RENTON, Wash. – There was a time when the Seahawks had all the answers on defense.
From 2012-15 the Legion of Boom Seattle defense allowed the fewest points in the NFL each season, something never done otherwise in the Super Bowl era.
Asked recently the key to that run of success, coach Pete Carroll pointed to the players.
“I would totally put it back on the guys that were doing the playing,” Carroll said. “I think that we were able to piece together a bunch of guys that really had something special about them, that the less we did the better they played. I mean, we played in the Super Bowl game, that was one of the simplest game plans we ever played.”
In other words, as the old saying goes, it’s more about the Jimmys and Joes than the X’s and O’s.
Well, actually, this version of the Seahawks might hope it’s not, beginning with Sunday’s 10 a.m. game in Detroit against the Lions.
As Seattle’s defense has stumbled through the first three games – allowing 397 yards per game, ranking 25th in the NFL, and 157 rushing yards per game, 30th in the NFL – looking no better than the versions of the past two years, the question has increasingly arisen if there’s anything more that can be done.
The Seahawks, recall, fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and passing-game coordinator Andre Curtis after a 2021 season in which Seattle finished 28th in total defense, the lowest in the Carroll era. Seattle replaced them with defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt, passing-game coordinator Karl Scott and associate head coach-defense Sean Desai.
Those three installed a 3-4 defense patterned after Vic Fangio’s defense – Fangio most recently was the Denver Broncos’ coach – that has gained favor in the NFL in recent years. The change represented the most dramatic schematic shift of the defense in Carroll’s head-coaching career.
Carroll said then he felt the Seahawks’ defense had to diversify – with it probably being no coincidence that there were no longer any members of the Legion of Boom defense on the roster.
“We’ve been a little bit arrogant over the years, the way we play defense, because we’ve been able to just go ahead and play what we want to play,” Carroll said in March. “It’s not that time right now. It’s time to keep moving and keep growing. We’ve played the running game so well – 3.8 (yards) per carry (in 2021), that’s pretty darn good in this league. Maybe that’s not the only thing we need to do well. We can do some other things, too.”
As Carroll said then, the Seahawks would spend the offseason trying to assemble the personnel to make it work. That led to decisions not to re-sign, or release, the likes of ends Carlos Dunlap, Kerry Hyder and Rasheem Green, opting to instead sign Uchenna Nwosu and draft Boye Mafe to pair with Darrell Taylor as speedier, potentially more versatile edge players.
The plan was to use safety Jamal Adams substantially as an inside linebacker, pairing him with Jordyn Brooks to help replace Bobby Wagner.
Carroll raved often about the team’s speed in the offseason, calling it the fastest team he’s had with the Seahawks.
But little has gone to plan, other than some gutty red-zone efforts that helped preserve an opening win against Denver.
Adams’ season-ending injury suffered against Denver squelched the three-safety look, with Adams playing linebacker, that figured to be a big part of the defense, especially on third downs.
Players also seem to need some time to adjust to the intricacies of the 3-4, which can require a bit more thinking of the players up front to read and react instead of simply taking off upfield at the snap, one potential reason the speed Carroll lauded hasn’t showed up on game days.
Still, all involved said this week the scheme is not the issue, and that the turnaround will come. Carroll said there is no temptation to go back to what worked before, and Hurtt said the problems are more fundamental, such as getting off blocks.
Seattle has allowed 91 yards on two runs in which defenders were in position to make plays but simply didn’t. Take those out, and Seattle’s rushing yards allowed per carry drops from 4.9 to 4.0, close to last year’s 3.8.
Although there are veterans littered throughout, Seattle has six new starters on defense (seven including nickel cornerback Coby Bryant), and given the scheme changes everyone’s role is changing somewhat.
Tackle Al Woods said candidly this week that he was not surprised it’s taking a little while for the defense to take hold.
“There are young guys, and this is a new group, so it’s definitely us getting together collectively, understanding each other, learning each other, and then you have to go through some brimstone and some fire,” Woods said. “You have to go through some bad times, and you have to go through some adversity to really bring that stuff together. That’s what it is right now.”
The Seahawks will catch some breaks Sunday, as Detroit will be without leading rusher D’Andre Swift and leading receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown due to injury.
But now, beating any team regardless of personnel will be enough for the Seahawks, who at 1-2 have to win one of their next two games – at Detroit and at New Orleans – to keep much playoff hope alive.
“Kick somebody’s butt,” Woods said when asked what the Seahawks have to do Sunday. “It’s simple. You know me, man, I’m very simple. It’s easy. If we aren’t getting the job done, then we need to figure out why we aren’t getting the job done. We have to get back on track.”
With Jones and Burns healthy, Seahawks have glut of cornerbacks
When it comes to cornerbacks on an NFL roster, eight is not only enough but usually a few too many.
Seattle has usually been fine with five cornerbacks on its 53-man roster.
But due to injuries, the Seahawks have stockpiled cornerbacks; and when they signed Xavier Crawford off the practice squad this week, he became the eighth cornerback on the 53-man roster.
And with the team declaring veterans Sidney Jones IV and Artie Burns — who began training camp as the starters but were waylaid by injuries — as healthy Friday, Seattle has seven healthy cornerbacks.
Burns has not been active all season after suffering a groin injury early in training camp that he reinjured in the final preseason game at Dallas. Jones has battled a concussion and played in just one game this season. Carroll said Friday that both can play Sunday at Detroit if needed.
The only cornerback who isn’t healthy is Justin Coleman, listed as doubtful for Sunday because of a calf injury that has held him out two games. Coleman was the only player who did not practice Friday, with only one other player on the injury report — safety Joey Blount, listed as questionable because of a hamstring injury.
With eight cornerbacks, something might soon have to give.
“The situation has changed with (Burns) coming back and with Sidney coming back,” Carroll said Friday. “Sidney is ready to play, too. We have been really cautious with Sidney because of the injury that he had.”
Without Jones and Burns the Seahawks have been going with Michael Jackson and rookie Tariq Woolen as the starters at left and right cornerback, respectively. Carroll has praised the play of both, and Woolen seems like a long-term fixture who might be hard to budge from the lineup.
“The competition is really on,” Carroll said. “These guys are fighting to get through. We had a terrific week of practice with those guys. It’s just stepped up, everybody can feel it. They are fighting for their wins in practice, and it made for a really good week.”
With Coleman likely again out, rookie Coby Bryant figures to get the start at nickelback.
But that leaves each of the other two spots three deep. Seattle also claimed Isaiah Dunn off waivers from the Jets after the cutdown to 53 to fill out the depth due to injuries.
Dunn and Crawford were active last week behind Woolen, Jackson and Bryant to fill special-teams roles at the position. But if the Seahawks decide they want to use Jones and Burns on defense, they could be forced to make some decisions on who plays, who stays and who goes.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.