the loss of Frank Clark, and they were counting on the continual positive growth of defensive tackle Jarran Reed. The fact that neither has contributed much has been a massive problem. With Reed, we can kind of excuse it because he was dealt a six game suspension, and is now just working himself back into the rotation. However, with Ansah, when he has been playing (either because of injury or age, or both) has been a vast shadow of himself.
It’s also pretty fair to note that the much hyped defensive tackle Poona Ford hasn’t factored into the pass rush, rookie first round pick LJ Collier has come in injured and raw and thus ineffective, and second year player Rasheem Green as been spotty, at best.
Here is a bit of good news. Before being injured, defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson had actually been playing pretty good ball. If we can remember back a few games, he was the one guy that had been getting pretty good inside and outside pressures along with Clowney. If he wasn’t getting to the quarterback, he was hurrying them and he was swatting down passes. Through seven games, Q Jeff had acquired 17 tackles, 2 sacks and 3 passes defensed. Those are pretty encouraging numbers. Seattle needs him back, like desperately.
It’s also worth noting just how impactful chemistry is for the pass rush, and how hard it is to generate it with a bunch of new faces. The only legit carry overs from last year are Reed and Q Jeff, and they have yet to play much together, and I think it is safe to say that Clowney and Reed are still figuring each other out. It is entirely possible that their chemistry grows in the second half where we start seeing more pressures and sacks.
Further in the back of the defense, is the other area where Seattle has also not been playing with all their horses yet. The newly acquired safety Quandre Diggs has been resting a sore hamstring that he had been playing on in Detroit, and even though rookie free safety Marquise Blair playing well enough with Bradley McDougald, Diggs is a hard hitting play maker that I’m sure the coaches want to utilize.
There is a reasonable thought that with a healthy adding of Diggs, he perhaps takes over the nickel corner spot and they play with three quality safeties on the field in many match ups. Diggs came into the league as a corner from Texas. A healthy Quandre Diggs, who was a pro bowl alternate last season, just gives this defense more quality dimension. This leads to the next part.
Possible Fix 2. Adjust the Scheme
Right now the Seattle defense is playing pretty predictably, at practically a ridiculous level. The cornerbacks aren’t pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage, and that is allowing receivers to basically do whatever they want to underneath. They can run digs, curls, and slants, and whatever else because there is usually three linebackers in coverage, there are almost always zones available to them because of that.
I believe the main reason why they have simplified these coverages to this extreme is due to the overemphasis of the coaches not wanting defenders to get beat over the top. If we go back to the first game of the season against the Bengals, and recall how John Ross was able to easily slip past Tedric Thompson for a long touchdown bomb, and then recall just how often Thompson repeatedly allowed long pass completions throughout the season until he found himself on injured reverse (was this a Rodney Dangerfield Caddyshack thing?), it’s pretty understandable.
Pete Carroll had probably seen enough, and had mandated these soft zone coverages that would invite quarterbacks to make the easy completions, instead of testing the back end coverage. However, with three weeks of Marquise Blair now starting, maybe the coach will get comfortable enough to start making some adjustments because he feels like he has a player on the back end who will not so easily be beaten over the top.
Another reason for the soft coverage is because they are playing with three linebackers on the field most of the time. Because of this, they are almost always in zone, and even when they blitz, they send the same linebackers from the same spots. It’s way too predictable. Any competent quarterback can pick up on these tendencies and pick apart what Seattle is doing. I think the reason why they’ve accepted this fate is because they don’t feel good at all about their nickel corner situation, and they think linebacker Mychal Kendricks is a better option, but this ties their hands to play zone because they don’t want to force Kendricks to play man against the smaller quicker receiver.
Coming out of the bye week, Seattle could try pressing receivers more, and throwing off their timing. This could give the linebackers a better chance in coverage. They have the big physical outside corners to do this, and with a healthy Diggs, they could utilize more nickel defense, and this would allow for more man coverage. They don’t have to radically change what they have been doing, but they can certainly add more to it, and I think they will.
It is entirely probable that Seattle will have self scouted themselves during the bye week and with the extra week of practice, they will adjust many of these overly predictable tendencies. Just how much remains to be seen, but I am sure adjustments are coming.
It also wouldn’t surprise me at all if they become even more a blitzing team, and look to blitz from a lot of different angles with different players at linebacker, corner and safety. They might look at this defensive line and determine that they simply do not have the horses to consistently rush with four. I wouldn’t expect them to always be sending someone extra, but they can be more exotic when they do. They did this last year with Justin Coleman blitzing at nickel. If they feel Diggs can provide that juice, why wouldn’t they revisit that?
Possible Fix 3. Players Step Up and They Adjust Scheme.
It’s entirely possible that Jadeveon Clowney and Jarran Reed develop better chemistry up front, and Quinton Jefferson comes back and makes up for the lack of production from others. Will that make them a decent rushing front four? Possibly not, but at this point, they just need to be better because they almost can’t be any worse.
It is also possible that Ziggy Ansah has still been feeling the effects of the twisted ankle he received in Cleveland and has been favoring it on the field, and through the bye week, he will have rested it to the point that he comes back with more pass rush twitch. It’s also possible that Rasheem Green and maybe LJ Collier will start to pick up their games a bit more. These are all possible.
What might be more probable is that Seattle will adjust the scheme more and will become less predictable. Pete Carroll always uses the bye week to self scout his roster and coaches. It would be shocking to me if they come out of the bye and have not made key adjustments. That is why I think the safe bet is that adjustments are coming.
Even with players playing better and coaching adjustments coming in that will make this unit less predictable, this still is probably not going to be a very good defense. However, if they can just get closer to middle of the pack and by that, I would even take the 20th ranked defense over the 25th, that could be enough for Seattle to have a special season if the offense continues to do what they have been doing.
I think that is why the team went out and brought in wide receiver Josh Gordon. They likely know what they have with this defense, and they need to ride Russell Wilson and the offense. They might even consider bringing in Antonio Brown, even if Gordon works out just fine. At this point, why not?
Presently, Russell Wilson has been enjoying a career year, and Pete Carroll’s dream vision of a perfectly balanced offense has never looked this realized in Seattle with the way Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny have been running, along with how Wilson has been throwing to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Maybe this is the season to simply go all in on the offense. It’s interesting to note that last year the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl with the 20th ranked overall defense in the league.
As for next season, I think it’s probably the safest bet in all things Seattle Seahawks that we are going to see some sort of major defensive overhaul. We will surely get more into that later as Jadeveon Clowney, Jarran Reed, Quinton Jefferson, Ziggy Ansah, and Mychal Kendricks are all set to be free agents.
But this is now, and that will be then, and as for now, there is still a lot of football left to be played against some tough opponents, but Seattle is still very much in the driver’s seat for their playoff chances and even a division title. So let’s just fix what we got.
Doesn’t have to be great. Doesn’t even have to be very good. Just needs to bend and not break on a dependable level.
Do they have the horses for this? Can they make these adjustments?
Golly, I hope so. I think they can. We shall see soon enough.