A year ago at this time, the defense had more leaks than an adobe submarine. The Seahawks gave up 506 yards in Atlanta in the opener, 464 yards next week against New England and 522 in week three against Dallas.
Fortunately for the beleaguered outfit, Russell Wilson was cooking on offense. The Seahawks won all three games. You probably remember the rest of the saga: They reached 5-0, defenses wised up to the Seahawks offense, which fell off, but was rescued by a defensive renaissance, and the the NFC West was won at 12-4.
Amid the early numbers that threatened all sorts of horrifying NFL all-time records, never did the Seahawks give up as many as the 532 yards as they did Sunday. Difference was, this time the Seahawks lost at home to underdog Tennessee, 33-30 in overtime, by blowing a 14-point lead with 13 minutes remaining.
For all the parsing of intemperate behavior that caused five personal fouls worth 75 yards, and for all the second-guessing of the offense after scoring six points in the final 35 minutes, the defense under the hooves of Titans RB Derrick Henry was the most noteworthy unraveling.
The defense is harder to fix.
Not impossible, certainly. But the cornerback positions are shaky, and a stalwart, SS Jamal Adams, has been curiously under-productive.
The Seahawks scored 30 points, yet didn’t win a home opener, a first since 2008 — tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history.
As much as Henry’s deeds rated huzzahs, the shiv was delivered by QB Ryan Tannehill’s operation of a no-huddle offense that led to the game-tying touchdown with 32 seconds left. Henry carried three times, including the one-yard score, but Tannehill was 7-for-7 passing, none longer than 12 yards.
The short stuff kept the chains moving, never needing a third down, and kept the Seahawks from substituting. The defense never forced a backward play or threatened a turnover.
“I’m not sure, it might have been five of those were check-downs,” coach Pete Carroll said Monday, referring to shorter throws when deeper routes were covered. “We were zoning up, and changing the ways we were zoning. He was just real comfortable checking the ball down.
“I wish we could’ve kept them to smaller gains. Wish we could’ve kept him from being that consistent, because that was enough for them at the time. We were really working their good guys (WRs Julio Jones and A.J. Brown) and making sure that we stayed on them. The zones allowed for the check downs, and they made too much.”
That’s a lot of wishing going on. Rarely in the NFL do fairy godmothers make a play.
The Seahawks pass rush couldn’t get to Tannehill, who was happy to take what was given. Earlier, Tannehill kept the Titans in the game by finding Jones, the longtime Seattle nemesis with the Falcons, who had 102 of his 128 reception yards by halftime. He probably should have had a touchdown after a great catch in the back of the end zone, but replay denied him, forcing a field goal and saving the Seahawks a likely four points.
Tannehill finished 27 of 40 for 347 yards, four more than Wilson. He even out-rushed Wilson, 27-16. He also managed to drop an explosive play on each of Seattle’s four defensive backs, according to Pro Football Focus.
PFF also said Adams had nine blitz attempts Sunday, but in two games combined has yet to have a sack, hit or hurry.
Carroll was asked if this was how he viewed Adams’ usage entering the season.
“Yeah, this is some of it,” he said. “There’s more to do with him, but we’re moving him around a lot. He has a lot of opportunities. We like him working the passing-game aspect when we can.
“We’re both learning. He’s learning too. He’s really an aggressive player, so he really goes for it. He has to figure out how to manage that to fit in with his assignments.”
One case of mismanagement was on Henry’s 60-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Adams should have held the edge, but he blitzed instead and was picked up by an upback. Henry bounced to the outside, where he blew past CB Tre Flowers and FS Quandre Diggs to get the Titans back in the game.
Meanwhile, the progress of Flowers and fellow CB D.J. Reed received a less than ringing endorsement from Carroll.
“They managed through the game,” Carroll said. “I didn’t like the big post route (by Jones). That was a safety help as well. For the most part, we got beat on a double move one time with Tre. It didn’t look good. They’re hanging in there. They’re battling. We mixed a lot of different coverages and a lot of different stuff that they did. They were involved with run support quite a bit too, like the one on the big play we missed. They’re battling.”
The use of modest euphemisms is a sign Carroll is contemplating a change at the position that has been the defense’s weakest link since Shaquill Griffin left in March. The potential for failure was why the Seahawks added late in the preseason veterans Sidney Jones and Bless Austin, both of whom are trying to learn Carroll’s system in the limited reps of game-week practices.
“It’s all practice stuff and a little special-teams stuff so far,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a challenge for us to get (Jones and Austin) enough really good reps to see them on our field with us. Both those guys look good. They look like they can help us. We just have to make the call when it’s time to give them a chance to play.
“It’s not a position that we rotated a lot of guys over the years, so we have to wait and see how that fits.”
In the Seahawks win at Indianapolis last week, the Colts didn’t have premier WR T.Y. Hilton, nor a good quarterback (Carson Wentz) . Sunday, the Seahawks defense caught no such breaks with Jones, Brown, Henry and Tannehill, who together exposed the fact that the Seahawks have much more to fix than penalties.