The difference on defense: How much better were Seahawks defenders last year as compared to 2012?

here we go again - Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The less is more approach in the front seven and the more is more approach in the secondary, led to a historically-good result.

Earlier this week I wrote about the 2012 to 2013 differences in stats for the Seahawks offensive players. It was so good that it's already been nominated for a Pulitzer in the "Sports: Blogs, Seahawks, year-to-year differences, offense" category! What we learned was that most things stayed about the same for many players on that side of the ball, with the biggest change probably coming from Doug Baldwin taking over Sidney Rice's production in the passing game and then some.

That was not the case on defense, especially with the front seven.

Last year, Seattle made news for signing Cliff Avril and then Michael Bennett to upgrade a pass rush that was the heel de Achilles the year before. They didn't make much news for adding Tony McDaniel, but he ended up playing a major role as well. As a team, the Seahawks improved from 36 sacks in 2012 to 43 sacks last season, but more important than that was the consistent and violent pressure put upon the opponents pocket perfectly and persistently throughout in perpetuity.

The most significant aspect of their front seven philosophy however, and what I would have sold to Kevin Williams in order to get him to sign with Seattle over New England, was that less is more.

Avril and Bennett were starters on their previous teams -- Detroit and Tampa Bay, respectively -- and would now be joining a team that already had starting "defensive ends" Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. Though Bryant might play 5-tech and Clemons is a Leo coming off ACL surgery, it didn't change the fact that there would arguably be fewer snaps and fewer opportunities for sacks to go around. If Avril wanted to get a chance to gain 15 sacks per season, he probably chose the wrong spot. If Bennett wanted to be an every-down player, he definitely chose the wrong team.

Indeed, the two players had significantly fewer snaps in 2013. Yep, they had fewer sacks too. But both Avril and Bennett were more efficient last season than they were the year before, and by a longshot. (Rumor also has it that they won a Super Bowl, which at least 2% of football player say is something they'd like to do. At least.)

Seattle had a much more complete and dangerous defense in 2013, and there's little reason to think that it won't improve next season with the addition of Williams (assuming he makes the team, which isn't guaranteed but seems more likely than Antoine Winfield a year ago, which seemed pretty likely) and an interesting and hungry young group of players looking to replace Clemons and Bryant.

And on top of all of that, the Seahawks amazing secondary from 2012, advanced to being a "historical secondary" in 2013. (Again, there was some sort of championship, or "ship," at the end of the year too. Can't confirm.)

Here is a continuation of the offensive numbers from earlier, moving onto the defense and the differences in some of their stats from 2012 (some with other teams) to 2013 and how things changed for the better for almost all of these players:

Cliff Avril (with Lions in 2012)

Snaps: -134

Sacks: -1.5

Tackles: -10

Penalties: +1

QB Hurries: +9

QB Hits: +5

Batted Passes: +1

Missed Tackles: -4 (0)

Forced Fumbles: +4

Stops: -7

Summary:

Despite an 18.9% reduction in playing time from his previous season with the Lions, Avril saw a 32.1% increase in QB Hurries, while doubling his total of QB Hits. He finished the season with eight sacks, only 1.5 fewer than his total in 2012, when he was playing nearly every down in Detroit.

His perfection of the "strick" technique with Bennett saw him go from two forced fumbles in 2012 to six in 2013. He also had 13 pass deflections over his first five seasons combined, and then seven last year alone.

What's next?

Players that were re-signed or extended to be with the team into 2015 include Bennett, Sherman, Thomas, and McDaniel, but Avril's two-year deal is set to expire next February. Will the team find money under the cap to re-sign Avril, while keeping in mind that other players who will be up for negotiation next year include Russell Wilson (extension), KJ Wright (free agent), Byron Maxwell (FA), Malcolm Smith (FA), and Bobby Wagner (potential extension)?

Releasing or re-negotiating with Marshawn Lynch next season should free up some money, but undoubtedly there will be some players in the coming years that it will be really hard to say goodbye too. And not in the Michael Robinson sense, where we love ya but it's over, or the Clemons and Bryant sense where we're snickering because the Jags are getting sloppy seconds, but in the sense that we know we're losing players that could have years of significant value left.

Avril and Bennett seem like a team we won't want to break up, but we'll have to see what happens. I don't expect his snaps to change significantly next year and hopefully his production stays the same, at least.

Michael Bennett (with Buccaneers in 2012)

Snaps: -368

Sacks: -0.5

Tackles: -16

Penalties: +3

QB Hurries: +4

QB Hits: +5

Batted Passes: -2

Missed Tackles: +2

Stops: -4

Summary:

Bennett was a severely-underrated end with the Bucs that signed a risky one-year deal with a team that only offered him about two-thirds of the snaps he had in Tampa Bay, but it paid off more than we could have imagined. In 368 fewer snaps, Bennett only had a touch fewer sacks, but had more hurries and hits playing next to his new teammates in Seattle. This included four forced fumbles, which was as many as he had in his first four seasons combined, plus his first career touchdown.

What's next?

Bennett signed a four-year deal with an $8 million signing bonus and a fully-guaranteed salary in 2014. He should also be a near-lock for 2015, and probably isn't going anywhere in 2016 either. It puts him on a similar timetable as Clemons a couple years ago, which means he'll be playing for Gus Bradley for the first time in 2017.

Bennett might see a little more playing time this season with two veterans gone in the front seven, as he tries to learn Cassius Marsh on how he do what he do. It was a scary sight to see Bennett carted off the field last year, but now he'll be carting gobs of cash into his beard.

Tony McDaniel (with Dolphins in 2012)

Snaps: +281

Sacks: +1.5

Tackles: +17 solo, +25 assists

Penalties: +1

QB Hurries: +12

QB Hits: +1

Batted Passes: Even

Missed Tackles: +3

Stops: +27

Summary:

If Pete Carroll and his staff have one talent as coaches that separates them from most everyone else, it's the ability to find size and make it do what you want it to do. A player like Jameson Konz might not work out, but every once in awhile it means you get a low-cost, no-risk player that becomes a vital and integral part of your football team.

As an example, the 6'7 McDaniel came into last season with five career starts and 31 career assisted tackles over a seven-year career. Last year with the Seahawks he made 15 starts and had 30 assisted tackles. (Tackles are a fickle and hard-to-trust bitch of a stat, but I'm going with PFR.)

His 33 stops were more than Mebane and McDonald, and they all three shared equal playing time.

What's next?

He signed a two-year deal that reasonably pays him less than $6 million. Teaming with Williams now instead of McDonald, things should stay relatively the same in 2014.

Brandon Mebane

Snaps: -97

Sacks: -3

Tackles: -10

Penalties: -6 (0)

QB Hurries: +17

QB Hits: +3

Batted Passes: -2

Missed Tackles: -4

Stops: -10

Summary:

In almost 100 fewer snaps, Mebane added 17 QB Hurries (per Pro Football Focus) from a year prior. He's one of the most underrated players in the game, and it's crazy to think that he's never made a Pro Bowl, even as an alternate.

What's next?

Mebane is a free agent in 2016. With everything else that the team has going on next offseason, I would wager that they won't extend Mebane. How they handle his contract status at that point is anyone's guess, but it will be interesting to see how one of the more unheralded defensive tackles reacts next season to playing next to one of the most heralded.

Bobby Wagner

Snaps: +3

Solo Tackles: +4

Assisted Tackles: +9

Sacks: +3

Interceptions: -1

FF: Even

Pass Deflections: +3

Penalties: -1

QB Hurries: Even

QB Hits: -3

Missed Tackles: -2

Stops: -4

QB Rating Against: +6.0

Summary:

When you've got three of the best secondary players in the NFL, it's easy to overlook the guys like Avril, Mebane, and Wagner. It'll be a lot harder to do when they hit free agency. Wagner was a top-rated inside linebacker in 2012, and stayed relatively close to his level of production as a sophomore linebacker.

What's next?

We saw a player like Chancellor take a step to the next level a year ago, will Wagner be a potential breakout star in 2014? And if so, how will they handle his rookie contract situation, set to expire in 2016? Whereas there seem to be options at outside linebacker, Wagner at the moment is the only player who seems apt to handle his position in the long-term future.

KJ Wright

Snaps: -257

Solo Tackles: -24

Assisted Tackles: +4

Sacks: +0.5

Interceptions: -1

FF: -1

Pass Deflections: -1

Penalties: -1

QB Hurries: -3

QB Hits: -2

Missed Tackles: -1

Stops: -9

QB Rating Against: +6.1

Summary:

Wright missed three games with injury, and he saw nearly two-thirds of his snaps go to Malcolm Smith last year, but overall his stats were relatively close to what he put up in 2012. While PFF grades have been called into question (it's always important to question things), we should still ask ourselves why Smith was graded so much higher than Wright a year ago?

PFF graded Smith as a top 10 OLB against the run, and had Wright as a liability in that category. Conversely, Wright was fifth in coverage, but Smith wasn't shabby, ranking 12th.

Overall, PFF had Smith as the fifth-best 4-3 OLB in the NFL last season, while Wright was 13th. Neither played 700 snaps, and neither will ever be Von Miller, but will either be re-signed next year?

What's next?

Smith might be the reigning Super Bowl MVP, but Wright would probably be more expensive in free agency if they were both on the market right now. They both will be on the market next year (assuming neither re-ups first) but is it possible that Smith is better than Wright? We'll most likely get a better idea next year, as Irvin could move back up close to the defensive line, and Smith earns a more regular role on the defense.

Malcolm Smith

Snaps: +316

Solo Tackles: +22

Assisted Tackles: +10

Sacks: +1

Interceptions: +2

FF: +1

Pass Deflections: +4

Penalties: +1

Super Bowl MVPs: +1

QB Hurries: Even (0)

QB Hits: +2

Missed Tackles: +3

Stops: +17

QB Rating Against: -6.8

Summary:

Three years after being a seventh round pick, and rarely mentioned as a player with a long-term future in Seattle, Smith went Full Disney at the Super Bowl in February. That was only after the fact that he took over for Wright in his absence, and the defense didn't miss a beat.

I'm sure it's a whirlwind of emotions for the baby-faced big man, but now is the time to settle down and really prove he's worth a big contract in 2015.

What's next?

Pretty much summed this up in the Wright paragraph. Smith and Wright are also relatively the same age.

Bruce Irvin

Snaps: +60

Solo Tackles: +26

Assisted Tackles: +2

Sacks: -6

Interceptions: +1

FF: Even

Pass Deflections: +2

Penalties: Even

QB Hurries: -5

QB Hits: -9

Missed Tackles: +1

Suspended Games: +4

Stops: +6

QB Rating Against: (Allowed QB rating of 56.0 in 2013)

Summary:

All of Irvin's differences from 2012 are somewhat inflated or deflated due to the fact that he moved from defensive end to outside linebacker. I think a lot of people looked at his sack totals and assumed he was doing a bad job because they were still judging him as a defensive end, while ignoring the fact that as a first-time outside linebacker, he wasn't bad. At times, he was really, really good.

What's next?

Well, we're going through it again, as Irvin could play in a number of different positions next year. No matter what's said now, a lot can change between now and September. Irvin is in that make-or-break mode where we want to know if he's actually going to be the star player that Carroll and John Schneider thought he'd be when they drafted him in the first round in 2012. Before they drafted Wagner. Before they drafted Wilson.

I still think Irvin can be great. If he takes over the Clemons role, he could be in the double-digit sack range next year.

Richard Sherman

Snaps: +23

Interceptions: Even (8)

Pass Deflections: -6

Passer Rating Against: -4.9

Tackles: -15

Assists: -1

Thrown At: -30

Completions Allowed: -12

Penalties: +4

Missed Tackles: -1

Touchdowns Allowed: -1 (1)

Summary:

Quarterbacks targeted Sherman in 2012, regretted it, targeted him 30 fewer times in 2013, and regretted it even more. Despite seeing 30, thirty, THIRTY, THIR-TY, fewer passes go his way, Sherman had the same number of interceptions last year. A league-leading eight of them.

How many targets will Mr. Madden see in 2014?

What's next?

How can you even try to answer this? Sherman is arguably at the beginning of one of the greatest careers for a cornerback in history. He might only get a couple of interceptions next season, but that doesn't mean he won't be more valuable.

And I highly doubt he'll only get a couple of interceptions.

Byron Maxwell

Snaps: +344

Interceptions: +4

Pass Deflections: +11

Tackles: +13

Assists: +1

Thrown At: +31

Completions Allowed: +18

Penalties: +4

Touchdowns Allowed: +2

Summary:

Sherman's impact should carry over directly to Maxwell. Assuming he starts opposite of Sherman for a full 16 games, which would mean another significant increase in snaps, the targets that aren't going in Sherman's direction will have to find their way somewhere.

Last season that meant they found their way into Maxwell's lap.

PFF graded him higher than Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden (which would be part of the reason why people don't trust the grades) and QBs had a passer rating of just 47.8 when throwing in Maxwell's direction. Only Sherman's passer rating against was lower.

What's next?

If Maxwell does a full season of work like he did in a partial season in 2013, he'll be getting paid mucho dinero by some team. I would be shocked if that team was the Seahawks, given their propensity for developing cornerback talent and their quickly-evaporating cap room for Pro Bowl players, but you never know. How players like Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon develop will be very telling.

Maxwell wasn't much of a known quantity a year ago either.

Earl Thomas

Snaps: +43

Solo: +36

Assists: +3

Interceptions: +2

Pass Deflections: +2

Missed Tackles: -3

Stops: -4

Penalties: +3

Thrown At: -10

Completions Allowed: -8

Passer Rating Allowed: +18.3

Summary:

Some people might call him the "setup man" because of how his presence sets the table for the 10 guys in front of him, but you could also call him the "closer" on account of how he closes out games with his ridiculously-good arsenal of skills. He's a regular Napoleon Dynamite when you think about it.

Though 10 fewer passes came his way, he managed to finagle two more interceptions than he did a year ago. He had a career-high 78 solo tackles, and over 100 in total. He's the best safety in the game.

What's next?

He keeps being the best safety in the game. Don't ask for more.

Kam Chancellor

Snaps: +24

Solo: +11

Assists: +32

Interceptions: +3

Pass Deflections: +8

Missed Tackles: -1

Stops: +4

Penalties: +3

Thrown At: -8

Completions Allowed: -3

Pass Rating Allowed: -19.1

Summary:

And after nearly 3,000 exhausting words about all of those guys, we finally hit Chancellor, arguably the most improved defensive player in the NFL last season and the MVP of the Seahawks playoff run. (Did they really win the Super Bowl?)

Chancellor is becoming as deadly in coverage as he is when his shoulder hits you in the heart. Seattle's timing on his contract extension a year ago was impeccable.

What's next?

Unlike the front seven, there's no reason to expect much in the way of changes in the back four, other than Maxwell's increase in snaps. You could say that it's the best unit in football, the catalyst to the Seahawks championship, and the reason that they'll be the number one contender to take the crown again. Is there room for more improvement in the secondary next year? Always.

What could it mean?

I don't know, but I'm looking forward to finding out the difference.

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