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Seattle’s corners are far outperforming the team’s pass defense

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Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Something doesn’t feel quite right with the Hawks defense right now.

The conversation in the days following Seattle’s win over the Atlanta Falcons centered on whether the Seahawks are the worst 6-2 in the league, maybe in quite a while. Primarily, it’s baffling how Seattle 1) keeps giving up ridiculous numbers in the passing game, yet 2) wins every one of those types of games.

As noted, the Seahawks have given up massive passing yards to the offensive warlords known as Andy Dalton, Jared Goff and Matt Ryan Schaub.

But it’s difficult to figure out the source of this (apart from blaming pass rush) because Seattle’s corners are, at minimum, pretty good. The more they play, the more it looks like they’re well above average.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers comes to town, there’s every indication that Chris Godwin and company will have another huge day against the Seahawks. My contention is that if they do, it’s not going to be the fault of Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers.

Take the final two drives of the Falcons game as a micro example:

On the first of the two, five pass plays in a row went to receivers covered by anyone except Shaq Griffin. He wasn’t targeted once. Bobby Wagner broke up the two point conversion attempt, but receivers were open on the drive far away from Griffin.

The final drive again saw five pass plays. Two of them came against Griffin, but one was a ridiculous catch by Julio Jones, and the other was some five yard comeback nonsense. Shaq was protecting deep on the play.

His play Sunday was consistent with the massive improvement Griffin has made from year two to year three.

In fact, across the board, the numbers that Griffin is putting up are really good. Take a look at the yards per target, rating, and YAC (yards after catch) in particular.

Seattle is currently almost worst in the NFL, giving up 6.2 yards per play. Griffin is under that every single time he’s targeted. His 36 yards after catch are absolutely ridiculous. Though it’s a bit of a fluid stat depending on how subjectively the film is judged, Pro Football References has Shaq as one of the best in the league. For comparison, New England Patriots’ CB Stephon Gilmore has allowed 63 such yards this season. Compatriot Jason McCourty has given up 71. Richard Sherman sits at 63 as well.

Below was even before the game against Atlanta, where he improved his grade to 80.9.

Tre Flowers, meanwhile, is having his best year as well. Most of his numbers aren’t as impressive as Griffin’s, but the converted safety is playing pretty darn well. His 79.4 passer rating when targeted is even better than Shaq.

Tre Flowers missed playing in Atlanta but had his best game of the year against Baltimore. He’s got four more tackles than Shaquill Griffin in one less game. While typically you don’t want corners having tons of tackles (if it means their guy is always catching the ball), Tre is an ex-safety who reads routes and run plays extremely well. He’s good at hitting dudes he’s not necessarily in charge of hitting.

In my opinion he’s been the best tackler on the team not named Bobby Wagner, ranging from open field savvy:

To big hits against bigger opponents:

In the middle of all this, Seattle’s pass defense as a whole keeps slipping. they’ve now fallen down to 19th in the league for pass DVOA.

So what’s going on? Some blame Mychal Kendricks, some the scheme, and undeniably the safeties have been inconsistent.

However, it’s absolutely worth noting that the Seahawks usually win every time a QB goes “off”, in this case defined by throwing for over 400 yards.

Not just that the Seahawks 9-4, but they’re 7-0 under Pete Carroll. Let’s make it 8-0 if we round Jared Goff’s 395 yards up to an even 400.

So, in summation:

1) the Seahawks are very bad stopping the pass (in terms of yards) and below average defending it as a whole (in terms of overall efficiency).
1b) However, they seem to win more the more an opposing quarterback throws.

2) Seattle’s corners are playing well, in the case of Tre Flowers, and very well in the case of Shaquill Griffin.

3) Seattle’s linebackers are just sort of tossed around as being an elite group in casual conversation - did anybody else pay attention to the man crush for Mychal Kendricks from the broadcast on Sunday??

Therefore, I have no idea what the problem is. Or even if there’s a problem. They’re a 6-2 team that people seem to feel bad about. Primarily because of the defense.

However, one thing is clear. These is the best WR duo that Seattle will have faced to date. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are legit. If Tampa Bay sticks to one-on-one matchups against the corners, this will certainly be a fascinating test for both Seattle’s young players. If the Bucs instead elect to wreak havoc in the middle of the field (i.e., the Los Angeles Rams game), then we’ll be hoping for another 400 passing yard loss for an opponent.