BY Art Thiel 05:26PM 10/31/2012

Thiel: Seahawks’ defense not prime time, yet

No one wants to say it, but it’s true: Seahawks defense is young and prone to being fooled. Even Carroll admits the personnel’s best days are 2 or 3 years down the road.

Pete Carroll was excited with his defense's eight sacks vs. Green Bay, but production has tapered off. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Pete Carroll was excited with the defense against Green Bay, but production has since tapered off. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The single biggest mistake the Seahawks defense made this season was picking up eight first-half sacks against Green Bay on Monday Night Football.

False positive. Since halftime of that game, the Seahawks have had 11 sacks combined in the next 5 1/2 games.

The football nation that suddenly thought the Seahawks were the 1985 Chicago Bears was fooled. The Packers certainly weren’t, changing their blocking and playcalls and denying the Seahawks another sack. Increasingly, teams are finding ways to move on the alleged Legion of Boom (Legion of Room?).

That’s not to say the defense is shabby. Just not as good as the big splash made under the Monday night lights.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wasn’t interested in diminishing his defense’s Hallmark-card moment against the Packers.

“I still smile when I think about it,” he said Wednesday.

Following the 28-24 loss in Detroit Sunday, Carroll wasn’t smiling, because the Lions offense was allowed to go the length of the field for the game-winning touchdown with a few ticks left. Many fans were fuming, because rookie quarterback Russell Wilson finally delivered the goods, only to have the team’s purported strength fail in the extreme.

But Wilson’s same general problem, inexperience, is also what is slowing the defense. The quality numbers put up early masked the Seahawks’ weakness that becomes more obvious as offensive coordinators learn to plot against the Seahawks’ hyper-aggressive front and big cornerbacks.

Carroll did allow as to how the defense is today isn’t what it will be, acknowledging that there’s a lot more of a learning curve now.

“(Age and experience) is a factor that’s really going to work for us a couple of years from now,” he said to some chuckles. “Right now our guys are learning fast. They’re under fire and growing right before our eyes. These guys are so young.

“You get guys together for three-four years. they have a reservoir of these occurrences they can share and draw on, and we can be ahead of things. We’re all trying to accelerate as fast as we can, but sometimes you have to learn the hard way.”

Against the past three offenses, the Patriots, 49ers and Lions, the defense was learning the hard way. There is really no other way.

“You watch film, but you can’t really get used to it until you get on the field,” said Bobby Wagner, a rookie starting at middle linebacker — the quarterback of the defense. “A lot of rookies mess up on plays they’ve never seen. It’s just experience, seeing plays come so fast. We take false reads that (veterans) don’t, because of experience.

“A team like the Carolina Panthers (against whom the Seahawks have their only road win), which runs read options, we tend to have a good feel for it because that tends to be what we have seen (in college). You just have to have experience (with the more standard pro offenses), and I feel like we’re catching on pretty quick.”

By plan, the Seahawks went young, and they paying for it now in hopes of a big payoff down the road. That may not happen this season.

The 4-4 Seahawks aren’t likely to overtake the 6-2 49ers for the NFC West division title, meaning they have to get one of two wild-card slots, for which there is much competition, including 5-3 Minnesota, which plays at CenturyLink at 1 p.m. Sunday. That’s a hard pull for so many youngsters.

Of the 15 Seahawks who get the most playing time on defense, seven are in their third NFL season or less. Only two are over 30 — Marcus Trufant (31) and Chris Clemons (31 Tuesday).

Here’s the rundown, with years of NFL experience, followed by age:

10th year — CB Marcus Trufant, 31

9th — DE Chris Clemons 31.

8th — OLB Leroy Hill, 30.

6th — DT Brandon Mebane, 27; DT Alan Branch, 27.

5th — DE Red Bryant, 28; DE Jason Jones, 26.

3rd — FS Earl Thomas, 23; SS Kam Chancellor,  24.

2nd —  OLB K.J. Wright, 23; CB Richard Sherman, 24; CB Brandon Browner, 28.

1st — MLB Bobby Wagner, 22; DE Bruce Irvin, 25 Thursday.

Obviously, age and experience aren’t everything, or even most things, when it comes to successful NFL characteristics. But their absences in large parts of the Seahawks defense explain some things.

“I remember as a young player,” said Trufant, “when things weren’t going the way I’d want, I’d start doing things I don’t normally do — pressing, playing outside my ability. You forget to do what you’ve been taught.”

The most glaring example came against the 49ers, when San Francisco crossed up the Seahawks in the second half with several Football 101 trap plays that went big because because the Seahawks couldn’t adjust.

“They caught us by surprise,” Wagner said. “They know our D-line is pretty aggressive so they said, ‘Let them be aggressive, and (Niners running back) Frank Gore will go past them.’ We weren’t ready. We have to see it and adjust.”

One advantage of youth is that they haven’t developed the 10-year-pro’s eye-roll for the  many instructions offered by coach.

“These are guys who want to get better,” Trufant said. “We have a coachable attitude. We can listen, watch film and fix things.”

At season’s midpoint, it’s plain that expectations for the Seahawks defense, fueled by the freakish Packers game, were out in front of the ability to deliver. But half a season remains, the classroom grows more intense each week as the surprises become fewer.

INJURY UPDATE — WR Braylon Edwards (knee) and DT Jason Jones (ankle) didn’t practice Wednesday, and WR Doug Baldwin (ankle) was listed as limited. WR Jermaine Kearse, the undrafted rookie from the Washington Huskies, was practicing in Baldwin’s slot position . . . Former Oregon star receiver Lavasier Tuinei was added to the practice squad. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in April and played in all four exhibition games before being cut Aug. 31.


  • PokeyPuffy

    Wow, “reservoir of…occurrences”, very poetic! Back to football, Poor Pete, Harbaugh out flanked him again. This time he’s provided the league a roadmap to besting our defense. hopefully we can adjust….

  • Seattle has faced one of the league’s most difficult slates of offenses (3rd most difficult according to Football Outsiders). Yet Detroit is really the first to repeatedly drive the field for touchdowns. SF got some nice runs, and scored all of a whopping 13 points. But did you see what GB did to Houston? What NE to a vastly improved STL defense? Look at Dallas putting points up against everybody but finding ways to lose. Seattle’s defense held these teams to WAAAY below their season averages. Even Detroit, who has moved the ball versus everyone — even Chicago — but had been mostly self-destructive until this past Sunday, needed an insanely efficient game from Stafford. That guy can get hot against anybody.

    You raise a great central point about this group’s inexperience and upside. But, the headline is a little too provocative. No serious discussion of “prime time” defense could leave out Seattle. I mean, who else would you include? Chicago, obviously. What about SF? Their curb-stomping by NY at home is WAY worse than our loss at Detroit. Denver? San Diego did them worse than Detroit did us–in ONE half. (Then the Chargers Norved the game away.) So, unless you want a list with one team on it (and the Bears have played the 17th most difficult slate of offenses by the way) then you have to admit it. Bad game aside, this defense is elite right now and looks to get better.

    Seahawks fans CAN have nice things :)

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