Against the top offense in the NFL Sunday, the Seahawks’ secondary could start three second-year players and a rookie. The future has arrived. Fans may want to practice cringing.
When the Los Angeles Rams last were seen locally Oct. 7, Seahawks LB K.J. Wright watched from the Clink sidelines, recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. He remembered that things were bad that afternoon, but as often is the case with things like car accidents, the brain, out of self-preservation, obscures many details.
Such as 30 first downs and 468 yards of total offense.
A reminder was provided by a reporter in the locker room before practice Wednesday. Wright flinched.
“Whoo!” he said, genuinely astonished. “They got 468? Sheesh.”
In the broader landscape of the NFL, the numbers weren’t all that shocking. The 8-1 Rams lead the NFL with 447 yards a game (fifth in passing at 302.8 ypg, first in rushing at 144.3). They are third in scoring at 33.2 points per game.
But that game was in Seattle and was against a franchise where defense had been a hallmark. The 468 yards was an affront not unlike finding a neighbor’s trash in the driveway.
Then again, in December, the Rams won at the Clink 42-7 with 352 yards and 19 first downs. The trash had been there before.
So the Rams’ 33-31 win last month was less of a stunner and more like the latest chapter in the narrative of the NFC West’s reversal of form.
It would seem that the chance to restore the natural order has improved with the return of Wright, who will play this third game back Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum (1:25 p.m., CBS).
“There’s no question he’s going to help us,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He just understands the principles that are necessary in this game because of the things they do. He’s extraordinarily equipped to take care of some of those plays a lot of players aren’t able to make.”
But the impact of Wright’s return is diminished by the potential absence of another veteran defender, SS Bradley McDougald, whose sore knee kept him out of the second half of the loss to the Chargers and out of practice Wednesday.
McDougald has been the lone dad in a secondary of of youngsters who will be targeted by the Rams and every other team thrilled by the absences of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
If McDougald doesn’t play Sunday, the starting secondary will be CBs Shaquill Griffin (23, second year), and Tre Flowers (23, first year), SS Delano Hill (22, second year) and FS Tedric Thompson (23, second year). Together, the quartet has a combined 29 NFL career starts, 18 by Griffin.
It would be the first career start for Hill, a third-round pick out of Michigan who took first-team reps in practice last week and filled in for McDougald when the defense shut out the Chargers offense in Sunday’s second half. He had a career-high three tackles.
Naturally, Carroll said he’s seen enough to tell him him Hill is ready.
“His confidence was there, the speed of reaction was there, everything about him – even his play carried over to special teams as well,” he said. “I think he was very comfortable with what was asked of him. He’s a really talented athlete – fast, strong, he’s a cover guy, he’s a good hitter. That hasn’t always showed up as much as it did so obviously to us (Sunday).
“With the opportunity again starting out the week with Bradley being quiet, it gives him another turnaround to come back and add and build on that.”
What the Seahawks are asking of Hill is to help keep a lid on arguably the best trio of receivers right now in the NFL: Robert Woods (51 catches, 743 yards), Brandin Cooks (41, 757) and Cooper Kupp (35, 527). In the first meeting, Cooks was out, but Kupp and Woods split 10 receptions and combined for 182 yards.
The pair, along with RB Todd Gurley out of the backfield, slashed the Seahawks with crossing routes underneath coverage that denied the deep ball. Carroll was eager for a fix.
“We have to work with the under coverage better than we did,” he said. “We gave up some stuff that they dumped off and made a lot of yards after the catch. A couple of those were (missed) tackles, but just deployment and stuff.
“We rushed quite a bit with five guys last time we played them and when that happens, you just have to cover down a little bit better than we did. We have to clean that up.”
Assigning four kids to the task of curbing the NFL’s top offense at its home might be the most bodacious ask Carroll has made of any unit in his Seattle tenure. Of course, he thought it was cool.
“It’s a marvelous statement,” he said. “That’s pretty good findings by the personnel guys.”
Only if it works.
Wright thinks it will.
“Hill looked good, like a natural out there, communicating, calling stuff out before I was calling stuff out — it was pretty fun,” he said. “Kam said the same thing — he looked good. We gotta brush up on a few things because we have a full load this week.
“It was cool seeing all those guys out there playing together. They all came in together. It’s the future — what Seattle’s gonna be like for a long time.”
The future always starts somewhere. For the Seahawks, it just so happens to be on the home field of the team with the best offense and best record in the NFL.
As Wright put it: “Whoo!”