RENTON, Wash. – For the better part of three seasons under Pete Carroll, if the Seahawks were going to hang their hat on one thing, it was their run defense.
Then three weeks ago, Frank Gore took that hat and ran away with it. Most recently, Adrian Peterson was seen wearing that hat while making Seahawks defenders look silly.
So what happened? How did the Seahawks’ run defense go from the most dependable part of Seattle’s play, along with its special teams, to a perceived liability? Through six games this season, the Seahawks were allowing 70 rushing yards per game, which ranked second in the NFL, and holding opponents to just 3.3 yards per carry. Over the past three games, with most of the damage coming against San Francisco and Minnesota, the Seahawks have allowed an average of 167.3 rushing yards with opponents gaining 6.2 yards per carry.
More than anything, Carroll thinks the team’s struggles are the result of young players trying to do too much. In addition to a stout defensive line, one of the most important elements of run defense is the ability of linebackers and safeties to stay disciplined and focus on their responsibilities, not everyone else’s. With a rookie starting at middle linebacker (Bobby Wagner), a second-year strongside linebacker (K.J. Wright), and safeties who are in their third year (Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor), youthful mistakes can happen. It also didn’t help the Seahawks that Wright missed all but three plays of Sunday’s win over the Vikings because of a concussion.
“I do think we’re over-trying a little bit,” Carroll said. “I think in general guys are trying to live up to the expectations and we’re trying really hard, and at times that takes you out of your game. That’s something we’re really concerned about. … We just want to play the way that we’re capable of playing. Sometimes guys try to go beyond their responsibility to make a play and they get in a bad situation. That’s just because they want to do really well and they’re trying really hard and all of that. It’s a young bunch of guys getting together, so you can fluctuate a little bit there.”
Because of the mistakes he has been seeing, Carroll decided to simplify things in the second half Sunday, and it paid dividends as Seattle held Minnesota to 59 yards and three points after being gashed by Peterson, whose 144 first-half yards and two touchdowns led the Vikings to 17 points, the most allowed by the Seahawks in a first half this season.
For once, Carroll isn’t keeping the lid on his passing game, he’s using the lid to help his defense.
“We’re trying to really keep the lid on that,” Carroll said. “We really trust if our guys do what we’re asking them to do and play really disciplined, strict ball, the good stuff will happen… We’re seeing a lot of complexities in the last month, and some of the stuff has been harder for us, we haven’t executed as well, and that calls for us to make sure we’re really on our stuff. To play good run defense, you have to be extraordinarily disciplined and at times we’re just getting a little bit out of whack, and we need to fix that. So that’s what our efforts will be, to get that done.”
Of course, before anyone panics over three games, it’s worth remembering that the 49ers lead the NFL in rushing, and that Adrian Peterson is arguably the best running back of his generation. Some of the big runs Peterson had Sunday were the result of breakdowns, but plenty of it had to do with Peterson simply being really, really good.
“Well Adrian certainly had a big part in it, in particular on the first big run,” Carroll said. “He made a lot of guys miss, but we did not fit our runs well at all at times. There are a bunch of them that we did, but there is a half dozen plays where we didn’t, and he took advantage of it and made the most of it. … He’s a great back and we give him some room with all of the mistakes we made, and he tears it up and has a great day.”
Or, as cornerback Richard Sherman put it, “I don’t think there’s another Adrian Peterson on the planet… He’s an incredible, one-of-a-kind player.”
The good news for the Seahawks is that they won’t see Peterson again this season, but that doesn’t mean their run defense won’t be tested again. Seattle still has games against San Francisco and its league-leading 168.6 rushing yards per game, as well as Buffalo, which ranks sixth in rushing (141.2) and Chicago, which has the No. 11 rushing attack (128.5). Despite the recent struggles, Carroll is confident that the second-half improvement his defense showed by playing disciplined in the third and fourth quarters can carry over to the rest of this season.
“We couldn’t have illustrated that better than we did in the second half,” Carroll said. “We went right back to the basics of what we call, and our guys played better and we executed well and had ourselves a good half.”
Hawks make moves
The Seahawks waived receiver Charly Martin and released receiver Lavasier Tuinei from the practice squad. Martin, was signed by the Seahawks in the offseason and won a job in training camp. He started one game and had four catches for 42 yards, and was inactive for five games, once because of injury. Tuinei, an undrafted rookie out of Oregon, spent training camp with the Seahawks and was released, then joined the practice squad last week.
No corresponding move was announced, but the Seahawks could be freeing up a spot to add cornerback Walter Thurmond to the active roster. Thurmond, who broke his leg last season, then suffered a setback in March, has been on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but the Seahawks have to make a decision on him by Monday.