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Seattle’s defense has been inconsistent, but is moving towards the real deal

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks took down the talented yet scuffling Philadelphia Eagles in Week 12 without much help from their offense. It was on the back of their defense – the phase Philadelphia was supposed to be much better at – that Seattle was able to emerge victorious and inch closer to a top seed for the NFC playoffs.

Two weeks ago it was Jadeveon Clowney who stole the show and earned Defensive Player of the Week honors. This week, he didn’t even suit up. The Sunday before, Bobby Wagner had a stellar performance, with 11 tackles, a sack, and a couple tackles for loss.

This week, it was a true team effort, led by four Hawks in particular. Tre Flowers, already having a good season, threw down his best performance of the year, and it’s not even close. K.J. Wright, quietly putting up good tackle numbers, had a 12-tackle day and absolutely wrecked the passing game. Bradley McDougald, greatly improved since the arrival of confident safety Quandre Diggs, hauled his first interception since Week 2 and added six tackles. Ezekiel Ansah, on the verge of becoming irrelevant in the wake of the almighty Shaquem Griffin’s arrival, had his first and second sacks of the season.

Seattle held the Eagles to 106 yards on the ground (only 79 to RBs), and 256 yards in the air. They picked off Carson Wentz twice, and forced an additional three fumbles. Yes, that’s five turnovers. It was all around one of the more oppressive defensive efforts by the Seahawks this year.

But it also came on a day when the offense struggled mightily. We saw Russell Wilson’s second interception in as many weeks and too many Seahawk fumbles to put into print. It begs the question, what would happen if the Hawks actually put a complete game together? Is such a thing even possible for a Pete Carroll team?

It’s bizarre that the current era of Seahawks win as consistently as they do, because they are inconsistent in almost every other area. They fumble (Weeks 1-3), they don’t fumble (Weeks 4-8), they fumble again (Weeks 9-12). They can’t get turnovers (Weeks 2-4, 7, 9), they get them in bunches (Week 1, Week 6, currently). They can’t run (Weeks 1-4, Week 7), they run like crazy (all the others). They can’t do anything except have Clowney on the roster, and then they recorded nine QB hits without him Sunday.

There is one constant for the Seahawks. One of the more defining features of Pete Carroll is that his teams always – always – play close games.

Meanwhile, their +29 point differential at 9-2 conveys their unique ability to win by an average of about four points.

It’s exciting, exhilarating, and excruciating. But it’s also baffling. Carroll’s Seahawks are apparently incapable of all being good at the same and dominating. Even when it feels like Seattle is dominating, they win by eight.

Furthermore, the defensive players in particular have been sharing the spoils. and though they came the closest to a truly complete defensive effort, there still is room to put it all together. Granted, defense sort of works like this. Most should still remember Tedric Thompson made probably the best defensive play of the year, and was widely regarded as terrible. He was in danger of finding the bench even before he landed on injured reserve.

But we’re at the point now – and I truly believe this – that since the arrival of Quandre Diggs and Jarran Reed, this team is and will be on the verge of elite until they get there.
Fact the first: New England has the best defense of 2019.
Fact the second: Per people of the Boston area who like numbers, it’s been one of the best defenses since the invention of football.
Fact the third: Seattle just held Philadelphia to one less point in their own stadium.

But boy, have they struggled with inconsistency. This is now two weeks in a row of improvement, and it provides a great deal of hope.

The Safeties

It all depends on how these Seahawks show up, because there’s a strange combination of youth and age on this defense. The safeties may be the lone exception, as those two are 29 and 26 years old, far from dropping off in terms of talent. McDougald plus Diggs looks to be very good, and it could be great. Pete Carroll raved about Quandre after the game. Check out this endorsement from the head coach, and I want you to pay special attention to the level of technical and specific detail that Pete provides on Diggs’ play:

“He’s doing stuff. I’m really excited about him.”

What more can be said?

The Linebackers

Pressing on, the three-headed linebacker monster is…confusing. The trio is good, is constantly referred to as very good by the media, and probably could be great. But it seems like they take turns having strong outings, and never seem to do it at the same time. Furthermore, Bobby Wagner’s season has been very un-Wagner like. I don’t know if it’s age. At times Mychal Kendricks looks like the best LB of the bunch, at times he’s a coverage liability.

The Corners

The cornerbacks are individually capable of being the first couple guys left out of the Pro Bowl.

On the one hand, Pro Football Focus’ Seattle Seahawks feed has this weird obsession with Shaquill Griffin. They drop stuff like this all the time:

On the other hand, many others have their own weird obsession with Tre Flowers, and rightfully so.

But again, while Griffin is the more consistent of the two, Flowers’ big games have been more sporadic. I think he’s still the better tackler (especially one-on-one), but last night was by far his most complete performance. This was the first time it felt like Seattle had two shutdown corners, albeit against...some receivers, plus Carson shoulda-kept-Foles Wentz.

The Followers of Clowney

Finally, the defensive line has been the most consistent of the bunch. Consistently terrible.

We wrote about it. A bunch. But all of a sudden, they’re stupidly good at pressuring quarterbacks whether or not Clowney is on the field, and against two supposedly good offensive lines in SF and Philadelphia. Ezekiel Ansah showed up in a big way, doing mean things to big guys like Jason Peters. As good as his line looks with tackles for loss and QB hits, he had an additional strip sack called back for Shaquill Griffin’s uncharacteristic holding penalty. Quinton Jefferson was good again, Shaquem Griffin is very fast, and wow is it nice to make excuses for the opposing offensive line instead of for our own pass rush for a change.

For Seattle to make the playoffs at 9-2, they need to make sure they catch their flights and wake up on time to get to Century Link. For them to win a playoff game, they need probably two of the four defensive groups to play at a high level. To make a deep run against complete squads like the New Orleans Saints or a Baltimore Ravens rematch, they need at least three. If the offense doesn’t fumble.

Who are we kidding? Fine so if the Seahawks want to make a real run at this thing they need a complete defensive performance. But they’ve got the talent to do it, no question.

What this could look like if the Seahawks put it all together against elite teams:

· An above average run-stopping team, led by Al Woods, Jadeveon Clowney and Bobby Wagner. They’re 11th in the NFL in opposing rush yards per game, and quickly gaining on six of the teams ahead of them.

· A very adept pass rush, good enough to frazzle any second-tier or lower quarterbacks, and probably good enough to get a couple sacks per game to keep offenses honest. Led by - again - Jadeveon Clowney, but also Jarran Reed, and definitely Shaquem Griffin because heartstrings.

· A pair of corners who can get beat by some of the top receivers (i.e. Mike Evans), but pretty well shut down everyone else. Wentz was only able to average 5.7 yards per attempt on Sunday.

· A safety duo that does not rival Earl and Kam, but gets close to any pair out in the NFL at the moment. Diggs adds some much needed big hit ability to the team further back than Clowney / Woods. Diggs and McDougald have played two games together and they’ve taken the ball away three times already.

· The middle of the field will apparently forever be an issue for this franchise.

· I haven’t seen anything yet to indicate that they can stop QB runs either, as Carson Wentz gained 27 yards without really doing anything besides go forward.

I think this roster is now more talented than the San Francisco defense everywhere except the line and whichever third of the field contains Richard Sherman. I think they’re as inconsistent as the New Orleans Saints have been, and Green Bay doesn’t make any sense. Seattle’s got plenty more tough matchups ahead of them to close out the season, but are a near impossibility to miss the playoffs. This is the time to tweak, to gel, and to find out how in the name of all that is holy, that twenty-two athletes can play a good game at the same time. I’d even settle for fifteen or so.