The best aspect of the 2011 Seattle Seahawks through five games is likely the run defense.
The Seahawks' defense ranks 2nd in the NFL in yards per carry allowed at 3.1, which is a smidge behind the Dallas Cowboys. The Seahawks defense ranks 9th in the NFL in total yards allowed on the ground per game at 97.8.
What is amazing about the fact that the Seahawks allow under 100 yards per game on the ground is that only two teams have been run on more than the Seahawks. The Indianapolis Colts have been run on 177 times and the NY Jets have been run on 160 times. The Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs have been run on 156 times. Opponents have tried to run on Seattle an average of 31 times per game. The NFL average is approximately 26 rushing attempts per game league-wide.
The Seahawks have a good run defense. Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch form a 1000 pound wall. As long as they stay healthy, this should be something the Seahawks can count on in 2011. They did the same thing in early 2010 before the injuries hit. They were ranked #2 in rush defense behind Pittsburgh before the Oakland slaying.
The problem is - the pass defense is bad.
In the modern NFL, you are going to give up yards in the air whether you are beating a team or getting your own (butt) beat. No defense is good enough to hold another team to 125 yard in the air, no matter how bad the offense or quarterback.
The #1 ranked passing defense in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers, gives up 174 yards per game in the air. The median NFL team gives up about 250 yards in the air in 2011.
The Seattle Seahawks give up 268 yards per game in the air and rank 24th in this category. They also rank 22nd in QB Rating allowed at 91.8. They allow a whopping 8.2 yards per attempt in the air. That is pretty horrific and is good for 25th in the NFL. Thank you Victor "Salsa" Cruz. They allow opposing QBs to complete a whopping 67.3% of their passes, good for 27th in the NFL.
/Sound of me vomiting.
They also rank 24th in the NFL in sacks at a phat 8 through 5 games. The NY Giants have 18.
One positive is that the Seahawks allow only a 31.9% third down conversion rate, which ranks 3rd in the NFL. Teams are not converting a lot of third downs as the run defense is forcing teams into more predictable third down passing situations. In these situations the Seahawks are able to substitute out the 1000 lb wall and bring in extra LEOs, interior pass rush specialists, nickel, dime and bandit packages and blitz packages. And if it is 3rd and 1 and you want to pound the rock? Go ahead - the Seahawks are confident in those situations to stone the run much more often than the average NFL defense.
We need more pass rush. We need more pass rush on 1st and 2nd down. I'm not saying that we shouldn't re-sign Big Red Bryant, but maybe just sub him out more often.
Sure, I would love, just like most Seahawks fans, to have a true shutdown corner. Whatever that is. It sounds cool. Whatever the definition of shutdown corner - I want one - I want that - and I am pretty sure the Seahawks don't have that.
I don't see that happening in the 2012 Draft. After a strong run at a QB and what I hope is a defensive end - by Round 3 - if we even have that pick left, doubt if any 'Shutdown Corners' will be left on the board. Every team in the NFL needs more cornerbacks. Not every team needs a new left tackle or quarterback. With the increase of nickel and three and four and five WR sets, team's need more than one or two good corners.
Walter Thurmond, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Brandon Browner were drafted in Round 4, 5, 6 and plucked from the CFL. Unless a truly amazing 1st round corner falls into Roundd 2 or 3 I don't see that happening.
What I do see happening is the drafting of a pass rusher.
Here are four types of Pass Rushers the Seahawks will look at in the 2012 draft. They will not be able to get all four. If they got two out of the four I would be thrilled and you likely don't need to get all four.
(A) Traditional 4-3 Defensive End. I am not saying to replace Chris Clemons at the LEO. This player could spell Clemons as a rookie to give him rest and keep him fresh. He could also be the 2nd LEO in passing situations and line up opposite of Clemons. Basically a younger and possibly better version of Raheem Brock.
(B) 3-4 Outside Linebacker. This type of player could play in the 3-4 defense and is smaller than the typical 4-3 DE. Perhaps like a Von Miller (I know Denver runs a 4-3) but I think you get the picture. Perhaps it is a Clay Matthews type or Lamar Woodley. This player could play the 2nd LEO but also mix in some coverage duties.
(C) 4-3 Outside Linebacker. This is hard to find, but would be really cool. Here is why. The Seahawks only carry about 5-6 LB on the 53 man roster which leaves the LB corps pretty thin. The reason being that they have to carry 9-10 DB and 8-10 DL during a season. This leaves the LB corps as the smallest grouping of the three and it becomes a numbers game.
A 3-4 team can run all year with 6 DL (like a Green Bay) and may carry 9-10 LB. If the Seahawks could find a player who can fit the run and play well in pass coverage AND pass rush in certain situations?! That would be money. Do these player's exist? I have my doubts, but if we could find a player like that, we could carry 6 LB and still add one more weapon to the pass rush arsenal.
(D) Interior DL- likely 3-tech. I know San Francisco and Arizona run a 3-4, and that the Seahawks OL was overmatched in the first few games, but Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett showed us that interior pressure is still pressure, and pressure disrupts QBs and passing games.
Alan Branch did get a sack versus NYG, but I am not sold that he is that guy that can create consistent interior pressure versus the pass. Clinton McDonald is getting a lot of playing time but it is too early to tell how effective he is from my casual glance.
Perhaps in the draft we can find a player that can consistently penetrate from the 3 Technique position and still play decent against the run if it happens to be a run.
For these four positions, I am not convinced the rookie needs to start in 2012, just be part of a strong rotation. Perhaps a player will emerge in 2011 and of course- there is always free agency. Nonetheless, the draft is better than free agency all things being equal, and a young player that can fit with the profile of a young team would be ideal.
Eventually - the Seahawks defense will likely rank in the better half of the NFL in both passing and rushing with the addition of more talent. This side of the ball is what Pete Carroll has coached for 35+ years and I am more confident in excellence on this side of the ball than on the offensive side.
Pete has invested more money through big time free agency and more top draft picks on the offensive side of the ball- and has left the lower rounds of the draft to fill in the defense so far. I am sure he knows that he still needs to eventually add top-tier talent to the defensive side of the ball in the 2012 and 2013 drafts- especially in the pass defense area.