Discover more from Seaside Joe
Seahawks defensive schedule: The Final Chapter
Sean Desai and Teryl Austin's return to Seattle: Seaside Joe 1565
I think it is important to know your enemy and if we get an early start on the 2023 season by going through some primers on what to expect, it will help Seaside Joe readers (and Seaside Joe) be better acquainted with these teams, coaches, and players when the real Sundays get here.
Plus, it’s a good way to make sure we keep our daily streak alive as I strive to keep creating more free (get to know more undrafted free agents) and bonus articles (like this one about Cortez Kennedy) in June and July! We are maybe about six weeks away from the start of training camp.
Help support us by becoming a free or premium subscriber, just click this link or click this button:
Week 15 - Philadelphia Eagles, DC: Sean Desai
Over a period of three weeks, the Seahawks will face two former Pete Carroll assistants who are current NFL defensive coordinators. The first being Dan Quinn in Week 13 and the second of those being Desai, although his time in Seattle was shortlived but also recent.
The 40-year-old defensive coach got his start at Temple in 2006, then graduated to the NFL in 2013 after being hired by then-head coach Marc Trestman with the Chicago Bears. Desai was a defensive quality control coach for six years, then promoted to safeties coach in 2019 by defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, and finally became the Bears defensive coordinator himself in 2021.
But Chicago fired head coach Matt Nagy after the season and Desai became the Seahawks “associate head coach” last year, also assistant former Bears colleague Clint Hurtt with Seattle’s defense. When the Eagles lost both their offensive and defensive coordinator (now Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon, who the Seahawks will face twice, of course) and hired Desai to run the defense, Carroll had this to say about his short stint and latest promotion:
“We had a great time. He’s really, really a brilliant football guy. The background and the information he holds, his access to information is really special. He helped us a ton getting going and making a year’s transition (the Seahawks changed defensive coordinators in 2022). We got along great. It was a good challenge for me. [Desai] comes from a different football background so it was fun to knock heads and always figure it out.”
Field Gulls’ Mookie Alexander told Bleeding Green Nation that Desai’s influence was probably most seen with Seattle’s “nickel-heavy approach to alignment” and Matty F. Brown noted that Desai “ran the 2-4/4-2 fronts a lot in Chicago”.
How much Sean Desai will change and tinker with an Eagles defense that was dominant against the pass and totaled SEVENTY sacks last season remains to be seen. I am not familiar with the YouTube channel “On the road to victory with Jimmy Smith” but at first glance it is an Eagles Xs and Os podcast and the host does a thorough job of breaking down and explaining defensive schemes and how Desai will change Philadelphia’s defense. Watch here, but you can skip to about 5:25 in…
It’s VERY thorough and I pulled this screenshot from Jimmy Smith’s YouTube:
As you can see, he projects Jalen Carter as basically an immediate “starter” in the base package, alongside 2022 first round pick Jordan Davis and defensive linemen Fletcher Cox, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham. The Eagles have added Carter, Terrell Edmunds, and Nicholas Morrow, as well as Nolan Smith, another 2023 first round pick.
Another screenshot from that YouTube video, this being the 3-3 package:
We have no idea how much different the Eagles will look by December 17, when they host Philadelphia, as injuries and demotions/promotions will change the look of this depth chart considerably. But if we had to place odds on “the best defense that the Seahawks will face this season,” the Philadelphia Eagles might rank number one.
Week 16 - Tennessee Titans, DC: Shane Bowen
Bowen was promoted from the college ranks to the NFL when he was hired by Bill O’Brien to become a defensive assistant on the Texans in 2016, then he followed Mike Vrabel to the Tennessee Titans as an outside linebackers coach in 2018. Vrabel’s original defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, retired in 2020 and Vrabel kept the role “vacant” but Bowen probably did the most work that season of anyone other than the head coach.
He was officially promoted in 2021 and though the Titans defense definitely took a step back last season, ranking 32nd in passing yards allowed and 27th in net yards per pass attempt allowed, Tennessee did have the number one rushing defense by yards and yards per carry.
But the Titans defense got worse as the season went on, ranking 30th in DVOA over the last six weeks and blowing their lead in the AFC South to eventually lose the division to the Jaguars in Week 18 and missing the playoffs entirely. The Titans started 7-3 but lost their last seven games.
It’s miraculous that Tennessee kept their coaching staff in tact, but Vrabel seems to feel the pressure to improve, especially on defense.
“You can't be first in run and last in pass,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “It goes hand in hand. We have got to find ways to rush the quarterback and impact the quarterback. That is the best coverage, being able to rush them. Those will be conversations that I’ll have with [defensive coordinator] Shane [Bowen] and the coaching staff. It starts there and then it starts to materialize into the coverage, zone, man.
“That is something that we certainly have to improve on.”
I’m previewing Shane Bowen now, but if there’s a coordinator on the hot seat in this series, he’s it. Same goes for Vrabel. As respected as he is around the league and with fans, the Titans haven’t won a playoff game since their surprising run to the AFC Championsihp in 2019. Right now we’re talking about Vrabel and Ryan Tannehill, but by Week 16, maybe it’s “interim head coach Justin Outten” and quarterback Will Levis.
Week 17 - Pittsburgh Steelers, DC: Teryl Austin
It’s been a long road for Austin, including starting the NFL leg of his journey with the Seahawks as defensive backs coach in 2003, and this is his third tenure as a professional defensive coordinator. Austin helped spring linebacker Alex Highsmith towards 14.5 sacks last season and Cameron Heyward into 10.5 sacks, despite T.J. Watt missing seven games, but you have to think that the Steelers are growing impatient with their lack of playoff success given the history of the organization.
Locked On Steelers podcaster Chris Carter thinks that the team needs to give Teryl Austin more time to develop his defense in Pittsburgh. “They’re not solely relying on more man coverage, but they’re doing it at a higher rate. The Steelers were running man coverages 42.6% of the time and that was the fifth-highest rate in the NFL, per PFF.”
The Steelers put more pressure on their corners and safeties to carry the defense and this year that will include second round pick Joey Porter, Jr. at cornerback, as well as veteran free agent signing Patrick Peterson. Pittsburgh has one elite safety in Minkah Fitzpatrick, but have also brought in veteran Keanu Neal, a former pick by Dan Quinn with the Atlanta Falcons.
That means Austin has a lot of new pieces to work with on defense, including nose tackle Keeanu Benton, a second round pick, and several new linebackers, including for Seattle player Tanner Muse, as well as Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb.
In the Pittsburgh Steelers’ base 3-4 defense, they employ a nose tackle and two defensive ends all on the interior of the offensive line, all with two-gap responsibility. That lets the four linebackers flow to the football cleanly.
But the base 3-4 doesn’t handle spread personnel well in pass defense, so the Steelers have shifted to a 4-2 Nickel as their most-common defense, even though they still call the 3-4 their base. The biggest change from the 3-4 to the 4-2, and the biggest change we’ve seen to the Pittsburgh defense over the last 15 years, is the more and more frequent removal of the nose tackle for a slot cornerback.
The slot cornerback could be another new player, free agent Chandon Sullivan, a teammate of Peterson’s in Minnesota last season.
After 12 years at the college level, Austin was hired by Mike Holmgren in 2003, then he moved onto the Arizona Cardinals in 2007. He spent one season as Florida’s defensive coordinator (preceding Dan Quinn), then three years as the Ravens secondary coach, winning a Super Bowl in 2012. Austin next spent four years as the Lions defensive coordinator, one year in that role for the Bengals, and he’s been with Mike Tomlin ever since.
Pittsburgh firing Tomlin seems so improbable, but how much longer will the Steelers accept mediocrity without making any changes? The franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since 2016 and in the last six years they are 0-3 in the postseason, having missed the playoffs in 2018, 2019, and 2022.
Now they’re competing in a division with Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, and Deshaun Watson and they’ve got Kenny Pickett. It’s hard to envision the Steelers winning the AFC North, or even making the playoffs, but as usual Pittsburgh will be heavily relying on their defense to carry them if they do.
Week 18 - Arizona Cardinals, DC: Nick Rallis
Covered in Part II.
I’ll be posting a bonus article soon, so consider subscribing—either FREE if you haven’t already for more daily content like this—or upgrading to premium to help support us through the summer. Sign up for a year right now and you’ll already be paid up for bonus content through the 2024 draft and minicamps!
Seaside Joe is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Share us with Seahawks fans, we’ve recently crossed over 2,300 subscribers and it’s thanks to the groundswell movement provided by fans like you!