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Matt Calkins: The Seahawks were held back by their depleted defense this season. Here’s how they can fix that.

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 14, 2020

Seattle Seahawks' Shaquem Griffin and Shaquill Griffin embrace after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (Darron Cummings / AP)
Seattle Seahawks' Shaquem Griffin and Shaquill Griffin embrace after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (Darron Cummings / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Coaching football generally requires a comprehension of complexities that exceed those of other sports. The schemes, the formations, the details, the adjustments – they’re pretty much unrivaled when you compare them with other sports.

But if the Seahawks are going to return to their dominant ways, where they are pounding opponents and not simply squeaking by them, the solution is something anyone can understand: beef up the defense.

That side of the ball was likely the difference between Seattle winning the NFC West in 2019 and falling to San Francisco. It was also the weak spot in their 28-23 loss to the Packers in Sunday’s divisional round, where Green Bay built a three-score lead in the first half it never relinquished.

Save for a three-game stretch in the middle of the season, plus an impressive effort in a 17-9 playoff win versus Philadelphia on Jan. 5, the Seahawks’ D stood for deficient, defeated or depleted for most of this year.

So what do they do?

Re-sign Jadeveon Clowney

When healthy, the defensive end was the most impactful player on defense for the Seahawks. Yes, linebacker Bobby Wagner is the best in the NFL at his position, but from forcing fumbles, to creaming quarterbacks, to picking off passes, it was Clowney who could single-handedly transform L’s into W’s.

It’s almost certain Clowney, to whom the Seahawks promised not to assign the franchise tag, will test free agency. And it’s rare when Seattle pays much beyond market value for a player, regardless of his talent or past contributions.

But Clowney isn’t like most players. He’s really not like any other player. When the Seahawks let defensive end Frank Clark go to the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle’s pass rush looked insufficient for a team even dreaming about the playoffs. Clowney changed that. Him leaving could change that back.

Draft a stud cornerback

Pass rush might end up being the area the Seahawks prioritize this offseason, but with the 27th overall pick in the NFL draft, it’s unlikely they’ll find a game-changer on the edge.

What they can find at that slot is someone who can compete with Tre Flowers or Shaquill Griffin for a starting spot at corner. Effective as Flowers was as a rookie last season, he was inconsistent in 2019. And though Griffin is a solid NFL defensive back, he’s nowhere near the level of his predecessors from the Legion of Boom era.

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider built this team by bulking up the secondary in the draft. They haven’t had a great first pick in a while. Time to get on that.

Bring back K.J. Wright

The 30-year-old’s 132 combined tackles and 65 solo tackles were both career highs. Not bad for a former Pro Bowler who didn’t get star treatment in his contract negotiation last March, when he signed a two-year deal Seattle can get out of if it decides to cut him.

That would be a mistake. Rookie Cody Barton didn’t stand out in the opportunities he got at linebacker this year, and Mychal Kendricks is a free agent. Anyone who thought Wright might be creeping over the hill a couple of seasons ago was proven wrong this year. He should be a priority.

Strengthen the line in free agency

Defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who missed the first six games of this season but had 10.5 sacks in 2018, is a free agent. So is Ziggy Ansah, the defensive end who underwhelmed with 2.5 sacks in his 11 games with the Seahawks.

Defensive end L.J. Collier, the Seahawks’ first-round draft pick, was a healthy scratch for much of the year and appears headed toward bust territory.

The Seahawks often have the look of a depleted team in the offseason, only to find themselves stacked once the season starts, and even more so before the season ends. The acquisition of Clowney last August and defensive back Quandre Diggs in October exemplified that.

There are ostensible holes on this defense, a defense that cost the Seahawks this season.

Those holes can be filled. Will they?

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