In the short time Seattle has come to know SS Jamal Adams, he has proven to be a voluble storyteller, trash-talker and buckler of swash. So it was little surprise that after the Seahawks beat the Los Angeles Rams Sunday to secure the NFC West title, he offered up a bold assessment that, spoken two months earlier, would have invited a team intervention and an emergency gathering of mental health professionals.
“This defense is playing lights out,” he said via Zoom. “To me, we’re the best defense in the league. You can quote that, you can do what you want to do with it. But at the end of the day, I believe in these guys. I believe in this coaching staff.”
Given the start to the defense’s season, in which it gave up enough territory to create a state worthy of a seat at the United Nations, Adams’ remark a while back would have been absurd. But as we have seen over the past seven games, the claim has become at least plausible.
Monday, it was endorsed by coach Pete Carroll.
“We’re playing as good as anybody,” he said on his weekly show on ESPN 710 radio, answering a question about Adams’ claim. “I don’t know who else is playing better than this. We just saw the best defense in the NFL yesterday. They’re really, really good. That’s why we were fortunate to get what we got done, and get enough points to win.
“After we came back from Buffalo and got our butts kicked there, we’ve been as good as you can find in the league.”
The week-eight loss, 44-34, to a then 7-1 Bills team that is now 12-3 after Monday night’s 38-9 crushing of New England, was the most points put on the Seahawks in Carroll’s tenure.
To look at a couple of game stats, the Seahawks defense didn’t do badly — seven sacks and 11 QB hits on Josh Allen, and allowed 34 yards rushing on 19 carries.
The big gash was permitting Allen to complete 31 of 38 passes for 415 yards, and no turnovers.
The Bills launched with a 17-0 lead on their first three possessions, and the hole was too deep for even QB Russell Wilson, who was intercepted twice and lost two fumbles in strip-sacks, while operating without injured RBs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde.
The Bills fooled Carroll with a game plan that had no real intent to run the ball, happy to let Allen shred a secondary that didn’t have injured CBs Shaquill Griffin and Ugo Amadi, and did have a limited CB Quinton Dunbar (knee).
The result stunned Carroll.
“I don’t recognize that game,” he said then. “We haven’t seen us look like that. It’s a game that I don’t have any place in my brain for it. They made it look easy.”
Big discussions ensued on the flight home and subsequent practice week.
“We put our heads together, did some really important things then,” he said. “We were so uncharacteristic, and so off, it was like the final straw. We had to make sure that we adjusted and figured out and tweaked it.
“It took us a while to get rolling, but we really turned a corner there. I’m not going to share that with you, if you don’t mind. I had seen enough.”
Some changes were obvious. The offense contributed by beginning to wean Wilson away from the spectacular but turnover-prone #LetRussCook spectacle. The defense began dialing back the blitzing that left the secondary vulnerable. And Dunbar never played another down, replaced by D.J. Reed, waived in August by the 49ers after injury.
The return to health of nearly all the starters has allowed for weekly incremental increases in familiarity and communication. The upshot is five consecutive games of less than 20 points allowed, including denying the end zone to two of the past three opponents.
With one regular-season game left, against 6-9 San Francisco Sunday in Arizona, here’s a list of the 12 starters, including nickel, all of whom have at least eight starts:
DL — Benson Mayowa, Poona Ford, Jarran Reed, L.J. Collier
LB — Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Jordyn Brooks
DB — Ugo Amadi (nickel), Shaquill Griffin, D.J. Reed, Quandre Diggs, Jamal Adams
In one observer’s one-paragraph summary:
Adams, Diggs and Wagner were voted last week to the Pro Bowl. Wright, Jarran Reed and Griffin are a half-step back. Ford, Mayowa, Collier and Amadi are about NFL average for their positions. D.J. Reed has been a nine-game revelation. The one rookie starter, Brooks, led the team Sunday in tackles with eight in just 28 snaps.
So, this is a good starting 12. Are they as good as the No. 1 Rams defense? Probably not. But they are a whole lot better than that sunny day in Orchard Park that was so miserable.
Besides a chronic knee problem that finally has required surgery and ended his season, Dunbar’s play was described as “different” by Carroll, without elaboration. Reed, apparently, is not different, which is good. He has fixed the defense’s weakest link by also being better than last’s year’s starter, Tre Flowers.
The Seahawks also filled with Adams the hole left by the departure in free agency of DE Jadeveon Clowney. Adams is such a large contributor on multiple levels that it defies comparison. After signing a one-year, $13 million deal with Tennessee, Clowney played in eight games with 19 tackles and no sacks before season-ending knee surgery.
Adams, who has 9.5 sacks, a continuing NFL record for a defensive back despite missing four games, makes the Seattle turnaround a magnet of league-wide attention.
“He has really emerged as a terrific football player,” Carroll said at his Monday afternoon presser. “We could see it early on. But now that he’s really embraced the whole system, he knows where he’s going and where everybody else is. He really has command of all of it.
“He’s been a huge factor. This is what we hoped for. This is the guy that we thought was worth it.”
A TD saving tackle by Jamal Adams on Darrell Henderson.
Henderson stays down with what looks to be a foot injury. pic.twitter.com/q74DbhIGKB
— Riley Michel (@rileymichel) December 27, 2020
That became apparent Sunday when Adams set up the goal-line stand of the season after he ran across the field to tackle from behind RB Darrell Henderson on a sweep at the 2-yard line, allowing a first down but denying a touchdown. Four more denials later, the Rams turned the ball over, and wouldn’t get close to a touchdown again.
Best D in the NFL? Adams may be on to something.