The single biggest mistake the Seahawks defense made this season was picking up eight first-half sacks against Green Bay on Monday Night Football.
False positive. Since halftime of that game, the Seahawks have had 11 sacks combined in the next 5 1/2 games.
The football nation that suddenly thought the Seahawks were the 1985 Chicago Bears was fooled. The Packers certainly weren’t, changing their blocking and playcalls and denying the Seahawks another sack. Increasingly, teams are finding ways to move on the alleged Legion of Boom (Legion of Room?).
That’s not to say the defense is shabby. Just not as good as the big splash made under the Monday night lights.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wasn’t interested in diminishing his defense’s Hallmark-card moment against the Packers.
“I still smile when I think about it,” he said Wednesday.
Following the 28-24 loss in Detroit Sunday, Carroll wasn’t smiling, because the Lions offense was allowed to go the length of the field for the game-winning touchdown with a few ticks left. Many fans were fuming, because rookie quarterback Russell Wilson finally delivered the goods, only to have the team’s purported strength fail in the extreme.
But Wilson’s same general problem, inexperience, is also what is slowing the defense. The quality numbers put up early masked the Seahawks’ weakness that becomes more obvious as offensive coordinators learn to plot against the Seahawks’ hyper-aggressive front and big cornerbacks.
Carroll did allow as to how the defense is today isn’t what it will be, acknowledging that there’s a lot more of a learning curve now.
“(Age and experience) is a factor that’s really going to work for us a couple of years from now,” he said to some chuckles. “Right now our guys are learning fast. They’re under fire and growing right before our eyes. These guys are so young.
“You get guys together for three-four years. they have a reservoir of these occurrences they can share and draw on, and we can be ahead of things. We’re all trying to accelerate as fast as we can, but sometimes you have to learn the hard way.”
Against the past three offenses, the Patriots, 49ers and Lions, the defense was learning the hard way. There is really no other way.
“You watch film, but you can’t really get used to it until you get on the field,” said Bobby Wagner, a rookie starting at middle linebacker — the quarterback of the defense. “A lot of rookies mess up on plays they’ve never seen. It’s just experience, seeing plays come so fast. We take false reads that (veterans) don’t, because of experience.
“A team like the Carolina Panthers (against whom the Seahawks have their only road win), which runs read options, we tend to have a good feel for it because that tends to be what we have seen (in college). You just have to have experience (with the more standard pro offenses), and I feel like we’re catching on pretty quick.”
By plan, the Seahawks went young, and they paying for it now in hopes of a big payoff down the road. That may not happen this season.
The 4-4 Seahawks aren’t likely to overtake the 6-2 49ers for the NFC West division title, meaning they have to get one of two wild-card slots, for which there is much competition, including 5-3 Minnesota, which plays at CenturyLink at 1 p.m. Sunday. That’s a hard pull for so many youngsters.
Of the 15 Seahawks who get the most playing time on defense, seven are in their third NFL season or less. Only two are over 30 — Marcus Trufant (31) and Chris Clemons (31 Tuesday).
Here’s the rundown, with years of NFL experience, followed by age:
10th year — CB Marcus Trufant, 31
9th — DE Chris Clemons 31.
8th — OLB Leroy Hill, 30.
6th — DT Brandon Mebane, 27; DT Alan Branch, 27.
5th — DE Red Bryant, 28; DE Jason Jones, 26.
3rd — FS Earl Thomas, 23; SS Kam Chancellor, 24.
2nd — OLB K.J. Wright, 23; CB Richard Sherman, 24; CB Brandon Browner, 28.
1st — MLB Bobby Wagner, 22; DE Bruce Irvin, 25 Thursday.
Obviously, age and experience aren’t everything, or even most things, when it comes to successful NFL characteristics. But their absences in large parts of the Seahawks defense explain some things.
“I remember as a young player,” said Trufant, “when things weren’t going the way I’d want, I’d start doing things I don’t normally do — pressing, playing outside my ability. You forget to do what you’ve been taught.”
The most glaring example came against the 49ers, when San Francisco crossed up the Seahawks in the second half with several Football 101 trap plays that went big because because the Seahawks couldn’t adjust.
“They caught us by surprise,” Wagner said. “They know our D-line is pretty aggressive so they said, ‘Let them be aggressive, and (Niners running back) Frank Gore will go past them.’ We weren’t ready. We have to see it and adjust.”
One advantage of youth is that they haven’t developed the 10-year-pro’s eye-roll for the many instructions offered by coach.
“These are guys who want to get better,” Trufant said. “We have a coachable attitude. We can listen, watch film and fix things.”
At season’s midpoint, it’s plain that expectations for the Seahawks defense, fueled by the freakish Packers game, were out in front of the ability to deliver. But half a season remains, the classroom grows more intense each week as the surprises become fewer.
INJURY UPDATE — WR Braylon Edwards (knee) and DT Jason Jones (ankle) didn’t practice Wednesday, and WR Doug Baldwin (ankle) was listed as limited. WR Jermaine Kearse, the undrafted rookie from the Washington Huskies, was practicing in Baldwin’s slot position . . . Former Oregon star receiver Lavasier Tuinei was added to the practice squad. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in April and played in all four exhibition games before being cut Aug. 31.