BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 11/10/2020

Thiel: Why the Seahawks defense is so bad

A closer look at the Seahawks secondary discloses an injury calamity over time that is the principal reason they are reckoning with bad football history. Ah, but Carlos Dunlap . . .

In his first Seahawks game, DE Carlos Dunlap had one of Seattle’s seven sacks of Buffalo QB Josh Allen. / Jerome Davis,

Eight games into an NFL season traditionally mandates analyses regarding the local gridsters: How far have they come, how far will they go, and whether, after a particularly odious game, the head coach and coordinators should given blindfolds and cigarettes, or just have their Seattle careers shot on the spot at dawn.

Let’s set aside that conventional exercise. Let’s consider whether, for one part of the Seahawks, the defense, the football calendar is not at midseason, but at the beginning of the season.

That doesn’t mean tossing out a 6-2 start that leads football’s toughest division. But a re-set offers the chance to consider the facts that defenders can’t practice team defense on Zoom or in summer workouts, as can offenses. Nor did anyone have preseason games.

Even though that same situation prevails for 31 other defenses, relatively few of them traded for a starting free safety around midseason a year ago (Quandre Diggs), traded for a starting cornerback (Quinton Dunbar) in March, and traded for a starting strong safety (Jamal Adams) in July.

That’s three-quarters of the Seahawks secondary new to one another. The final position belonged to a holdover, CB Shaquill Griffin, about whom coach Pete Carroll said Monday, “He’s been a fantastic player for us.” He hasn’t played the past two games and Carroll didn’t sound optimistic Monday about a return in time for the trip to Los Angeles to meet the Rams Sunday.

And the nickel cornerback in Buffalo was not the original starter, Marquise Blair, nor the backup, Ugo Amadi, Instead, third-stringer D.J. Reed  played 85 percent of the snaps in his second Seattle game after being signed as a free agent in August.

All of the foregoing is meant to suggest that a big part of the problem with the Seahawks defense is that its back end is on a learning curve together that normally gets worked on in a May mini-camp, then training camp in July, then pretend games in August.

Not at 7-2 Buffalo or at 5-3 Los Angeles.

But here they are. All fall hurt.

Every team has injuries. Few have has as many as this new crew in Seattle. Dunbar and his bad knee played 54 snaps against the Bills when it should have been zero, but they had no one else with much NFL experience to replace him, until he couldn’t go in the fourth quarter. Hello, practice squad warrior Linden Stephens.

“It was a hard game yesterday for him physically,” Carroll said of Dunbar. “The ball was coming his way a lot. He had trouble getting where he needed to get to.

“He goes through a week of (rehab) process to get through it. He gets a little bit of work on one one day, a little bit of work the next day, to try to put together a full day’s work in preparation for each week. We’re trying to rehab his knee. It’s just been a chronic thing for him.”

The context is useful to help explain why Carroll admitted he was nevertheless surprised that the Bills almost completely abandoned the run game to prey on Seattle’s weakness that can be seen from space, not just every opponent defensive coordinator.

The vulnerability was illuminated by the startling information in this tweet by noted grid scholar Bill Barnwell.

That should tell you what the Bills defensive coaches saw, and why the Seahawks were down 14-0 before Wilson got his hands on his fourth snap of the game.

Not only have Griffin, Diggs, Dunbar and Adams not played enough, they haven’t played enough together. The sorts of connections that went on among Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, where one word, one nod, set the course to doom the next offensive play, is impossible.

Carroll was asked what the absence of time together costs a secondary.

“There’s a level of confidence that comes from the communication and the regularity of the communication,” he said. “It’s not just verbal communication. It’s nonverbal. It’s a feel for one another. This is this is such a high-tech area of the game. Guys have to really be able to fit and feel one another. We have just not had that continuity.

“I’m hoping that as we get to the stretch, that we’ll keep our guys out there together, and we can make some progress.”

That’s about all Carroll has right now — hope for health. And DE Carlos Dunlap.

In his first game Sunday after his trade acquisition from Cincinnati, Dunlap played 68 percent of the snaps and had five tackles, three for loss, a sack and two quarterback hits.

“He played really well in those circumstances,” Carroll said. “He probably knows half the guys out there. He didn’t know who he was talking with.”

Fortunately for the Seahawks, rush ends have a brief playbook that requires minimal oration. He’s part of the high-risk strategy of heavy blitzing to keep the ball out of the Seattle secondary. It sort of worked Sunday, sacking Josh Allen seven times. But in getting off 38 passes, Allen completed 31 for a career-high 415 yards.

Until the secomdary heals, it’s the only strategy. It might be midseason elsewhere in the NFL, but the Seahawks defense is starting an eight-game season Sunday.

Said Adams post-game: “Obviously, it’s new guys, including myself, and we’re feeling each other out as far as knowing what we can do. There’s always pros and cons with everything, so we just got to continue to get better, continue to learn our teammates and continue to jell.”

One final note on the secondary’s casualty calamity: After playing in the first two games, DBs Neiko Thorpe and Lano Hill each went on the injured list in October with season-ending injuries. Just in case you wondered where the veteran backups were.

Fans and coaches love to fling about the cliche that injuries are no excuse. As far as winning and losing, injuries are often the reason.


  • coug73

    Ah Shucks, only time and patience will fix our secondary problem. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. Russ needs to control his wildest instincts, Protect the ball when in pocket collapse and control the competitive instincts to force the ball. Suds and popcorn this Sunday, go Hawks.

    • art thiel

      I wouldn’t call Wilson’s decisions wild instincts. He knows he’s capable of making more decisive plays than anyone on the roster, and acts accordingly. He makes more than almost anyone, but not all of them.

  • 1coolguy

    Well done Art – Most, including myself, would not have been aware of these individual issues. This secondary is shot until it physically heals and gets practice and game time together.

    • Sharonda Gordon

      Get $192 of an hour from Google!… Yes this is true as I just got my first payout that was awesome since it was biggest amount of $38451 in a week…(j436)…It seems un-believable but you won’t forgive yourself if you do not check it >>>> ||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

    • art thiel

      Because the injuries were spread over time, and because Carroll (and any coach) will not bring up injuries except as a health update, there is little tracking done. But a quick glance shows a big part of the story. I’m not sure I’ve seen a player as debilitated as Dunbar play 54 snaps.

    • Geraldine Jones

      Get $192 of an hour from Google!… Yes this is true as I just got my first payout that was awesome since it was biggest amount of $38451 in a week…(y26q2)…It seems un-believable but you won’t forgive yourself if you do not check it >>>> |||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

  • tor5

    Thanks for these insights, Art. I guess that’s why it felt like watching a pre-season defense. That’s pretty much what it was.

    • art thiel

      It’s easy for all of us to forget what the original lineup looked like. It was never a great D, but one isn’t needed if you have the NFL’s No. 1 offense.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Superb essay, Arthur. “Cigarettes and blindfolds” is an interesting idea. Been done before. But I am going to respectfully disagree about shooting anyone at dawn. These men have earned my respect. I say we wait until noon, maybe 2 or 3 p.m…seriously, my intuition suggests the defense will improve as time passes. I believe they will win the division. But there just seem to be too many frailties on this team for me to believe in a Super Bowl run. How will Russell’s body hold up? How will the offensive line learn to handle the blitzes? How will the defense get enough bull rushes to assist the corner play? They have to have a healthy Carson back. That item is critical.

    • art thiel

      Every contender has similar unknowables. Even Pittsburgh. Big Ben is in quarantine.

      Take a glance at the defense’s healthy starting 11. Tell me that isn’t at least an average NFL D.

      • Chris Alexander

        No offseason really affected Seattle’s D.

        And, yes, every team in the league has “significant” flaws – even the undefeated Steelers and the 8-1 Chiefs. In the NFC, the Saints have a very good defense but their QB, while great, is becoming a liability. Same with Tampa Bay. Green Bay is . . . smoke and mirrors. They’ll likely finish the season 13-3 based on their schedule while quietly being one of the “worst” 13-3 teams ever. Even with our defense, I’d love to see Seattle face off against them . . . just as long as it’s not on the frozen tundra in January.

        • art thiel

          Good points. Fans get caught up in their team’s flaws, and don’t look around the league.

  • jafabian

    As noted the defense has been hit pretty hard with the injury bug. If they can get their health back it wouldn’t surprise me if they closed out the season like the ‘86 Seahawks who dominated in their last five games but missed the playoffs with a 10-6 record. I’m still confident that barring a complete collapse the Hawks will win the NFC West.

    • art thiel

      Good pull on the ’86 team. As far as the NFC West, each team has noteworthy vulnerabilities, and the Seahawks have the easiest schedule.

  • Mark Stratton

    Ironically what the Seahawks really need right now is a running game.

    • art thiel

      True. Neither Homer nor Dallas is a 20-carry tackle-buster.

      • Husky73

        Was Penny?

        • Chris Alexander

          No, not really. Penny is a “change of pace” back, like the recently signed Bo Scarborough. Both are capable of having good games and turning any play into a BIG play, but neither of them are your typical “between the tackles”, “grind it out”, “2-yards and cloud of dust” style of running back.

        • art thiel

          He’s a bigger, stronger back than Dallas/Homer, but not Carson’s equivalent.

  • Husky73

    I would add two more foibles…..Using a first round pick on a running back (Rashaad Penny), and drafting Collier in the first round.

    • Chris Alexander

      Using the pick on Penny won’t be a “foible” when he’s RB1 next year (after Seattle declines to resign Carson to a “market rate” contract and he declines to give the Hawks a “discount”). And it’s still way too early to be judging Collier. Dude basically redshirted last season and is only halfway through this season. Have some patience.

      • art thiel

        That RB scenario is very likely.

    • art thiel

      True, but that’s a separate column.

  • Warchild_70

    Well said Art this season has been a nightmare for any Pro Football player. Injuries do hurt the Defense, rookie mistakes by even seasoned players. I do not subscribe to the rhetoric to take K Norton Jr to the Guillotine or the stake he has been juggling chainsaws and I don’t need to pile on him.. Are the O line ever get settled?? Russell can’t throw a pass whilst being bounced off the turf. No panic here, just get ready for those Rams and take it to them. GO HAWKs

    • art thiel

      It was the line’s first bad game. They’ve been in Pro Football Focus’s top 10 almost all season.

      The fire-Norton campaign in view of the injuries is silly.

  • ll9956

    Thanks for this excellent analysis, Art. The one thing that comes through is that the Hawks D has a lot of work to do and some of it can’t be speeded up. Hopefully week by week things begin to gel and life in Hawkville will get brighter.

    • art thiel

      In the absence of further injuries, the D could be respectable in Dec.

  • Chris Alexander

    Spot on, Art. Personally, I’m optimistic that Seattle can “steal” a win in L.A. on Sunday and then “right some wrongs” in the Thursday Night rematch with the Cardinals. Assuming they can pull out 2 wins in the next 7 days, they head into the “easy” part of their schedule at 8-2 and can (kind of sort of) use the next 4 games – at Philly, home vs. both “Jersey” teams, at Washington) – as an opportunity to get their secondary in sync with one another heading into Week 16, Week 17, and the playoffs.

    As has been touched on by other comments, getting our running game going – which is ENTIRELY DEPENDENT ON GETTING CARSON HEALTHY – would make a monumental difference to Seattle’s fortunes as well.

    If Seattle can go 6-2 in the back half of the season, they should win the NFC West. Going 7-1 probably gives them the NFC’s top seed; at worst the #2 seed (behind the Saints).

    Go Hawks!

    • art thiel

      I’m skeptical about the defense’s ability to improve enough in a week. No Dunbar or Griffin, although Dunbar should never have been out there in BUF.