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Seattle Seahawks
Sports >  Seattle Seahawks

Commentary: It’s difficult to envision a Seahawks defensive turnaround like we saw in 2020

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 14, 2021

Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner reacts to a play against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Seattle.   (Craig Mitchelldyer)
Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner reacts to a play against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Seattle.  (Craig Mitchelldyer)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – There is familiarity with these shortcomings, but that does not mean there is comfort.

Seattle Seahawks fans are less than a year removed from these types of numbers, but that doesn’t mean they are hopeful.

At one point in 2020, Seattle was last in the NFL in yards allowed per game and ostensibly lost for solutions. Then, defensive end Carlos Dunlap was traded to the team, safety Jamal Adams returned from injury, and all was restored for this former defensive juggernaut.

This year, the Seahawks have given up a league-worst 450.8 yards per game. The problem this time around is Dunlap and Adams have been on the field all season.

The defensive turnaround the Seahawks made in the second half of 2020 was perhaps the most noteworthy one in the league. A team that had just nine sacks through the first seven games finished with 46 – good for seventh in the league. A team that was once giving up more yards than anyone in football finished a respectable 15th in points allowed.

No, the Seahawks didn’t resemble anything close to those Legion of Boom-led squads that ended up in two Super Bowls. But they transformed into a legitimate defense that gave the team a chance to win each week. Had quarterback Russell Wilson – who’s now out for several weeks because of a finger injury – played reasonably well in last season’s playoff loss to the Rams, Seattle likely would have advanced. So what’s going on this season?

“A lot of it is just figuring out using people in different ways. I think it’s more so just the communication,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Last year we had guys like a K.J. (Wright), and we have more spots that were solidified. This year it’s more guys playing different roles. We just have to focus and master the roles that are being asked of us to do.”

That wasn’t the most encouraging of responses. It almost sounded as if Bobby said, “Last year, we had better players.”

There is no Wright, who has been replaced by talented but relatively unproven linebacker Jordyn Brooks. And with the recent release of Tre Flowers, Seattle looks particularly thin at cornerback. This might be the biggest source of frustration for fans, who knew that was a weak area throughout the offseason. Yet Seattle’s front office did little to improve that aspect of the defense.

Then, of course, there are Adams and Dunlap. Last season Adams had 9.5 sacks in 12 games, setting the season record for defensive backs. It led to him signing the most lucrative deal for a safety in league history. But this season he is sackless and, according to Pro Football Focus, ranks 62nd among 78 safeties in the league.

As for Dunlap, he, too, is without a sack.

Although Seattle is 17th in the league in sacks per game (2.0), it doesn’t have the pass-rush prowess that it did in the second half of last season.

This is usually where I’d say it’s time for the defensive coordinator to earn his money, but I wonder how much of the defense belongs to Seahawks DC Ken Norton. That side of the ball has always been coach Pete Carroll’s pet project, meaning he deserves the bulk of the praise and criticism for its performance.

This season, though, there has been something missing. Considering just one of the quarterbacks they’ve faced (Matthew Stafford of the Rams) ranks in the top 10 in passer rating, things might only get worse for the Seahawks’ defense.

With Wilson sidelined, the Seahawks are facing a crisis they haven’t seen since before the eight-time Pro Bowl QB was drafted in 2012. They are without their offensive superstar while fielding one of the worst defenses in the league.

On Wednesday, Wagner was asked about the challenge of having to step up sans Wilson.

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for us,” he said. “This is our time, our turn to step up as a defense, and we will. It’s going to be a personal challenge for me to make sure that happens.”

On Sunday, the Seahawks (2-3) take on the Steelers, who have been relatively tame on offense. Their 319.6 yards per game rank 26th in the league.

Seattle’s probably looking at those numbers and thinking this is a perfect chance to turn its defense around. The Steelers, meanwhile, are likely looking at Seattle’s numbers and thinking thing the same thing about their offense.

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