BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 09/13/2020

Thiel: Seahawks defense must travel far, fast

The Seahawks travel a long way this COVID season — five East Coast games. But the defense figuratively has to go farther to get respectable. It’s up to two guys.

QB Matt Ryan’s quick release has been a Seahawks defensive headache for years. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest file

In the sports response to the pandemic, travel was a huge casualty. Several major leagues devised elaborate schemes that allowed teams to re-start or start seasons played in one or two spots, avoiding planes, airports, hotels, fans and other carriers of transmissible ickies.

One sport that eschewed the bubble was baseball. MLB has so far postponed 50 games to positive tests and subsequent quarantine requirements, partly because players are traveling, as well as living in their homes. It’s a small percentage of games lost, but a big nuisance in a season already cut to 60 games.

The other empire going bubble-free is the NFL, which gets underway in full force Sunday morning. The Seahawks, in Atlanta for the 10 a.m. PT opener against the Falcons, already lead the league in exposure to travel miles with 2,637.

If the season is completed, those will be part of a league-leading 28,878 miles. It’s not unusual for the Seahawks to travel more than any other team — this time thanks to five games in the Eastern time zone — but San Francisco is second with 25,485, a difference of almost 12 percent.

I don’t know if there’s a Covideer of the Year Award, but I know who would be a leading candidate.

Since the Seahawks had a 7-1 road mark last year, best in club history, they likely will yawn at the news of the travel burden they bear. But the anecdote allows me to take the metaphor of travel from the literal to the figurative — work with me here — to describe the unit that has to go a really long way to get the Seahawks where they want to go.

The defense’s 6,106 total yards given up in 2019 was 26th in the NFL and most in Pete Carroll’s Seattle coaching tenure. Only a plus-12 turnover differential, tied for third-best in the league, helped avert debacle, and half the credit for that goes to the offense.

So for the Seahawks to be taken seriously as a contender, the defense has to become middle of the pack or better. The offense, even with three new O-line starters, has a good chance to carry its weight, as do special teams.

In order for the defense to advance, two men of mystery have to rise more than anyone else — DE L.J. Collier and CB Quinton Dunbar. Most every other starter is more of a known quantity.

Collier is the 2019 first-rounder who is returning from a serious ankle injury. Dunbar, acquired in a trade with Washington, has avoided being charged with four felony counts of armed robbery after his May arrest for an episode at a house party in Miramar, FL. He also has avoided explaining what happened.

Both have much to prove.

Collier will get his first career start at the five-technique spot to chase down venerable QB Matt Ryan. Carroll confirmed it after practice Friday, the day before Collier’s 25th birthday.

“He has had a good camp, he’s going to get a chance to start in this game,” he said. “There’ll be a good rotation there, but (the start is) because he’s earned it. He’s played really well. I’m anxious to get him out there.”

Out of shape before the training camp injury, he came back too soon and was ineffective in 152 snaps. But after the Seahawks failed to re-sign DE Jadeveon Clowney, the opportunity screams.

“He’s in better shape than he was a year ago,” Carroll said. “He’s just healthier and quicker and stronger in every way, and he made it through camp healthy as well. We’ve just seen him much more to his ability level.”

In a Zoom conference May 29, Collier talked a good game.

“I’m out there to prove that I’m one helluva football player, and I’m going to show them that this year,” he said. “I didn’t have the type of year that everybody wanted me to have. So it kind of shifts you off to the side. I felt very disrespected.

“It’s time to eat.”

Presumably metaphorically.

The Seahawks want him for the role of Michael Bennett, who played early downs on the outside, then moved inside on third down.

“It’s inside and out — I’m excited for it,” Collier said. “I’m athletic guy and I know what I’ve been doing inside with my quickness and my strength. Whatever I can do to get on the field.”

Dunbar, 28, was acquired ostensibly to replace in the starting lineup Tre Flowers, who had a poor post-season and was deemed the defense’s weakest link. But because he was on the commissioner’s exempt list (suspension) prior to Broward County prosecutors dropping charges, Dunbar arrived late to camp, then missed more time for a funeral.

The missed practices may allow Flowers to hold the starting job Sunday — Carroll wouldn’t commit — but Carroll claimed Dunbar was ready.

“He’s really a bright kid,” he said. “Picking up the system has been nothing for him. It’s been really easy. He’s had good, competitive work. Not as much as some other guys. He’s missed enough days that he hasn’t got them all, and you can tell a little bit.

“But because of the savvy player that he is, the experience that he has, we would be comfortable if he’s on the field playing for us.”

If Collier and Dunbar play to an NFL-average level, the Seahawks defense may actually be able to look Wilson in the eye. Even if it has to bend down.

SEASON PREDICTION

Last year at this time, I said the Seahawks were an 8-8 team, and I was right — they just got incredibly lucky behind Harry Pot . . . um, Wilson and finished 11-5 and won a playoff game over a broken Eagles team.

Feel free to offer the counterpoint that the Seahawks came an inch short of sweeping the San Francisco 49ers, who went on to become NFC champions. You would be correct too.

Somewhere in the fractured off-season, the Seahawks needed to make a substantial investment in both lines. They chose otherwise.

Pity. Nine and seven.


YourThoughts

  • Kevin Lynch

    I’ll call the 9 and 7 but I’m not going to raise it. Last year’s stats and the final record, 12-6, did not match well. Lady Fortune was smiling and as we all know too well, in 2020 Lady Fortune is in a sour mood across the board. I’ll say again the Niners should have taken the tie they could have claimed in the first game. It would have made things less stressful for them. San Francisco was simply a better team than the Hawks last year. This year…we’ll see.

    • art thiel

      No need for luck Sunday. But 506 yards on D — 3 guys with 100 yards receiving! — can’t be ignored.

  • 1coolguy

    I cannot imagine what the Seahawks record would have been the last few years if not for RW. The guy should be the MVP every year – can anyone imagine what a typical, Brady/Manning drop back QB would have done behind these OL’s? None would make it through a season, much less never missing a start!
    Art – As much a bummer as it indicates, I agree, 9-7. I am disappointed with what JS and Pete did NOT do in the off season.

    • Husky73

      From start to finish, has RW had a better game than he had today?

      • 1coolguy

        31-35, 4 td’s, 0 int’s. The guy is truly remarkable and continually under appreciated by the MSM. The TD dime to Metcalf was world-class and he does this often. All I can say, especially with that patchwork OL, is thank God for RW! Next to 6th round Brady, perhaps the best QB pick outside of the 1st round EVER!

        • art thiel

          The MSM gets Wilson. This game makes a good start for he MVP campaign.

        • Husky73

          John Unitas was un-drafted.

      • art thiel

        It’s right up there. I think the OC designed a great scheme.

    • art thiel

      Your commentary enthusiasm picked up a lot in your later post above. So you’re off my 9-7 bandwagon? Coward.

      • 1coolguy

        Hey, if I’m wrong I’ll admit it. One game is not a season, granted, but I was frankly shocked by the performance of the offense and the play of the D. I’ll stay with the 9-7 for now, but reserve the right to adjust after a few games.

  • Stephen Pitell

    Hmmmm, this comes after the Atlanta game, but I am tending more to 11-5. Have faith in our coaches and players. We led thirty something to 12 before the barrage began. The defense was 4-4 on 4th down turnover on downs. LJ disappeared. Was he injured? Otherwise, we were a severely depleated team due to injuries last year or we might have gone all the way. 3rd string TE’s and RB’s. We still did well. Give some credit to the team culture and leadership.

    • art thiel

      Can’t make your prediction AFTER the season starts.

      Collier rotated with Green, who played better.

  • Husky73

    The Cardinals are one game from sweeping the 49ers.

  • 1coolguy

    Imagine how much of a beast RW will be when we find a legit 3rd receiver! OMG, the defenses will raise the white flag!
    What I liked about today’s game is they went to up tempo offense right away – 14 first qtr points puts a heckuvaload on the other team. 11 for 11 doesn’t hurt either!
    And as for Jamal Adams, 12 tackles, 2 for loss,a sack and generally being everywhere. Wow, if he keeps this up, it could be the start of another Legion of Boom!

    • art thiel

      Deep breath, coolguy. Don’t use all your allotment of exclamation points in the first week.

      • 1coolguy

        Hey, cut me some slack – this was exciting!!! Haha.