BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 12/29/2020

Thiel: NFL’s best defense? Seahawks make case

After giving up 44 points, a Carroll-era high, in Buffalo, the Seahawks defense, in the person of Jamal Adams, now claims to be the best in the NFL.

SS Jamal Adams “really has command of all of it,” said Pete Carroll. / Corky Trewin, Seattle Seahawks

In the short time Seattle has come to know SS Jamal Adams, he has proven to be a voluble storyteller, trash-talker and buckler of swash. So it was little surprise that after the Seahawks beat the Los Angeles Rams Sunday to secure the NFC West title, he offered up a bold assessment that, spoken two months earlier, would have invited a team intervention and an emergency gathering of mental health professionals.

“This defense is playing lights out,” he said via Zoom. “To me, we’re the best defense in the league. You can quote that, you can do what you want to do with it. But at the end of the day, I believe in these guys. I believe in this coaching staff.”

Given the start to the defense’s season, in which it gave up enough territory to create a state worthy of a seat at the United Nations, Adams’ remark a while back would have been absurd. But as we have seen over the past seven games, the claim has become at least plausible.

Monday, it was endorsed by coach Pete Carroll.

“We’re playing as good as anybody,” he said on his weekly show on ESPN 710 radio, answering a question about Adams’ claim. “I don’t know who else is playing better than this. We just saw the best defense in the NFL yesterday. They’re really, really good. That’s why we were fortunate to get what we got done, and get enough points to win.

“After we came back from Buffalo and got our butts kicked there, we’ve been as good as you can find in the league.”

The week-eight loss, 44-34, to a then 7-1 Bills team that is now 12-3 after Monday night’s 38-9 crushing of  New England, was the most points put on the Seahawks in Carroll’s tenure.

To look at a couple of game stats, the Seahawks defense didn’t do badly — seven sacks and 11 QB hits on Josh Allen, and allowed 34 yards rushing on 19 carries.

The big gash was permitting Allen to complete 31 of 38 passes for 415 yards, and no turnovers.

The Bills launched with a 17-0 lead on their first three possessions, and the hole was too deep for even QB Russell Wilson, who was intercepted twice and lost two fumbles in strip-sacks, while operating without injured RBs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde.

The Bills fooled Carroll with a game plan that had no real intent to run the ball, happy to let Allen shred a secondary that didn’t have injured CBs Shaquill Griffin and Ugo Amadi, and did have a limited CB Quinton Dunbar (knee).

The result stunned Carroll.

“I don’t recognize that game,” he said then. “We haven’t seen us look like that. It’s a game that I don’t have any place in my brain for it. They made it look easy.”

Big discussions ensued on the flight home and subsequent practice week.

“We put our heads together, did some really important things then,” he said. “We were so uncharacteristic, and so off, it was like the final straw. We had to make sure that we adjusted and figured out and tweaked it.

“It took us a while to get rolling, but we really turned a corner there. I’m not going to share that with you, if you don’t mind. I had seen enough.”

Some changes were obvious. The offense contributed by beginning to wean Wilson away from the spectacular but turnover-prone #LetRussCook spectacle. The defense began dialing back the blitzing that left the secondary vulnerable. And Dunbar never played another down, replaced by D.J. Reed, waived in August by the 49ers after injury.

The return to health of nearly all the starters has allowed for weekly incremental increases in familiarity and communication. The upshot is five consecutive games of less than 20 points allowed, including denying the end zone to two of the past three opponents.

With one regular-season game left, against 6-9 San Francisco Sunday in Arizona, here’s a list of the 12 starters, including nickel, all of whom have at least eight starts:

DL — Benson Mayowa, Poona Ford, Jarran Reed, L.J. Collier

LB — Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Jordyn Brooks

DB — Ugo Amadi (nickel), Shaquill Griffin, D.J. Reed, Quandre Diggs, Jamal Adams

In one observer’s one-paragraph summary:

Adams, Diggs and Wagner were voted last week to the Pro Bowl. Wright, Jarran Reed and Griffin are a half-step back. Ford, Mayowa, Collier and Amadi are about NFL average for their positions. D.J. Reed has been a nine-game revelation. The one rookie starter, Brooks, led the team Sunday in tackles with eight in just 28 snaps.

So, this is a good starting 12. Are they as good as the No. 1 Rams defense? Probably not. But they are a whole lot better than that sunny day in Orchard Park that was so miserable.

Besides a chronic knee problem that finally has required surgery and ended his season, Dunbar’s play was described as “different” by Carroll, without elaboration. Reed, apparently, is not different, which is good. He has fixed the defense’s weakest link by also being better than last’s year’s starter, Tre Flowers.

The Seahawks also filled with Adams the hole left by the departure in free agency of DE Jadeveon Clowney. Adams is such a large contributor on multiple levels that it defies comparison. After signing a one-year, $13 million deal with Tennessee, Clowney played in eight games with 19 tackles and no sacks before season-ending knee surgery.

Adams, who has 9.5 sacks, a continuing NFL record for a defensive back despite missing four games, makes the Seattle turnaround a magnet of league-wide attention.

“He has really emerged as a terrific football player,” Carroll said at his Monday afternoon presser. “We could see it early on. But now that he’s really embraced the whole system, he knows where he’s going and where everybody else is. He really has command of all of it.

“He’s been a huge factor. This is what we hoped for. This is the guy that we thought  was worth it.”

That became apparent Sunday when Adams set up the goal-line stand of the season after he ran across the field to tackle from behind RB Darrell Henderson on a sweep at the 2-yard line, allowing a first down but denying a touchdown. Four more denials later, the Rams turned the ball over, and wouldn’t get close to a touchdown again.

Best D in the NFL? Adams may be on to something.


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YourThoughts

  • Tim

    I do think the fact that they’ve remained Covid-free speaks to the collective depth of commitment and focus on their singular goal to win a championship. Of all the seasons of my life, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated Seahawks football more than this year. Winning is a blast, but even more inspiring is the mindset everyone seems to share on that team:
    a commitment to personal accountability, the importance of tuning out the outside noise, and the necessity of embracing and dealing with change. Those are powerful ideals that will last long after the game is over.

    • DJ

      Good points – This may be the most united Seahawks squad in the Carroll era. That’s a tall order considering the ‘13 championship team. But they also had a disruptive Percy Harvin to overcome

      • art thiel

        The fact that they’ve adapted to changing circumstances, within and without, has been remarkable.

    • art thiel

      Good observations, Tim. Your point about appreciating this season is well-taken; they have done a hard thing well in a time of great cultural stress. I’m planning on a column touching on that theme.

      • Tim

        Thanks Art! Can’t wait.

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  • LarryLurex70

    Nice win Sunday, but, was kinda difficult seeing Adams up there at his presser celebrating a division “championship” as if they’d just won the Lombardi trophy. You’d think Wagner and Wright would’ve prevented that public embarrassment. Look, I get it that he’s never “been there” before, but, come on. Save the cigars for February if they make it that far.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Yeah, not February yet. Assuming the Rams beat a fading Arizona squad this weekend, a big assumption without their starting QB, the Hawks will have played only four games out of sixteen against teams finishing with winning records. They lost two of those games. The win against the Rams would have been absolutely huge had not Goff simply disappeared. The Miami win may have been the signature win given how solid that team has been. Scheduling-wise, in the NFC you did not want to play Brady, Rodgers or Brees this year. The Hawks got that schedule. But they may have to play two of the three to make the Super Bowl. So they still have not been fully tested. No team in the NFL would have beaten Rodgers in the snow Sunday night. He’s way too confident right now and nobody can stop wideout Adams. Seattle needs to pray for no snow or ice in Green Bay. Beating the Packers in their home in January would be the single greatest road playoff win in the Hawks history. Adams vs. Adams. Wilson vs. Rodgers.

      • LarryLurex70

        I know it’s not what the “12’s” (😒) want to hear, but, there’s too much talent elsewhere in the Conference for anyone in Seattle to be mentioning “Seahawks” and “championship” in the same sentence just yet.

        • art thiel

          It’s not too early. They’re in the playoffs, 3 seed at the worst, mostly healthy and playing their best ball. Not saying they’ll win it, but you make it seem like the 2010 team that was 7-9.

          • LarryLurex70

            No – and this is also in reference to your other comment towards me – I’m just not a fan of premature “championship” celebrations. Nor a fan of fans and media chirping about championships for the home team when it MIGHT not be warranted just yet. Especially when there are other teams that just MIGHT legitimately be better than they are and are good enough that they likely won’t have to rely as much on seeding as the ‘Hawks probably will.

          • art thiel

            Larrry, this is all pre-playoff speculation, which is supposed to be one of the great parts of fandom. Commenters here are optimistic, but no one I responded to is predicting a Super Bowl yet. Enjoy the enjoyment.

          • Tim

            Debbie Downer….

      • woofer

        Beating the Packers in Green Bay would require a truly dominant performance from Metcalf. It could happen. Alexander is a talented young cornerback but only 5′ 10″. It is possible that GB has nobody who can shut down Metcalf.

        • art thiel

          Metcalf is a game-breaker. The Seahawks likely will find a way to free him.

        • Ed Walsh

          Yes. Not a lock, but young DK, with the right game preps, and spikes in snow, could do it. Russell played in Wisconsin in the snow, he’ll prep all that, if it comes to that.
          But a few hurdles before…

      • art thiel

        You’re right about the schedule’s softness, including drawing the NFC East this year. But the Seahawks were building this plane as it flew, and losing only four times in that circumstance can’t be underestimated. The Packers, Saints and Bucs all have had fall-down games too. The NFC is open, and certainly if the Packers get home field throughout, they get the edge.

        But it’s clear that the Seahawks have a combination of talent and experience that can get them to Lambeau in late Jan, with only a couple hundred cheeseheads in oppo. Play ball.

        • Kevin Lynch

          Ha-ha! Okay. You’re right. They are 12-4 and that takes some doing. Only a couple hundred cheeseheads and only a couple million snowflakes. Maybe it will be 40 degrees and sunny? Then we get a shootout between two great all-time QB’s. Can’t lose, I suppose.

    • jafabian

      Considering he came from the Jets he probably considers being a Hawk a blessing. He could easily be planning his offseason plans right now.

      • LarryLurex70

        If I pouted my way out of the Jets organisation and into John & Pete’s respective offices, I’d be hyped about it too. But, that presser was a bit much. But, if his only personal goal was to merely make the playoffs, good on him, I guess. Admittedly, the way he left New York didn’t sit well with me. It’s a disturbing trend to see a pro athlete with term remaining on a signed contract pout their way out of a depressing situation. I hate seeing that. But, his play has almost made up for it.

        • jafabian

          He’s not the only Jet to have a problematic exit and remember they canned former Seahawks executive John Idzik as GM after only 2 seasons. (He drafted Sheldon Richardson and Geno Smith.) IMO it’s more about the Jets having bad management. Their recent history supports that.

          • art thiel

            Lots of Jets were jealous of Adams’ leverage. Same with Duane Brown in Houston, albeit less flamboyant. Larry needs to give credit to the Seahawks for being an attractive alternative.

          • LarryLurex70

            It was a shrewd move, done partly to counter the Rams adding Ramsey in the same manner, I suspect.

          • art thiel

            Mainly it was to have someone to cover TE Kittle in SF.

        • art thiel

          I get the disdain for the brutal exit, but you don’t have to like him to appreciate the football skills. You color between the lines, Larry. But with real artistry often comes eccentricity. Fortunately.

          • LarryLurex70

            If you can find anywhere where I said I didn’t “appreciate the football skills” and that I don’t like the guy, please quote it back to me verbatim. And, regarding “with real artistry often comes with eccentricity”, you’re talking to someone who did an 11th (or 12th) grade English presentation on 1966/1967 sandbox-era Brian Wilson.

          • art thiel

            Well, that’s some high-falutin’ high-brow, Larry. Or did you just read the liner notes in Pet Sounds?

          • LarryLurex70

            Genuine fan since age 17 (1987), Thiel.

          • art thiel

            Of me? Hey, thanks.

          • LarryLurex70

            A genuine laugh-out-loud moment, there, bud. You earned it.

          • art thiel

            You lightened up? Well, my evening is made.

          • Tim

            Wow Larry. I’m sure Art’s doing back flips in celebration of such a rare achievement.

          • Tim

            Me too Art. You were my sports highlight back in the PI days. You somehow made losing tolerable.

          • Tim

            And yes Larry….irony intended.

      • art thiel

        He said as much. That fresh enthusiasm is an asset, not a liability.

        • Tim

          No shit. I’m sure Larry’s fun at weddings and funerals.

    • art thiel

      C’mon, it was a harmless gesture of exuberance. It wasn’t done in the faces of the Rams. He’s 24 and finally won something as a pro. A little slack can be granted.

      • LarryLurex70

        Yeah, Thiel, but, that cigar though. Could’ve given him a pass if not for that. Was a bit much.

        • art thiel

          Did you get second-hand smoke through your screen? I thought guys like you hate the nanny state.

          • LarryLurex70

            You love seeing MLB teams that’ve merely qualified for the playoffs prance about on-the-field after clinching like they’ve just won the “World Series”. I get it.

          • art thiel

            Actually, I don’t care how they celebrate, as long as nobody gets hurt. Oddly, I’m more interested in the competition and players.

          • Tim

            Wow…maybe sports isn’t your thing.

          • LarryLurex70

            Are you finished, Tim?
            You know, like you, I’ve also been reading Thiel since “back in the PI days”. And, I’m at least smart enough to have determined all on my own that he’s a grown man who can handle and speak for himself. I highly doubt he REALLY needs you taking up for him here, as you’ve chosen to do this morning. He’s fully capable of witty back-and-forth’s with his readers without reacting like a baby if it gets too deep. Unlike Jason Rantz, for example.

            And, I guess I must’ve missed the memo where it plainly stated that anyone who didn’t have the exact same opinion as the rest of the flock was forbidden to speak on the issues presented for discussion. If you could get it to me so that I could review it, I’d appreciate it, seeing as that you apparently have it memorized and are here to enforce it.

            Look, I understand your reaction to my comments. I was guilty of it myself whenever the Sonic Cynic would call-in to the Sports Babe’s show decades ago. However, TODAY, if you are unable to accept that just MAYBE someone else MIGHT not share the exact same opinion of the home team(s) as you and the rest of the flock, then perhaps the internet “isn’t your thing”, either.

          • art thiel

            Tim is free to engage and disagree with you too, Larry.

          • LarryLurex70

            I’m pretty good at quoting someone else’s own words back at them. So, again, if you could please be so kind as to quote back to me verbatim where I said that he wasn’t…

          • Tim

            Lurex, Chill out. Nobody’s attacking you for having your opinions nor is anyone forbidding you to speak or interfering with your right to troll.

          • LarryLurex70

            Ahh, there it is. Anyone with an unpopular and different take is “trolling”.

          • eyeroq

            “And, I’m at least smart enough to have determined all on my own that he’s a grown man who can handle and speak for himself.”

            Are you? Well good for you. But are you smart enough for it to have ever crossed your mind that Tim’s comment wasn’t in defense of Art? It was in direct response to the difficulty you appeared to be having when a pro athlete celebrates in a way you don’t approve. It’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask whether pro sports is your thing when the spectacle of Adams breaking out a cigar would cause you so much grief. To be honest I did feel a pang of pity for you.

          • LarryLurex70

            Did Tim give you his permission to speak for him? I don’t want you to be in any trouble. Don’t pity me. Pity pro athletes who celebrate a minor accomplishment that’s far from the ultimate team goal as if it’s a major achievement. You should take off your homer glasses. Because you know damn well if you saw any other player from any other team do that, they’d be met with ridicule and accusations of arrogance from the peanut gallery at this site.

          • Tim

            All of this over a freaking unlit cigar behind a pro athlete’s ear celebrating his first trip to the playoffs. With all that’s going on in the world, the last thing I’d be doing is complaining about players from other teams being happy about whatever makes them happy. Good god man, lighten up.

          • Ed Walsh

            I’m really enjoying you guys back and forth, which would have been in front of the sports screens, bar-stool-to-bar-stool in pre-Virus life.

          • eyeroq

            lol. You’re such a snowflake. It’s hilarious watching you accuse anyone else of bristling from having a different opinion from you when it’s clear you’re too thin skinned from handling it yourself.

          • LarryLurex70

            “Snowflake”? You came up with that one all by yourself? Probably only because “troll” was already taken by someone else from the flock. Here’s to the both of you coming up with some original material in 2021👍🏾

          • eyeroq

            I’m not worried about being original. I’m more interested in being accurate. And yes, snowflake describes you perfectly, just as it describes the perpetual victim in your avatar. Don’t cry because you know I’m right. 😅

          • LarryLurex70

            You really got me there😒

          • eyeroq

            I know. 😁

          • Tim

            Touché.

          • Tim

            Here’s to you getting over your persecution complex and having some fun in life.

          • LarryLurex70

            If that’s what you and the flock – who were triggered enough that you can’t stop yourselves from continuing to send me messages long after the fact – gathered from my comments, so be it. I can only explain it to you so many times, Tim. But, I will never be able to understand it for any of you.

        • Tim

          I know….it was so offensive….

  • Husky73

    Bruce Jenner turn around, indeed.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Amusing, in the pre-political correctness days. Personally, my stance is we should all feel free to join in humor of the foibles, and frailties we all share. Humor is a survival instinct.

      • Husky73

        Amusing? “I’m funny, how? I make you laugh, like a clown? I amuse you?”

        • Tim

          Oh man…cringiest moment ever in gangster cinema! Hell yeah!

        • Kevin Lynch

          Ha! Many of us have memorized these lines, including Joe Pesci’s intonations. I used them on a 3-year-old over the holidays and got a BIG laugh!

        • Archangelo Spumoni

          My cousin Vinny is playing at this very moment!

          • Husky73

            Right actor. Wrong movie—Goodfellas.

          • Archangelo Spumoni

            Yes on Goodfellas; when My Cousin Vinny was on yesterday, I watched it for the first time.

          • Husky73

            “I could use a good ass kicking, I’ll be very honest with you.”….”Did you say yutes?”….”So, Miss Vito, you’re some kind of an automotive expert, is that right?”

      • art thiel

        It is, and I wasn’t politically incorrect (although that has happened).

  • jafabian

    NBC Sports reported that since their loss to the Bills the Hawks lead the league in giving up only 15 points per game. They also are tied with the Rams and Cards for most sacks in that span and have given up 203 yards passing per game. Before then they were on a record setting pace in giving up passing yards. Acquiring Dunlap and getting Adams and Griffin back from injury being the primary reasons for the turnaround as well as a softer schedule. Hopefully this momentum will carry over into next Sunday with the injury depleted 49ers and then into the playoffs. The momentum they’ve built may be the base for a solid playoff run,

    • art thiel

      Well, yes, I’ve been trying to make those points. They belong in the top four NFC teams with the Packers, Saints and Bucs, and they don’t have to drag Marshawn Lynch off his Oakland barstool.

  • Stephen Pitell

    When it comes to football, I am an eternal optimist, so I believe the Hawks could easily be the best Defense in the NFL right now. There are 11 pieces that have to work together, and talent can only overcome so much if the coaches plans are flawed. Football is a coaches game. Coaches determine the outcome more than the level of talent on each team.

    However, some talents, Pete calls field tilters, and Adams is a field tilter. He was worth every draft pick we paid and more. I wasn’t sure he would blossom under Pete, and I am so happy Adams is fitting in better and better in Pete’s system. We have a better chance at post season success this year than last. I’m not sure this is our year for a SB, but it could be. Go Hawks.

    • art thiel

      Schneider’s understanding of Adams’ potential impact on Seattle’s defense was the season’s decisive development. He’s an apex football predator.

      • Ed Walsh

        Yep. And the larger picture, Seahawks at Lambeau for NFC top good chances, after probably dealing with Tom Brady or Drew Brees. This team has the talent to do it. Mostly because Mr. Schneider and his talented people fueled Carrol’s great coaching team with quality, super-motivated players. Injuries decide a lot of this, but as you say, Art, dropping a tiger like Adams into the arena does not hurt.