or The Other Side of Mount Heart Attack
I'm not a bomb thrower and it wasn't my intention to hate on a team not yet born. Instead, I wanted to present a reasonable expectation for Seattle's defense. And now I want to offer ten ways it can be so much better. These are not armchair-GM moves. These are not if-I-were-coach moves. These are existing roster, existing coaching staff, say, possibilities that one-by-one could push this defense towards elite.
- Darryl Tapp becomes great. Somehow even Seahawks fans forget how good Tapp has been. Somehow even Seahawks coaches ignore how good Tapp can be. He's 24. The one thing that separated Tapp from being an elite pro-prospect was his height, and 27 starts and 15.5 sacks later, it's probably time we table that concern. See, Tapp was a monster at Virginia Tech. Knowledge of his dominance has been lost in the morass of time, but Tapp had 21.5 sacks, 40 total tackles for a loss and 57 quarterback hurries in just two and half seasons starting. It's puzzling that Tim Ruskell was smart enough to see Tapp for what he could do and brave enough to commit a second round pick to him, only to watch his coaching staff sit him to start 2008, and then have Ruskell himself replace him in 2009. If he hasn't, damn straight he hasn't. There's not an end other than Kerney that should be starting ahead of Tapp.
- Brandon Mebane becomes great.
- Mebane's greatness buoys Colin Cole. Cole can crack single blockers, but that's not his role. It won't matter though if Mebane can be good enough to demand double teams and keep Cole working over the left guard. See, Cole has never worked alongside muscle. He's always been the muscle and he's just not muscle enough to protect a pure three-tech. Believe it or not, that makes him a lot like Pat Williams. Williams didn't get regular starts until he was 29, and the first Bills' defense he played for was some kind of awful. In fact, Williams wasn't part of a good or even average run defense until 2003, when the Bills decided to team him with...oh...someone by the name of Sam Adams. The next two seasons Buffalo was top five in opponent rush yards per attempt. Williams left prior to 2005, joined Kevin Williams, and formed the impenetrable "Williams Wall". Does Cole have that potential? He might. He might just look like a whole other beast alongside his beastliness, Brandon Me!Bane!
- Kelly Jennings is as bad as he looked. Only New Orleans allowed more yards-per-game to #1 receivers, 90.1 to Seattle's 87.9. Third place Detroit allowed over ten fewer yards than either. No team allowed more than Seattle's 61.8 to #2 receivers. Given Marcus Trufant is good, even great, and his reputation hardly suffered a bit despite Seattle's total secondary collapse, it's fair to say something was rotten in Denmark. Even Brian Russell is not capable of such single-handed destruction.
- Ken Lucas is an absolute steal. The 30 year old Lucas is still in his prime and played on a top ten pass defense, according to two separate advanced metrics. If Jennings is as bad as he looked and Lucas even top twenty good, the net improvement could be startling.
- Josh Wilson becomes a deadly nickelback. It's debatable whether Wilson can hang with top receivers, but Wilson has the skill-set to be an intimidating presence at nickelback. He's faster, more physical and has better ball-skills than all but the best slot receivers. Playing between two competent cover corners, Wilson could be targeted a lot. Wilson intercepted three passes and forced three fumbles, making him if not Seattle's best defensive back, Seattle's most dangerous defensive back.
- Seattle's interception rate regresses towards the mean. Seattle had nine interception in 2008. The 2008 average was about an interception on 2.6% of all pass plays. Seattle's defense recorded an interception on just under 1.6% of all pass plays. That's the difference of about 6 interceptions or about 270 yards of field position.
Unleash Jamar Adams.
- Seattle's rush defense aids the pass defense. Switching Julian Peterson and Kelly Jennings for Aaron Curry and Ken Lucas gives Seattle eight starters that are above average to dominant run stoppers. Nine if you count Deon Grant as a free safety or cover 2 safety. Ten if you replace Russell with Adams. Eleven if Cole thrives alongside Mebane. That would make Seattle a potentially elite run defense. Brian Burke found that run defense is the least important component to winning. Except -- check that again. That's run defense as measured by rushing yards allowed per attempt. It doesn't take a Williams wall to become stout when defending a team that's simply running out the clock. Nor does it take Howard Green and Craig Terrill for rushing yards per attempt to balloon when a team's protecting a lead and can sit pass. I contacted Brian and he told me he thought the idea was interesting and might look into it by looking at just the first three quarters of football, the time before a team could kill the clock and pervert its yards per attempt. Until then lets hold onto two hopeful truths. 1. Burke's research isn't complete and may contain an important flaw. 2. His recent research argues passing predictability, that is, passing on passing downs like 2nd or 3rd and long, has a dramatic negative impact on passing efficiency. In other words, if Seattle's run defense can stuff the run, it could do wonders for Seattle's pass defense.
- Lawrence Jackson, Brandon Mebane and Josh Wilson are 24. Baraka Atkins, Red Bryant and Darryl Tapp are 25. Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill are 27. And among major defensive contributors, only Patrick Kerney is post-prime, 32.
No wishcasting about Kerney's health, though he could still be healthy. No backwards-looking indictments of John Marshall, though, undefinable as it may be, probably is a poor defensive coordinator. No false hopes pinned on a coaching staff that's earned no such optimism. Just a lot of talent and some not so far-fetched scenarios. Seattle starts with a below average to bad defense, but is ten attainable steps from a good to great defense. Can September come soon enough?