I could sit here and pick plays and explain the mechanics of what has been hurting the Seahawks in all three of their losses, but we know what's been happening, we know the things that are wrong with this team. Sacks and turnovers are way down and shorter, safer throws are up. When it's 3rd and 7+, it's about to be first down for Seattle opponents.
It's hard to put the last two losses all on the defense. The offense struggled to move the ball in the first half last week and special teams failed to do their job, setting up the Rams with a short field after Seattle kicked a field goal. Fake punts, bad kicks or coverage left the Rams with 14 points alone. It just feels like the team is plugging two holes on a boat only to have four more appear.
However, all is not lost! Rather than just break down some plays and walk you through mechanics, I have decided to tackle just how the Seahawks can re-tool two phases of their defense to at least slow down teams and give their offense a better chance for success. I also think the Seahawks need to handle two other attitude or perspective points to better mentally handle what has been a pretty tough sled so far in 2014.
Getting Back To Their Roots
I advocated last week for clearing Michael Bennett off of the base defense, but with the Cassius Marsh injury that's probably no longer possible. With Jordan Hill down right now as well, it's even less likely that Seattle has anything resembling a NASCAR package at the moment. However, they need to focus on stopping the run on first and second down. Seattle is faced with a unique problem of not having natural run defenders on the outside. Cliff Avril is awful and Bennett looks lost.
Let me explain why edges are so important and why a refocused effort needs to be made or personnel tailored to this task. You'll hear a term sometimes called "Setting the edge" This means the ends will keep the tackles or edges short, creating easy tackling fits for the LBs.
When I covered the run defense woes following both St. Louis and Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, I talked about the linebackers being attached on a string with each other. Now it's not so much linebackers struggling as it is the edges getting obliterated, ends getting moved all the way to the numbers or close, forcing linebackers to get wider and wider to track the back and what we saw these last two games is teams stretching Seattle out and then snapping the rubber band with runs inside as linebackers became too spread out.
Another disappointing element in a full re-review of Dallas and a focused in review of St. Louis revealed that Kevin Williams is in fact in the twilight of a brilliant career and no where near replacement level for the guys Seattle lost in the offseason. He's been a zero impact player, worse than Alan Branch and he has specifically participated in some of these run stopping struggles the last two weeks.
As sometimes happens, fundamental disagreement cropped up on twitter with my assessment here. John Morgan (@LesserNesser on twitter if you don't follow him, do so now) thought the run defense was fine overall, and according to a link he posted to advanced football analytics, he's correct. Maybe he is, Seattle hasn't had consistently bad run defense -- a few collected plays, and then a big run here or there.
So let me explain my reasoning here.
1) There is no pass rush depth, and so hitting your head against a brick wall to squeeze blood from stone won't be useful, and the last two weeks have seen Seattle give up more than 4.5 yards per carry in the first half without skewing stats by taking out long runs. This is something you have personnel to control.
2) Play action has become deadly off this early run success burying Seattle in early holes or eventually stretching the defense to a difficult stop on 3rd and shorts. The last two weeks have seen teams not throwing from 3 and 7 plus often enough. The only way to force that against running teams like the last 2 weeks is to try and eliminate play action from the equation.
When you stop the run on first and second down you deny play-actions and you force deeper throws,which create better pass rush chances. Seattle doesn't have a rush currently, and so the opportunity is all you can ask to get to and hope your secondary can make a couple of plays.
Fix The Redzone Defense
There have been injuries, I get that, but this has been a really really bad weak point of this team for the first time since 2010. Teams are scoring at a rate unseen even in 2012 when they had no pass rush on the road. Kam Chancellor has been a particular weak point being late to several throws, and Marcus Burley looks lost in this package. I think it's time to plug Jeron Johnson in in these down and distances. It's the only option rather than to keep letting teams target Seattle's injured enforcer.
Right now, Seattle has really elected to switch roles, with Kam playing back and Earl acting as an extra DB, picking up receivers in man to man coverage. This is not ideal and with Burley struggling and a tough injury to Maxwell needing to be survived, Kam on the field, in the redzone specifically, is hurting you right now.
If you can force field goals instead of touchdowns, you'll at least give yourself a chance to win, but if points continue to leak at this rate and you can't stop the run, it's looking to me more like like 6-10 than 10-6, unless the offense starts throwing 45 times a game and putting up 30+ points.
The Defense Needs To Stop Playing The Blame Game
Bruce Irvin talking about shorter throws messing up rush rhythms and rush success sticks in my craw. Yes that's happening, it's true, but this outward vocalization, particularly to the media, has me questioning whether or not this team has the mental toughness to play 16 games at a high level. Are we gonna see guys start to finally pack it in if there are few more tough losses? Bruce Irvin isn't a leader, so maybe you don't take his words as harshly as I do.
Here's What Earl Thomas said:
"We're not just playing football out here, we're playing the refs too"
This isn't a good sign when Earl is speaking out like this as one of your leaders. Seattle led the league in penalties last year, but not a peep was heard about that, when they were winning.
(Fans: Peep, Peep, PEEEEEP!)
Okay, Okay, yes fans did complain about it but it wasn't even ref blaming, fans mostly heaped on Pete Carroll, and the cost of business, as The Groz would say. Now, all the sudden, a few close losses and the winds have changed to NFL Conspiracy Hour worthy of NinersNation.
This attitude is dangerous in a struggling team and it can help you complete the full free-fall necessary to wind up 6 and 10
One Game At A Time
I know fans and players were thinking about repeating as Super Bowl champs and so were the players. Every loss has felt that mental lift to the Lombardi trophy become that much harder to envision. It's crushing us as fans and it seems to be making the players pressure themselves every week, instead of just playing. (This is based on quotes lack of production and other factors.) This also puts pressure on guys like Burley, Marsh, Hill and others too. This team from my perspective just doesn't look like it's going out there and playing football, it looks like it's trying to be Super Bowl champs.
So that's my take after six games, what's yours?