BY Art Thiel 11:27AM 01/15/2017

Thiel: Seahawks need help on defense first

The need for help on the offensive line is obvious. But the way the Falcons tore apart the Seahawks defense suggests that it’s time to refresh the Legion of Boom.

Undrafted rookie free agent CB DeAndre Elliott was pressed into service against Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman after Deshawn Shead went down with a knee injury. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

ATLANTA — The Seahawks were sufficiently vulnerable this season to have needed the No. 2 seed’s bye for the extra prep time coach Pete Carroll has exploited so well for postseason success. It’s what he taught Dan Quinn, the Falcons coach and Carroll’s defensive coordinator in the Super Bowl triumph over the Broncos, which was so decisive in part because of the extra week of practice.

The first thing Quinn said at the podium Saturday after his first playoff victory as a head coach, which came at the expense of his mentor: “For us, this game was won during the week. The preparation . . . I wish you could have seen that.”

Certainly the football world saw the result, a 36-20 win over the Seahawks that wasn’t that close. Not when the first three Atlanta touchdown drives covered 75, 99 and 75 yards.

Quinn taught his team exactly what to expect from the Seahawks defense, and had the perfect quarterback, Matt Ryan, to execute the short, quick throws into the middle of Seattle’s zone. The game plan was executed so cleanly that, in their nine-play, 99-yard drive, the Falcons didn’t even get to a third down.

Had any one of the five defeats and a draw been turned into a victory — all but the Green Bay loss were close — Seattle would have hosted. Which is not to say that had the seedings been reversed, with the Seahawks having the bye and the home field, the result would have reversed.

While the Falcons are a Super Bowl-worthy team that nearly won in Seattle during the regular season, being better prepared and at home would have given the Seahawks a chance to disrupt Ryan, stay competitive and perhaps even intercept a pass, something they did not do in the final seven games of the season.

Regarding the first meeting between the teams in October, Quinn admitted that he was off his game in the return to Seattle after such a big role in bringing the city its first pro football championship.

“I’ll be honest with you,” he said, “I’m glad we got that (return to Seattle) out of the way in the regular season. That first game was weird.”

The Falcons lost 26-24, but Atlanta fans will tell you that they were denied a shot at a late win only because Seattle CB Richard Sherman interfered with WR Julio Jones on a deep pass declared incomplete without a foul.

It’s hard to prove the Falcons’ play was diminished by the distractions of Quinn and his staff, but there’s no doubt about the virtues of his full concentration on outsmarting the team he knows well.

No single play turned Saturday’s outcome, because the Falcons won the line of scrimmage, both sides. Ryan’s 338 passing yards were the most in a playoff game against a Carroll defense, largely because Ryan seemed to know when the blitz was coming and threw well against it. And Atlanta’s defensive line held RB Thomas Rawls to five rushing yards after Seattle’s opening drive produced a touchdown.

Regarding the defense, the significance of FS Earl Thomas’s injury absence has been obvious, and addressed repeatedly. But even with Thomas in October (and minus injured Kam Chancellor) Ryan threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns.

Thomas’s unique set of skills allows the defense to take risks in coverage that other defenses simply can’t do. But increasingly, teams are learning to throw the underneath routes and seam routes that the Seahawks tend to concede as part of the overall strategy of over-the-top denial. Even with no Thomas, Ryan connected on just two passes longer than 22 yards. He had no incentive to take a deep drop for a long pass when smaller chunks were readily available.

The upshot of this vulnerability becomes the center of the off-season debate on next steps to back Carroll’s contention that the Seahawks remain in the middle of their championship window, and not at the end.

The well-documented miseries of the offensive line for most of the past two seasons inform the conventional wisdom that the Seahawks have to invest a high draft pick in a tackle to help protect QB Russell Wilson. His leg injuries from being clobbered by pass rushers speak to that wisdom.

But the Seahawks just did invest big with RG Germain Ifedi. In his rookie season, he often proved to be the weakest link, despite his size and strength. While it is always premature to call a pick a bust after one season, especially on the line, it’s also true that NFL-average linemen be found in greater abundance throughout a draft. And in the Seahawks case, average would be good.

What the Seahawks most urgently need now is premier help for the Legion of Boom. The secondary has had a hard time filling the cornerback role opposite CB Richard Sherman. Its current occupant, Deshawn Shead, left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury that is reportedly an ACL tear requiring surgery. Even when healthy, Shead, a valiant worker popular throughout the team, is an average-at-best talent.

Then there is the question of Thomas’s mobility upon return from his broken leg. Thomas recently ended speculation about his desire to continue with a tweet that said he will be back. But in what condition?

As long as Carroll remains coach, defense is the first, second and third priority. Within that, the secondary is most important. Whether the Seahawks put greater need on getting a cornerback starter, or a safety to eventually inherit the spots of either Thomas or SS Kam Chancellor, is hard to say in January.

For those who lives will be dreary without the Seahawks and lust for speculation to fill the void, here’s a list by Pro Football Focus of top draftees at all positions, subject to change with college juniors declaring for the draft before Monday’s NFL deadline.

One name that jumps out is Michigan’s All-America Jabrill Peppers, who has LOB written all over him. He is likely a top-15 pick, as was Thomas. The Seahawks pick 27th.

Certainly there are other top talents. But as much as the O-line exerts a gravitational pull for emergency servicing, the 99-yard drive by the Falcons Saturday represents a scar on Carroll’s memory that will glow red for years.

 


YourThoughts

  • coug73

    Did the Hawks replace Brandon Mebane’s DL play? Was his replacement as good as, or better than BM?

    • art thiel

      As a rookie, Jarran Reed wasn’t quite there but the coaches see him getting there.

  • Joe_Fan

    Defense was the problem this game and in many others. It needs to be shored up. I have been thoroughly unimpressed over the years at managements lack of ability to draft quality OL. It’s weird. Also, I think we would be better served to let Graham go and free up his cap space. Graham just has not lived up to his billing, for whatever reason. I don’t think we need him and can use his cap money on defense. We need good, blocking tight ends.

    • 1coolguy

      Agreed Graham has to go. He is soft, will never be an effective blocker or route runner and runs out of bounds like Shaun Alexander. He doesn’t have the chip on his should so many of the hawks do – He’s not truly one of them. His cap can be much better spent elsewhere.

      • art thiel

        Not every player needs to fit a personality mold.

        • ss

          Indeed. Hard to lay too much blame on Graham. Although it doesn’t seem we’re getting $9mil worth out of the tight end, it’s hard to know how much better he’d look and how many other little issues wouldn’t even be noticed if our line we near as effective as Dallas’ or Green Bay’s or New England’s or Pittsburgh’s. What’s that old saying about winning the game in the trenches? Both of them.

          • John M

            Graham is a great player for N.O.’s system, not the Hawks. They’ve tried to adjust so he could be better utilized, but he is a specialist, which can be limiting. Vannett and Willson complement each other. No telling what the O-line will look like next year, but they can’t keep starting different guys and expect a good immediate result . . .

          • ss

            Agree on all points. Although Graham’s a specialist and they’ve tried to fit him in, they forced it less to him than they did with Harvin. With Harvin, they went over the top to get him the ball and it took us away from what/who we were. Graham hasn’t been that disruptive. (don’t feel we got $9mil value from him, especially when some of that might get better tackles.) But this offense needs a tight end like Zach Miller. With Zach and Max Unger in the line up, we clicked. When either were out with injuries, we languished. Granted, that was a while ago. But it proves your point that Graham isn’t enough of a blocking tight end for our offense. Sure wish Willson didn’t get dinged up so much.

          • John M

            One more thing about Graham: I don’t want to criticize an exceptional player, but there is also a communication thing with Wilson. Not the same as the connection with Wilson and Baldwin. Where could Baldwin go and turn in consistent pro bowl performances like he does with Wilson throwing? Graham and Brees had that. Peyton and Marvin Harrison . . .

          • art thiel

            Took Baldwin to 3 years to get where he is with Wilson. Graham finished year 2.

          • art thiel

            Harvin was a dysfunctional personality. Graham is not.

          • ss

            Agreed, Art. Didn’t mean to imply Graham’s personality has been an issue, but that the offensive game plan has seemed to try to include him but not over-emphasize him, which it felt like they did with Harvin as we tried to force the ball to a “superstar.”

          • art thiel

            Again, see the answer above. Graham is very productive.

          • John M

            OK, Art, we’ll see what happens with Graham. Personally I like him and his play (except blocking), and all considered his numbers match up well with other top tight ends, but much of that was due to a few high target games. In a number of games when Wilson didn’t have much time – when you need a receiving TE – his production wasn’t there. If it was the scheme maybe adjustments can be made . . .

          • art thiel

            Graham has to have at least an NFL average offense to help him be productive. Some of Seattle’s best drives were with him and Willson in 2 TE sets. The O-line is not his fault.

      • Comrade C-attle

        How is he soft? I don’t recall him playing for the Huskies.

        • 1coolguy

          A couple things;
          – When he was playing for NO, after a game with the Hawks a few of them said he was soft when interviewed.
          – In this Falcon game, in the second quarter, he completely whiffed on a block when we were inside our own 10 and Rawls got massacred.
          – In the second or third quarter, (fortunately the only ones I watched), he caught a short pass on the right side and instead of fighting for yardage, he pussed-out and ran to the sidelines, pulling a total Shaun Alexander.
          He’s not a Hawk, has no chip on his shoulder, and needs to go to free up cap space.
          Put another way, what could we get for $9 million on the Oline? 2-3 solid players.

          • Comrade C-attle

            Anyone who goes out there and risks their health isn’t soft. If you want to criticize his blocking, fair enough.

            Guys like Michael Bennett were also claiming there are people out there claiming Mark Sanchez is a legit QB.

          • 1coolguy

            For $9 mill I’d do just about anything, for just one $9 mill, let alone a career making that each year! You’re talking to the wrong guy on this one.

          • Comrade C-attle

            What you would do with $9 million is irrelevant. It’s all relative.

          • art thiel

            Graham has improved his blocking, which is not to say its a strength. He has not victimized the offense, the offense has victimized him.

          • 1coolguy

            A few weeks ago Hugh Millen gave his thoughts on different receivers and as to graham, he said watching him he doesn’t run crisp routes and therefore doesn’t get separation, so he’s much easier covered. Millen is not impressed and he has much more bona fides than I ever will.

    • art thiel

      They drafted Vannett for that purpose. And Graham is doing what they hired him for. He can’t throw it to himself.

      • Joe_Fan

        I don’t think Graham is worth $9 million, at least in term of how we use him.

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          I think he is. See answer above.

  • MrPrimeMinister

    The thing from last year when carolina knocked us out was that “pete” said afterwards that he was going to open up the playbook for russell more which would take him to the next level for quarterbacks. not sure what that was all about, but definitely did not happen. Just seems in hindsight a year ago he was just tossing out a smokescreen to keep the fan base engaged. So here we are again this year. So now what.

    • Comrade C-attle

      Here we are again this year? A division title and a playoff win. Sounds like a good year to me. Especially considering the injuries.

      • 1coolguy

        Who was out other than Thomas? Thomas, given the last 6 games when he’s been out, is now proven to be immensely valuable. When he is back next year, the main hole in the D is the other CB. Hopefully we can fix that in the draft.

        • art thiel

          Remember Lockett? Remember all the games missed by Chancellor, Bennett, Rawls, Prosise, Ifedi, Collins? Remember Wilson’s first 12 weeks?

          • 1coolguy

            My comment concerned the Falcon game only. Thomas should take these 6 games’ stats into John’s office and see about a raise, Sherman-territory.

        • Comrade C-attle

          Thomas is a massive loss. You had Rawls out for a significant time, Prosise, Lockett, Bennett. It’s true, every team has injuries but losing Thomas totally changed the defense.

    • art thiel

      Don’t recall Pete saying anything like that.

  • Still, I enjoyed the season with all its up and downs. I did not expect them to go on to Super Bowl. See you next year.

    • art thiel

      Careful. You’re sounding rational.

  • Gerald Turner

    Got to see a playoff win by my team, more than Cowboys and Chefs fans can say. Why did we not recover Clark’s strip sack? Whoops doing it again, let it go man.

  • Illuminati Doomsday

    Seahawk philosophy of: this is the defense we play and we do it well, try to beat us. Well several teams did just that (Tampa, New Orleans, Arizona). And they were not playoff teams. Why no adjustments at half time? They should have used different blitz packages to rattle Ryan. That is what works at all levels of football–beat up the QB. The excuse that he was going to torch us if we blitz? Who cares, we were getting burnt anyway. Might as well go down with both guns blazing.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Can’t blitz an Iceman. Matty’s numbers against the blitz are All World.

    • Comrade C-attle

      …and leave your secondary exposed, especially one without Earl Thomas?

    • art thiel

      Ryan’s quick passing game left little time for sacking, by design. Seahawks sacked him 3 times and hit him 8 more.

      Feel free to give ATL credit for being very good and for Quinn with knowing SEA’s defensive weaknesses (Shead, Terrell, nickel, OLB underneath).

  • Big front office mistake trading away Unger to New Orleans, because Jimmy Graham was never used here the way he was used it New Orleans. O line has not been the same since that trade. No kudos for Schneider on that deal.

    • Comrade C-attle

      Yeah, since Unger is doing so well in New Orleans.

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    • art thiel

      Graham was third among NFL TEs in yards at 923 and first in yards per catch at 14.2. And he improved his blocking. A keeper.

      Britt has done a more than adequate job of replacing Unger, the one stable guy on the O-line.

  • wabubba67

    Kevin King opposite Richard Sherman looks good to me. Should be there at #27, too.

    • art thiel

      Seahawks need a first-round talent opposite Sherman. That’s not King.

      • wabubba67

        You don’t think so? To my untrained eye, I like him as an NFL CB quite a bit! 6’3″, 195 lbs., great hands and ball skills, and he’ll hit you. Jones is the obvious cover CB, but he’ll be long gone (he also seems to not be as physical). Where do you think King will go?