To all who believe that the Seahawks defense is wafer-thin, consider that a year ago after the third game, they had surrendered an average of 497 yards and 28.7 points a game. After three games this season, they are at 440.3 and 26.3.
Does anyone appreciate the improvement? Nooo. All the critics focus on is niggling details like the win-loss differential: 3-0 vs. 1-2. Go ahead and mock this season’s defense; they’re ahead of last season, when the Seahawks finished 12-4.
Sticklers for detail might point out that the 2020 run reached 5-0 before the rest of the NFL caught onto the Seahawks offense, knowledge that contributed mightily to losses in three of the next four games. But by then, the Seahawks defense, reinforced by the acquisition of DE Carlos Dunlap, finally showed up to forestall the threat of a team-wide dumpster fire.
How 2021 plays out remains a mystery. But there no doubt the early defensive swoon is, as Yogi Berra put it, deja vu all over again.
“It feels a little bit the same,” Pete Carroll said at his Monday post-mortem. “It feels like we’re giving up too much, and it feels like we’re in similar situations. We’ve been ahead. We were ahead in a lot of situations last year early on, and we jumped out on this one too.
“Responding to those situations, and holding the score down, has not been a strength of ours early in the year. I don’t know how to explain that to you in relative (terms) from one year to the next.”
Well, there is a way to explain a little of the higher expectations dwindling to poor early results : Last season’s lineup included LB K.J. Wright, CB Shaquill Griffin and DT Jarran Reed.
As you may recall, the Seahawks’ braintrust decided early that it couldn’t afford Griffin’s price after four years, and the free agent market rewarded him with a three-year deal worth up to $40 million, $29 million guaranteed, from Jacksonville.
Reed was lost when his unexpected demand for an extension was denied, and he left for Kansas City and a one-year deal for less than he would have made in Seattle.
Wright, 32, was not re-signed after 10 productive seasons because the Seahawks wanted to give his playing time to younger linebackers Darrell Taylor and Jordyn Brooks. Wright now is a backup with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Each move on its own had its rational merit, depending, as always, on replacement cost. In two cases, that has yet to work out.
The Seahawks seem to have a quality successor to Reed in 340-pound Al Woods, a third-time Seahawk who has drawn praise for his work in slowing the run, although he’s no pass rusher. But Woods at 34 is six years older than Reed and likely a one-year, literal stop-gap.
As fans watched the Vikings succeed with screen pass after screen pass Sunday, they longed for Wright’s screen-detection skills, as well as his work defending the check-down pass. Taylor and Brooks may well catch on to those requirements, but the suspicion is that All-Pro LB Bobby Wagner is biting his lower lip until the kids grow into the tasks.
Replacing Griffin has not gone well, particularly Sunday when the one relatively established cornerback, D.J. Reed, was beaten twice for touchdowns. At the other corner, fourth-year Tre Flowers’s tenuous grip on the starting job slipped further when he gave up seven catches on seven targets for 78 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
Carroll said post-game Sunday that he almost went to CB Sidney Jones “but we didn’t get that done.” The former University of Washington star, acquired via trade with Jacksonville Aug. 31, has yet to play, but may get his chance Sunday at Santa Clara against the 49ers.
Some fans, especially those wearing purple glasses, think that advancing Jones to the starting lineup is part of the solution for a defense that has surrendered the most yards in the league. No disparagement to Jones, but the same braintrust that thought Quinton Dunbar and Ahkello Witherspoon were solutions at cornerback also traded for Jones.
To the Seahawks’ partial credit, they must have known they were squinting hard to see either Dunbar or Witherspoon as a full-time starter, so in April, they drafted CB Tre Brown in the fourth round from Oklahoma. A knee injury has kept him out of action, although he is eligible to return off the injured list this week. Whenever he does take the field, he’ll be a rookie. Jeez, do NFL quarterbacks love rookie cornerbacks.
Until some solution manifests at cornerback, the quickest way to improve coverage is to throttle the QB. That has not gone well either.
In three games, the Seahawks have seven sacks, getting to quick-throwing Vikings QB Kirk Cousins just once, and only four hits. Seattle is one of four teams without an interception.
“We have not disrupted the quarterback,” Carroll said. “It starts there. Our guys are working it. They’re busting their tails to get it. It just needs to work together more effectively. We’re working for that.”
The belief was that the Seahawks, knowing cornerback was going to be a problem, had already done the work on the pass rush in the off-season, with the return to health of Taylor, the hire of free agent Kerry Hyder Jr., and full camps with Dunlap and SS Jamal Adams.
Apparently that was a mistaken belief. It’s being done in late September.
“We have plans, yes,” Carroll said. “We have plans. I can answer that, effectively and clearly, that we have plans.”
Since the next two opponents are the 2-1 49ers and 3-0 Rams, it’s, uh, just in time.