Seahawks schedule: There are more opportunities ahead for Seattle to score
Seaside Joe 1307: Rebuilding the defense will take time, so maybe the Seahawks can just keep out-scoring their opponents the rest of the way
From the Legion of Boom to a Region of Room — Room to run, room to pass, and room to score. The Seattle Seahawks defense has gotten progressively worse since the last time they were a top-three unit in 2016. After five straight seasons of ranking in the top-five for yards allowed (2012 to 2016), the Seahawks have ranked 11th, 16th, 26th, 22nd, and 28th in the previous five years going into 2022.
Through four games this season, the Seahawks are 31st in points and yards allowed (only the team that they beat on Sunday ranks lower), 32nd in net yards per pass attempt allowed, 31st in drives that end in points allowed, 29th in rushing yards allowed, 28th in yards per carry allowed, and 32nd in plays and yards per drive allowed.
The 115 points allowed by Seattle so far this season is the fifth-highest total in franchise history, and the two worst starts the Seahawks ever had were the first two seasons of their existence. The three-worst starts in Seahawks history based on yards allowed…have all happened in the last three seasons.
That is not something we can even blame on the 17-game season, since we’re only looking at specific four-game sample sizes.
What improvements can we expect from the Seahawks as the season wears on? For one, the 2020 and 2021 defenses did eventually regress to being something closer to league average instead of “league-worst.” Offenses tend to get off to hotter starts than defenses and Pete Carroll is as well versed as any head coach in making in-season adjustments after 12 previous seasons with the Seahawks, and more than three decades of coaching before that.
The fact that Seattle has made schematic changes to the defense, whether you want to boil that down to “3-4 vs 4-3” or something else, could also impact how well the Seahawks play defense over the course of 17 games. I’m not sure to what degree that matters for this personnel, as most of Seattle’s defensive starters and role players were not playing (or rarely playing) for Seattle in 2021. It’s not as though many of them have had to change what they were doing last season because the Seahawks have a lot of new starters.
However, many of those players are also young—Tariq Woolen, Coby Bryant, and Boye Mafe are heavily-utilized rookies—while Cody Barton, Josh Jones, Mike Jackson are among those who don’t have much starting experience. Jamal Adams took a lot of experience with him when he went on IR, leaving Quandre Diggs, Al Woods, Quinton Jefferson, Poona Ford, Shelby Harris, and even Jordyn Brooks as the elder statesmen.
But any dreams of the Seahawks having a top-5 or even top-10 defense again, either this year or next year, seem to be reaching beyond reasonable expectations. The personnel talent isn’t there yet, even drafting some top-ranked defensive prospects in 2023 (like Will Anderson) isn’t likely to yield immediate results, and free agency is something that Pete has both largely avoided and doesn’t tend to have the impact that fans want it to have.
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I was recently thinking about how Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy, a 2023 free agent and an alum from the University of Washington, could be a good target if Seattle wants to finally open the wallet for a free agent. However, just plugging one gap isn’t going to stop the leak.
The New York Jets have been in a similar position of rebuilding a defense under former Pete assistant Robert Saleh, signing D.J. Reed, C.J. Mosley, Lamarcus Joyner, Kwon Alexander, Sheldon Rankins, Jordan Whitehead, Carl Lawson, and Solomon Thomas, while drafting Quinnen Williams, Sauce Gardner, Michael Carter, and Jermaine Johnson in the last 2-3 years. Makes sense: Invest in defensive upgrades, draft defense early, hire highly-respected defensive coaches.
The Jets are 25th in points allowed this season, 24th in net yards per pass attempt allowed, and they were gifted a great opportunity in Week 4 to face Kenny Pickett (three interceptions) in his debut. Are they headed in a better direction, coming off of a season in which the Jets were ranked 32nd in points and yards allowed?
Probably. But the transition doesn’t tend go from 32nd to 2nd, or even 32nd to 12th.
My takeaway from this is multi-faceted: 1) Keep finding ways to score more points, as the Seahawks did in Week 4. 2) Force opponents to run more plays on you, decrease explosive plays allowed, hope that this leads to more mistakes (Seattle had 2 takeaways in 3 of their games so far). 3) Be patient.
The biggest problem with “bend-don’t-break” is that your players need to be well-conditioned and the bench needs to be deep. We saw how the Seahawks wore down after running the most defensive plays in NFL history last season and Seattle may be holding onto eight cornerbacks right now for that reason.
But the Seahawks can’t hope to be one of the only teams in history that made a free agency spending spree work in their favor. That just does not tend to happen. If the Seahawks wanted to finally open the door for an impact player on that side of the ball through free agency, like linebacker Roquan Smith for example, then I wouldn’t discourage them from making such an attempt. Is Smith going to be a massive upgrade over Cody Barton? Yes.
However, Seattle would need to be as sure about Smith as they were about Bobby Wagner during his contract extension negotiations and it seems as though Pete is wary of players who he didn’t nurture into the NFL on his own. Maybe a little shy after other acquisition disappointments (that I don’t need to name again), we just can’t expect that a) Roquan Smith is ever going to be a Seahawk and b) that it would change Seattle back into the Legion of Boom.
We have way more evidence of the Seahawks being a bad defense in the last five years than we do of them being a good defense. The transition from worst to first is going to take longer than it did in the beginning of Pete’s Seattle tenure than it is probable to turnaround now. Why do I think that?
For one, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Brandon Browner were all Pro Bowlers in 2011, while Richard Sherman (though he did not really debut as a starter until Week 7) may have been a top-five cornerback in the NFL already as a rookie. Chris Clemons had 11 sacks, K.J. Wright was establishing himself as an immediate impact player, Red Bryant, Clinton McDonald, Alan Branch helped usher in an era with a defense ranked seventh in points allowed and fourth in points allowed per drive.
Could Uchenna Nwosu and Jordyn Brooks resemble Clemons and Wright? Could Tariq Woolen make a case for Sherman? Maybe. But the further you go down the line, the less likely it seems for a secondary to emerge with four of the best players at their position, a pass rush hitting from all angles, and a steady tackling presence at linebacker and safety.
If the Seahawks finish in the top-20 for points allowed, I will be surprised. Seattle has so far ranked 31st in points allowed after a four-game schedule of Russell Wilson (who isn’t the same), Jimmy Garoppolo, Marcus Mariota, and Jared Goff. Some quarterbacks who they are scheduled to face from here on out include Kyler Murray (twice), Matthew Stafford (twice), Justin Herbert, Tom Brady, Derek Carr, Patrick Mahomes, and Zach Wilson.
Even if Seattle does improve their defense, the level of difficulty seems certain to increase.
Which brings me back to the multi-faceted takeaways with how to approach a situation in which the team allows a lot of points: Can the Seahawks keep scoring a lot of points?
Despite a 48-point effort in Week 4, against the NFL’s worst scoring defense, Seattle still only ranks 11th in total points and 21st in points per drive—because remember they scored on a blocked FG against the 49ers and a pick-six by Woolen on Sunday. It helps the Seahawks to face bad defenses and that’s where there might be some good news for Pete Carroll, Geno Smith, and Shane Waldron:
More bad defenses ahead!
Seattle Seahawks upcoming schedule (Points per Drive Allowed/Net Yards per Pass Allowed/Yards Per Carry Allowed)
Week 5 - Saints (7th / 11th / 11th)
Week 6 - Cardinals (32nd / 27th / 15th)
Week 7 - Chargers (26th / 14th / 31st)
Week 8 - Giants (17th / 15th / 27th)
Week 9 - Cardinals (32nd / 27th / 15th)
Week 10 - Bucs (1st / 6th / 14th)
Week 12 - Raiders (25th / 30th / 9th)
Week 13 - Rams (20th / 16th / 8th)
Week 14 - Panthers (10th / 9th / 12th)
Week 15 - 49ers (2nd / 5th / 1st)
Week 16 - Chiefs (18th / 7th / 3rd)
Week 17 - Jets (27th / 24th / 6th)
Week 18 - Rams (20th / 16th / 8th)
Just in terms of points per drive allowed, the Seahawks will face a team ranked 17th or worse in nine of their remaining 13 contests, and a team ranked 25th or worse in five of those games. Among the best defenses Seattle will face, the Bucs game is in Germany (weird circumstances usually help the worse team), the Panthers have no QB, the Saints might be starting Andy Dalton, and the 49ers are at least a familiar opponent that the Seahawks have already faced.
The fact that the Seahawks offense struggled so much against the 49ers also supports the premise that Seattle’s offense may not be quite as bad as it seems. The 49ers have a great defense right now, maybe the best in the league.
The Seahawks are 2-2 and a winning record would entail a 7-6 finish over the remainder of the season. The standout opportunities to outscore opponents would seem to be the Cardinals (twice), the Giants, the Panthers, and the Jets, but the Saints, Raiders, and even the Chargers might be slightly more winnable games than previously imagined. Could the Seahawks win seven of those eight games?
Maybe, maybe not. It’s too early to say if Seattle’s 2022 team will ultimately be perceived as “good” or “bad” or “mid”. But as far as the offense getting more chances to put points on the board, the Lions were not the last stop.
Before the season started I was on the high side of the games won predictions, expecting 8 or 9 with 10 possible. After seeing how bad the D is over 4 weeks... ya I still feel like 9 is possible! Why? Because the run game is just getting started, the OL is gaining experience every week and will get better, and Geno is playing above expectations game-managing within the system.
The D WILL get better as the season goes on--Pete/Hurtt will figure it out. The rookies (Boye, Cody and Tariq) will continue to get better also. Barring significant injuries the Seahawks will get there.
After losing to Las Vegas, however, it is quite possible Denver is the worst team in the AFCW and I think it is very possible that the Denver picks are going to be higher than the Seahawks' picks by the end of the season.
“Force opponents to run more plays on you, decrease explosive plays allowed“
I’ve long suspected this results in a stout red zone defense. You exhaust the opponents sub-20 yard playbook.