The Grim Truth about Seattle's 2009 Defense

(Editor's Note: This was originally posted May 18, 2009. It seems appropriate and so I am re-posting it.)

How good can this defense be? This time last year, it seemed on the verge of elite. The Seahawks had the 11th ranked defense by DVOA, it was young, and to the human eye, 2007's defense looked capable of so much more. 2007 now seems like an over-hyped Pinkerton in light of 2008's retroactively bastardizing Maladroit. Not only did Seattle's defense crumble, but 2008 itself took some of the shine off 2007. Seattle faced offenses led by Matt Leinart, Trent Dilfer, Marc Bulger, Derek Anderson, Alex Smith, Rex Grossman, Gus Frerotte, AJ Feeley, Matt Moore, Troy Smith, Chris Redman, and Todd Collins in 12 of its 18 games. Was it any wonder then that it was fourth in the league in interceptions and first in the league in touchdowns allowed? Of those twelve, I figure only Leinart, Anderson and Grossman have the requisite arm strength to reach Brian Russell's overseer zone, and the three combined for 6.73 adjusted net yards an attempt. That's 0.1 yards better than Matt Hasselbeck's 2005.

2007 sits between a 20th ranked performance in 2006 and a 27th ranked performance in 2008. In light of the jobber's row of quarterbacks Seattle faced, 2007 looks like the outlier. Which is troubling, because this team isn't making the playoffs on the back of its offense.

No, Seattle's defense must step up, become above average and likely top-ten, for Seattle to be any kind of contender. I'm having trouble seeing how that's going to happen. Jim Mora has never done anything like that as a coach, where his Falcons were average to below average every season. He never did anything like that as a defensive coordinator, where his 49ers were average to below average every season. Gus Bradley is pure Tampa 2, and if you see a Tampa 2 talent on this roster not named Tatupu or Tapp, give me a heads up. Mebane could play the one, but Colin Cole fixes that. Maybe Bradley is an undiscovered genius, but there's no evidence of that, and it would be abnormal for a defensive minded head coach to hire a defensive mastermind to work beneath him. Mora, depressingly so, is supposed to be the defensive mastermind.

Here's how I think Seattle hopes things work. The run defense, powered by a suddenly beefy line and built around three run-killing linebackers becomes bona fide elite -- top three. The secondary contains and eliminates long pass plays. It does this by keeping Brian Russell deep and playing lots of zone defense. The combination keeps offenses on the field and opportunities for turnovers rolling in. It bends all day and breaks for the ball. It defies statistics; it creates turnovers.

How flawed is this model? Oh, horrendously. A team built around run defense is accentuating the least important single aspect of winning. At the same time, Seattle has mostly neglected its pass defense, likely even downgrading it. Pass defense is the second most important single aspect of winning. Make what you will of Rocky Bernard and his supposed decline, but he had more sacks for a 4-12 team than Colin Cole has for his career. The team shipped of its best pass rusher and did so to acquire a player that further buries its third best pass rusher. Cory Redding is an active and disruptive single-gap defensive tackle, but if injuries have forced him to drop weight and play end, he should be a situational run stopper, not starting over Darryl Tapp. Seattle's second best pass rusher, now first, is 32 and returning from his second season ending injury in three years. Seattle is not a team built to dominate with its pass rush, and with Brian Russell still presumably playing free safety, it's not a secondary built to allow the rush time to develop. Let's see how Ken Lucas likes playing Robinson Crusoe.

I like how Tim Ruskell scouts talent, and he appears to be a shrewd and successful businessman able to manage the salary cap and attract free agent talent. His contract is up after this season and he's banking on Seattle rebounding enough to get him re-signed. That might not happen, and it might not happen because of one of those glaring omissions that bedevil Ruskell. This time it's coaching. Ruskell really likes something about Jim Mora. He not only signed Mora, but signed Mora's former offensive coordinator. He's given Mora tools, tools to create a malicious Jim Johnson-style blitz defense. Let's hope that's what all this West Coast Defense nonsense is about, because beyond football platitudes about aggression and creating pressure from the front four, I don't see much more than a vanilla 4-3. Tim Ruskell has tied his future to Jim L. Mora and I'm not sure why, but am interested and terrified to find out. Interested and terrified, but not hopeful.

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