Should The Seahawks Fire Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr Now? I Dunno

In the hot seat

Let me share with you this text exchange that I had with my older brother following Seattle’s horrific defensive effort against the Buffalo Bills last Sunday.

“How is it you sack the quarterback like 8 or 9 or 10 times and still get burnt for a bunch of points?..”

“Horrible. I’ve lost faith in Ken Norton Junior as a play caller but we’re stuck with him the rest of the year.”

That was my response to my brother’s question, and it’s true. I have lost faith in Ken Norton Junior as Seattle’s defensive coordinator. Since he was hired to take the place of Kris Richard in 2018, I have witnessed this defense get worse each season, and this season, they are on pace to shatter records in terms of passing yards allowed. They are a million miles away from what a Pete Carroll defense is supposed to be.

A Pete Carroll defense is supposed to be able to pass rush with four defensive linemen, and they can’t. They have to send an extra defender and that leaves their coverage exposed.

A Pete Carrolll defense is supposed to only give up short passing yards, and they give up intermediate to deep yardage all the time with the soft coverage that they feel forced to play.

A Pete Carroll defense is supposed to feature sure tacklers at all three levels of the defense, and they miss tackles at all three levels.

Finally, a Pete Carroll defense is supposed to be fundamentally sound in technique, and their technique appears out of wack often.

The only thing that you can say this defense does that a Pete Carroll defense is supposed to do is slow down the run, but let’s be real about that. Because they offer so much yardage through the air, most teams that they are facing aren’t running the ball as much. Buffalo barely ran against this defense. They didn’t need to.

So, yeah. I’ve lost faith in Ken Norton Junior, and I say that knowing that this defense has not consistently been playing with all of it’s parts. I know that it’s rebuilt secondary has barely played with each other due to injuries to Jamal Adams and Shaquill Griffin. I know that their pass rush took a hit by not having Bruce Irvin or second round edge rusher Darrell Taylor mixing in with Benson Mayowa. I know first round pick Jordyn Brooks has missed a few games due to a knee injury. All this doesn’t matter to me. There are too many other veterans and starters who have been playing out of wack.

Bobby Wagner has had only one great game this season, and it was against an injury ravished 49er offense. Jarran Reed signed a big two year contract extension to provide pass rush inside, and there have been many times that he has not won one on on battles (granted maybe that changes now that Seattle has finally added a legit edge rusher in Carlos Dunlap as he had a great game against the Bills). KJ Wright has had some great moments this season, but he has also missed tackles that, frankly, he should not miss. Quandre Diggs has not lived up to the promise that he showed last year at free safety. When Jamal Adams has played, he’s done well rushing the passer, but has been quite spotty in coverage.

Don’t get me wrong, there are major talent issues that explain partly why this defense has been bad. Seattle did a lousy job building its pass rush over the off-season. They went cheap to add where they most needed to add to make this defense better, and it bit them in the butt big time. Maybe Dunlap fixes things, but it never should have gotten to having to make a mid season trade. They should have fixed it months ago.

But saying all that, even with talent deficiencies, there is no excuse for established veterans to be playing with poor fundamentals. This, to me, is on the coaching. Fundamentals have likely not been emphasized nearly enough.

Now, it is quite possible that Covid interrupted their ability to properly hammer fundamentals over the off-season. Defenses have struggled league wide. This is very true. But Seattle’s defense is historically struggling and that is the big distinction. Huge, actually.

To make matters worth, I have lost faith that Norton has even the ability or willingness to put his best players in the best positions to have success. Bobby Wagner should not be covering Stefon Diggs down field. He is not a nickel corner, he’s a middle linebacker, and Diggs is one of the very best receivers in the league. Jarran Reed is Seattle’s best interior pass rusher, and it fricking drives me nuts seeing him drop back into coverage on third downs. His job is to pass rush and run stop, that’s his job.

So, yeah. I’ve lost faith in Norton. Doesn’t mean that it can’t be earned back, but I am not holding my breath on that.

So should Pete Carroll fire Norton now at the mid season point?

It would be a bold move that might light a needed spark in his defense. It could also be a bold move that could backfire. We have no idea if it would work, but many are now contending that at least it would be something, and that’s fair.

From my point of view, Pete Carroll shouldn’t be concerned whether or not he will lose the locker room. He just signed a contract extension that makes him head coach through 2025. Players know who’s team this is.

It’s very possible that star middle linebacker Bobby Wagner would be hugely upset by firing Norton, and probably his best friend KJ Wright would be right there with him. Norton is like a big brother to them, and they rejoiced a couple years ago when Norton was brought in to replace Richard.

Seeing how they have never really had much of a chance to acclimate Jamal Adams to the defense due to injury, nor did they give much of a chance for Norton to work with new edge rusher Dunlap, they would indeed have some high grounds to make a big stink about that if Carroll dumps their big brother now. There is a very real chance that a Norton firing would alienate two of Carroll’s best veteran defenders to dangerous levels.

The thing that I see with both players, though, is that both of them are highly stand up and professional types. While they might protest heavily at Norton being fired, they might ultimately put it aside for the sake of the defense.

We just don’t know what direction it would go with them, and we also don’t know who Carroll would even replace Norton with. That’s the bigger issue in my mind.

Who on this coaching staff would step in? Clint Hurtt is a good defensive line coach, but I don’t think he has ever play called before.

Would Carroll do it all by himself? That’s a big burden to put on himself when he also likes to be involved with the offense on occasion.

Fans will bring up bringing in Dan Quinn now that he’s been fired from Atlanta as their head coach, but does he want to step in mid season to deal with the hard task of fixing Seattle’s defense? Or does he just want to take the year off and have a breather? I kinda think he’d lean towards the latter.

Kris Richard would be the other obvious outside option with ties to the team. But does he want to return to where he was essentially fired a few years ago?

I just don’t think Carroll is going to fire Norton now, even if he should

Pete Carroll is very loyal to his coaches, and I think he is looking at the fact that they have never really had the defense playing together as it was intended to be, and he is no where near firing Norton at this point. He’s going to want to play this out.

He also knows that he has too many key defenders that will want him to do that in Wagner and Wright, and he won’t want to shake their moral.

So, I just don’t see a firing happening now. They will let this play out. They will have more patience than fans.

I think there is an outside shot that they could bring someone in from the outside to advise, but I don’t know who that person is.

It’s possible that they fix this defense enough to make Seattle a true Super Bowl contender in a Let Russ Cook kinda year. It’s also very possible that they won’t be able to do enough, and Seattle falls short of those expectations.

If that happens, I think changes are likely to be made next off-season.

At least, that is what I would hope.

Go Hawks.


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