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Matt Calkins: Is Pete Carroll right? Could the Seahawks’ struggling defense get better with time and healing?

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 11, 2020

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll had many moments of exasperation  (Associated Press)
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll had many moments of exasperation (Associated Press)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – What if Pete Carroll is right?

After Sunday’s defensive debacle in Buffalo, where the Seahawks gave up 44 points – the most in a game since 2009 – their coach offered a semblance of an excuse.

“There’s a lot of guys who played together for the first time,” he said.

That quote, of course, came after Carroll acknowledged how poorly his team had played – how he didn’t even recognize that game.

But what if there is some validity to that? What if continuity and health really is the key to turning this defense around?

It’s doubtful that Carroll’s words offered any comfort to steaming 12s. Pete has been saying the “D” has been on the cusp of breaking through every week, but it only seems to be getting worse. The 455.8 yards per game Seattle has given up this year is on pace to break the NFL record for a season. The 292 yards it allowed in the first half against the Bills was the piece de resistance of no resistance.

And that happened despite the return of All-Pro safety Jamal Adams and the debut of Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap. It was a study in defensive ineptitude.

Perhaps the “D” is a lost cause that the Seahawks’ top-scoring offense will be forced to outpace all year. But if you’re in an optimistic mood, here is some reason for hope.

1) The Seahawks recorded a season-high seven sacks vs. the Bills after tallying just 12 in the previous seven games. It’s unlikely the pass rush will continue to be that productive throughout the year, but with Adams and Dunlap on the field, it should certainly improve.

Remember, against the Cardinals two games earlier, the Seahawks didn’t notch a single quarterback hit on 48 Kyler Murray pass attempts. Pass rushing wins games in the NFL – it’s the reason the guys who can get to the quarterback make more money than anyone else on defense.

Could Sunday have been anomaly for the Seahawks? Maybe. But the personnel suggests they’ll continue to apply pressure to the QB.

2) The secondary has been banged up all year. Just once have Adams, Quandre Diggs, Quinton Dunbar and Shaquill Griffin played a full game together. That was in Week 1 against the Falcons, when the Seahawks won 31-25. The next week Diggs was tossed early after a helmet-to-helmet penalty. Adams went out because of a groin injury the next game. Dunbar has been battling chronic knee pain for much of the season. And Griffin has missed the past two games because of a hamstring injury.

Before the season began, the secondary looked like one of the Seahawks’ strengths. Adams was first-team All-Pro in each of the past two seasons. Griffin was a Pro Bowler last year. Seattle’s defense turned around when it acquired Diggs last season, and Dunbar is an established veteran. All are 28 or younger.

Is it a stretch to think that if those guys are healthy and playing in rhythm that Seattle’s back end can go from awful to at least decent?

3) They still have the league’s best linebacker in Bobby Wagner – and K.J. Wright. Wagner won NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his 11-tackle (three for a loss), two-sack game vs. the Niners on Nov. 1. Wright got his hands on the ball three times vs. the Dolphins in Week 4, then grabbed a one-handed pick vs. Minnesota the next game. The pair has 122 combined tackles this season. There have been extreme weaknesses on Seattle’s defense this year. The linebacking, however, has not been one of them.

I don’t want to come off as an apologist for the Seahawks’ defense this year. My previous column ripped into it, noting that it has gone from a concern to a complete embarrassment. Explosive plays, miscommunications, dumb penalties – they’ve all combined to make statistical heroes of Seattle’s opponents. But if you squint, you can see some reasons for hope.

On Monday, Carroll preached patience with the defense. And though most fans are probably out of it, they’d be best served to rediscover it.

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