BY Art Thiel 04:27PM 01/14/2020

Thiel: Fixing weak defense a Seahawks priority

Seahawks defense’s failure to disrupt opposing QBs led to passel of close games that relied too much on Russell Wilson. Can’t someone in blue get after those guys?

For Seattle’s want of an inch, the 49ers’ Richard Sherman gets a last laugh on the Seahawks. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

One of the great things about short-notice travel to and through the Midwest in mid-winter — let’s make that “the one thing” — is that the harried traveler often finds himself with unexpected time to . . . well, think.

Whether it’s slumped in a seat in a nearly closed airport, or behind a snowplow going 15 mph, or waiting in line at 1 a.m. to beg for a room at a crummy motel from a cranky overnight clerk, the mind is free to wander to more intriguing ideas.

Such as, say, the need to revivify the Seahawks defense.

Some will says that that is another unpleasant thought. Others will suggest it is an obvious one. For sure, such a thought would seem to be in alignment with coach Pete Carroll, even though he didn’t have the advantage of empty hours ahead of hooking up the dog teams to sled out of American Siberia.

I bet he must have been thinking about it awhile.

As a defense-first coach, Carroll had to be shocked at finishing the regular season 26th in yards surrendered. The lost real estate was mitigated some by a plus-12 in turnover differential, tied with the Packers for third-best. But that turned into a nothingburger late — the Seahawks picked up zero turnovers in the final four games, including the two playoffs.

“There’ll be some of everything — a little bit of everything,” Carroll said Monday at his annual post-mortem, regarding the need for defensive changes. “We’re going to work hard at it. It’s difficult to adjust some things in the middle of the year.”

In September, the Seahawks thought they made adjustments, especially on the D-line, to compensate for the trade of top sacker Frank Clark. They acquired three players primarily to get after quarterbacks — Ziggy Ansah in free agency, L.J. Collier in the draft’s first round and Jadeveon Clowney in a trade that rocked the NFL.

By the end of the season Sunday in Green Bay, neither Collier nor Ansah were active. Clowney, diminished for weeks by a groin/core injury that will be surgically repaired as soon as next week, Carroll said, had a solid game in the 28-23 loss to the Packers. But he was never the pass rusher he was believed to be.

Add in a poor season by DT Jarran Reed, suspended the first six games by the NFL for an incident of domestic violence, and the Seahawks’ total of 28 sacks, tied for 29th in the league, become the single most tell-tale stat regarding how ineffectual was the disruption. In the playoffs, they had seven against the broken-down Eagles offense, but the two Sunday against Aaron Rodgers and stopped only one series.

Behind the line, the defense was hurt late by the hamstring injury to LB Mychal Kendricks, forcing into action rookie Cody Barton, for which he was largely unready. The secondary had good seasons from CB Shaquill Griffin and SS Bradley McDougald, but free safety was a mess until the trade for Quandre Diggs, yet he played only five games, plus two in the playoffs.

Then there was CB Tre Flowers.

A game after drawing two interference penalties that cost 59 yards against Philadelphia, he was lit up by Rodgers. Targeting Flowers frequently with shots to star WR Davante Adams, Rodgers helped Adams set a franchise playoff record of 160 yards on nine receptions.

A two-year starter after his conversion to corner from college safety to corner, Flowers isn’t working especially well. Carroll was uncharacteristically direct.

“We’ve got to get better,” said Carroll when asked about his message to Flowers, a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma State. “It was hard (Sunday). They ran some good stuff at him.

“Settle in. That’s what I was talking about, going into the game. Trying to do a nice job of getting him settled down. This is two big years that he’s had. He’s going to continue to get better. He’s a really smart player, he’s tough as hell. He’ll make good progress, I think, from the year two to three.”

Then again, as Carroll ever publicly forecasted a player’s decline?

The same lack of clarity prevails for Collier, who injured an ankle in preseason and never contributed much of anything.

“I think he just needs to be in there,” Carroll said. “Get all of camp, get everything organized. We would like to play him inside and out. I already talked to him about making  the kind of jump that Rasheem (Green) made from year one to year two. I thought Rasheem had a terrific season this year.

“Hopefully L.J. will make the same kind of advance.”

The Seahawks can ill afford to throw more resources at fixing the pass rush — unless they enjoy having Malik McDowell’s name bought up unto eternity. Clowney and Ansah are free agents, and Carroll sounded as if they will go hard to keep Clowney.

“He’s a terrific football player and he had a big impact on us,” he said. “We would love to have him back. He loves it here and he wants to be here.

“He dropped up to see (general manager John Schneider)  just to let him know how important it was to him. He had a great time. Everybody in here, they had a ball competing together.

“It’s interesting to see the new guys that come in, because they’re more surprised by the environment.”

Seattle is well established as a good place to play. But in the past two seasons, playing well on defense has been relatively rare.

“We were not consistent,” Carroll said. “Too many explosive plays of various natures. For the most part, we had problems on the edge. We had containment issues. We found that the offenses really put the ball on the perimeter against us a lot. That does challenge us in some ways.”

Absent a defense that can harass a passer and deny most explosive plays, the whole Seahawks enterprise staggers into perilously close games. Too much pressure was put on QB Russell Wilson to throw early and often, especially after all three running backs were lost in December. The emergency re-hire of Marshawn Lynch was a novelty act, not a solution.

Obviously a 12-6 mark that finishes in the final eight is a good season. But as long as Wilson is healthy, the chance for greatness looms because margins at other positions are so small throughout the NFL.

Who knows what would have happened if the Seahawks had managed another inch for a touchdown Dec. 29 to sweep the 49ers and get a bye? Carroll certainly wondered.

“Unbelievable separation between where you would be, to where you wouldn’t be, because of (the loss to the Niners) — it was amazing,” he said. “Maybe that would’ve propelled us. Getting another week off might have been a big deal.”

It would have at least averted a short-notice trip to Green Bay. For that alone, the traveling media entourage would have forgiven Carroll his trespasses with challenge flags, timeouts and delay of game penalties.


YourThoughts

  • 3 Lions

    The refs missing the obvious PI call in the last series was just as big Holister getting stopped short. That being said, it’s hard to see us winning the Super Bowl this year.

    • Husky73

      It’s now impossible.

      • art thiel

        You mean calling PI? You’re not far wrong.

    • jafabian

      Ian Furness said he’s a PAC-12 fan so he’s used to mistakes by the refs. I thought that was funny and on point. On both parts.

      • art thiel

        The PI calls in the NFL have been complicated by annual changes. And I bet there will be more interpretation changes again this off-season.

    • art thiel

      True about the PI, but mis-calls are random acts of outsiders. A team can control the call and execution of plays that score touchdowns, which is why it’s more significant.

  • Warchild_70

    Hats off to Joey Hunt he has a big heart and did what was asked, unfortunately it seemed that he had serious lacking in the strength to overcome the two legged bulldozers he had to have to defend Russel. Oh well this is year 38 coming to a close and I wish y’all a pleasant year ahead Art. Until the next season, be well my friend.

    • art thiel

      Hunt was hurt, and sometimes overmatched. He did well under the circumstances.

      Thanks for good wishes. Backatya.

  • Husky73

    The Seahawks season is over…..it’s more than a month before spring training…..In the words of Jack Nicholson, “What do you want to discuss now? My favorite color?”

    • art thiel

      Well, there’s rampant cheating in baseball. Again.

      • Effzee

        MLB isn’t any fun when you don’t have a team. The Mariners don’t count. #sackthemariners #bringbackthepilots

      • Husky73

        “I’m shocked, SHOCKED to find sign stealing going on in here.” (Captain Renault)

  • Tian Biao

    i have never been to Green Bay but I did see the movie ‘Fargo’ which hopefully is as close as I’ll ever get. but anyway – thanks Art! entertaining season, great writing, and all of us can relate to lonely airports and lousy hotels . . . cheers!

    • art thiel

      Green Bay is indeed much like Fargo, but I saw no woodchippers :)

      You’re welcome.

      • Husky73

        Prowler needs a jump!

    • Husky73

      Other than the opening scene, “Fargo” took place in Minnesota.

  • Guy K. Browne

    It was great to have Beast back in the fold for a few games, but in reality he was to the 2019/20 team what Franco Harris was to the 1984 team… a message to the team and to the fans that, in the face of dire circumstances, “we’re not giving up”. Not all is Marshawn’s burden, the O-line was living out of a suitcase too. Hawks need Collier to step up to his draft status, and need to re-sign Clowney.. and then go after o-line help. Collier and Penny should be able to carry the ball effectively enough assuming that they recover fully.

    • art thiel

      If just one of the three RBs were healthy, outcomes would have changed. To lose all relatively at once, is remarkably bad luck.

      • Effzee

        I’m not sure we can just say the outcomes would have changed. The problems were there when all running backs were healthy. The problems predate Schottenheimer, too. In five divisional playoff games since Russ arrived in 2012, they are 2-3 and have scored a total of 13 first-half points.

  • jafabian

    I’ve wondered if the coaching staff have considered swapping Flowers and Amadi in their roles. They’re high on both but when Coach Carroll publicly calls out a player they’re on their last chance. The secondary as a whole would benefit from a stronger pass rush and the D-Line was never healthy all season. I’d like to see Shaquem Griffin go into the kind of role that Fredd Young and Rufus Porter had in their playing days. Both became full time starters in their 3rd year though they were also Pro Bowlers as a special teams specialist their first two years. But with his speed and strength IMO Griffin could become that kind of player.

    IMO it’s 50-50 if Clowney returns. Money talks and it may take $20 million annually to keep him. I’d be surprised if the Hawks go that high when they let players like Richard Sherman go in part for financial reasons. But when Clowney played he was more than a capable replacement for Frank Clark. Losing him would be a blow to the defense much like when they lost Shelton Richardson.

    I’m wondering if Marshawn might have the kind of role that Ichiro has right now but a more informal one with a handshake agreement on returning as a player in an emergency. He didn’t seem anywhere near the Beastmode of old but then the O-Line was about as healthy as the D-Line. I doubt the Seahawks want him going to another team and Marshawn probably doesn’t want to since he knows the organization so well.

    Typically the Seahawks trade down in the draft and try to accumulate as many picks as they can. Maybe this season they could do the opposite and try to get into the top ten? Then make up for the lack of draft picks with UFA’s. An approach that Jack Patera and Chuck Knox used at times and picked up players like Porter, Joe Nash, Bryan Millard, Eugene Robinson and that Krieg guy. They need to quit living off the success of the 2011 & 2012 drafts and realize those were the exception and not the norm. They could really use a special player out of a draft and not a stack of role players, DK Metcalf not withstanding. This offseason will be watched closely because this team could really make the jump into being a contender with the right moves.

    • art thiel

      Predicting Lynch is impossible. I do think he enjoyed the return, yet the chance that Seattle will have a three-back wipeout again seems small. There’s no Ichiro analogy here. He could no longer play, but was indulged as a favor to Nintendo, still a 10 percent owner.

      Schneider has gotten good results from lower-round draftees, and frankly, I’m not sure I’d trust his judgment to burn draft capital to get a premium guy with a top-10 pick.

      • jafabian

        IMO, the Hawks have been investing in the defense for awhile now. They gave Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner, the LOB and Wilson the money they wanted by going cheap on the O-Line. It’s time to protect DangeRuss as he enters his 30s. If the club can move up and get themselves a Walter Jones and a Steve Hutchinson type of players they should. But IMO college football doesn’t develop those type of players anymore.

  • Tman

    Marshawn looked good..play calling not so good..running to the middle of the line is unproductive and boring. How many good first halves did we have this year? Tre Flowers doesn’t tackle very well. How many interceptions did he have this year?
    In the end, with 5 starters out on each side of the ball, the Seahawks were two bad calls and 2 inches from the super bowl.
    Nicely done gentlemen! Go Hawks!

    • art thiel

      Running in the middle sets up other plays. There’s a structure to playcalling that goes beyond the results of a single play.

      • Tman

        Was it you who said Don (air) Coryell considered every down after the National Anthem a passing down? A great line for sure.

        What accounts for the difference between the Hawks first and second half performance this year?

        • Archangelo Spumoni

          A great post regarding Coach Coryell, who needs more recognition among college and pro football historians!!

        • LDJ

          “…the difference between the Hawks first and second half performance this year?” This year was a quantum leap of improvement from 2017, when the Squawks scored a total of 10 TDs in the first half, while producing 27 in the 2nd (4 in 1st quarter, 6 in 2nd, 8 in 3rd, and 19(!) in the 4th). After the 2017 debacle (shades of ’92) I considered the offense “fixed” this year. The defense, not so much.

  • DAntoniWaltz

    Beating the 49ers would not have given them a bye….Seahawks would have been the #3 seed and hosted Minnesota. That’s even crazy to think about, because then the Vikings never would have beaten the Saints….and who knows where we’d all be.

    • art thiel

      Permutations were many. Underdogs did some serious damage.

  • Darrell Roberts

    Art, I find it interesting that you would post this column “Fixing a Week Defense a Seahawks Priority” after replying to my comment in your previous column where I commented that PC shouldn’t have decided to punt on 4th and 11 and you replied that you would agree only if it was 4th and 5 or less. Maybe you should reread the stat in this column about the Seahawks being 26th in yards surrendered. That and the fact that the Seahawks D have failed to stop the Packers on 3rd and long all afternoon is the reason you keep the ball and give your offense every chance to win the game.

    • art thiel

      I think the Seahawks offense was less likely to convert 4th and 11 than the defense was to not get the ball back. GB was 7-for-12 at that point on third downs, so I get your point, but the O-line was caving.

      • Effzee

        Russ’ inability to run a play as drawn up in the playbook hurts the offensive line. They are always out of position, exerting tons of extra mental and physical energy trying to follow him around and guess what he’s going to do next. Running plays as they are designed would be a nice evolution to Russ’ game.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Schneider is not going to pay $20 mill a year for someone with three sacks and a history of injuries. That’s just dreaming. Non-offers on the free agent market will bring the price down but…maybe not far enough.

    • art thiel

      Clowney will have to accept that his health problems have diminished his value and accept a prove-it deal heavy on incentives with small guarantees.

  • Effzee

    I know, right? I mean, what good is a 5th round punter who can put the ball inside the 10-yard line if your defense just keeps giving up 90-yard touchdown drives? It sucks to watch Ken Norton Jr. get outsmarted game after game. These newfangled offensive minds just toy with him, seemingly able to predict exactly what he is going to do next. On the other hand….. perhaps playing with a lead would help the defense. You know, maybe not going three-and-out time and time again, especially in the first half of games (a problem that predates Schottenheimer) would be helpful. Pete and John can’t just rely on the defense to keep them in the game, week in and week out, year after year, waiting for the Russell’s Magic Time. At some point, this has to fall back on Russ. He’s the Thirty Million Dollar Man. At that pay rate, he should be expected to lead consistent offensive performances. It should be expected that he can produce results before the other team gets a lead and has a natural let-down, or before the other team goes into a two-minute/garbage time defense. “Keep it close until magic time” is (obviously) not sustainable, yet listening to Pete after the game and in the presser on Monday, its clear that they’ve come to rely upon this model to win games.

  • Alan Harrison

    So much animosity in these comments! I don’t know – this was a good team, not a great team because they refuse to figure out the 1%-99% aspect of the team’s player contracts. Yes, Russell Wilson is worth $35MM/year and Bobby and KJ and Jadaveon and others are worth all that money. But it comes at a cost. And that cost is an OL that, other than Britt (still on the rookie contract?) and Brown, were purchased at Dollar General. And a DL that has some really piss-poor scouting for talent going on (yes, I mean the draft – N. Jones, Senior, Christmas, and the ATV guy), so we end up having to continually throw dollars to injured players on 1-year deals. Pete wants LJ Collier to up his play to the level of Rasheem Green? Jeez, I’d like a first rounder to be dominant, not complementary, wouldn’t you? As for the defensive backfield, they’ve been floundering since they decided that some One Day Sale at the Bon Marche combination of Thompson, the Griffin brothers, Hill, Mike Tyson, and Flowers. All while changing their positions from college (sounds very Cable-esque). But all in all, this was a good team that outperformed all that. And given the NFL’s history, the Bengals, Bills, Browns, Cardinals, Chargers, Falcons, Jaguars, Lions, Panthers, Texans, Titans and Vikings would do anything to win a Super Bowl. Heck, the Lions would love to go to one! Too long, I know, but it’s the last one of the 2019 Seahawk season.

  • Cory Hume

    If the Seahawks had of beaten SF in week 17 they would have been 3rd seed and hosted the Vikings. Seahawks control of a bye was squandered week 16 loss AZ and finally snuffed out with GB win over Detroit week 17.