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The Seahawks should not keep Ken Norton Jr as defensive coordinator next season

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Norton converts a 3rd down pass against his defense.
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The end of the Seattle Seahawks’ season was fittingly because the defense couldn’t make stops on 3rd and 9 or 3rd and 8 to get the ball back in Russell Wilson’s hands for a chance at a tremendous comeback win over the Green Bay Packers. You may recall that essentially the same thing happened last year against the Dallas Cowboys, when Dak Prescott scrambled on 3rd and 10+ for a dagger of a first down late in the 4th quarter.

Ken Norton Jr cannot get another season as Seahawks defensive coordinator. He has overseen the two worst defenses of the Russell Wilson era. They were 14th in DVOA last year and were 18th this year despite often looking so much worse than that.

Outside of takeaways — the Seahawks were 3rd in takeaways but managed none over the final four weeks — there’s practically nothing this defense has done at an above-average level in 2019. Here are some relevant stats pulled from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Reference:

  • 31st in punts per drive
  • 32nd in third-downs forced
  • 32nd in early-down first downs
  • 26th in red zone defense
  • 28th in pressure rate
  • 29th in yards after catch allowed
  • 29th in tackles for loss in passing situations
  • 29th in missed tackle
  • 26th in run defense by DVOA

Now oddly enough, they were 16th in third-down defense through the regular season. Unfortunately, they were 9/14 against Green Bay and that’s essentially the difference in this game. The defense actually was able to force third downs and then couldn’t get off the field.

In Norton’s defense (no pun intended), this is a unit that has been affected by injuries to Jadeveon Clowney, Ziggy Ansah, the suspensions of Jarran Reed and Al Woods, but they were far healthier than the offense throughout the year and performed at a sub-optimal level on a routine basis. The pass rush never improved, the refusal to get out of base defense was a product of not having a proper nickel corner, and the safety position was an utter horror show every week that didn’t involve Quandre Diggs. We would certainly be talking a lot differently about this season if not for the brilliance of Russell Wilson.

As for who should replace Ken? I honestly don’t know, but Norton’s track record as DC both in Seattle and Oakland has been atrocious. I’m not expecting a repeat of the 2013 team, and especially not when the recent draft classes have failed to replicate that “lightning in a bottle” moment from the 2010-2012 drafts, but I do expect baseline competence that this year I have seldom seen.

You can bemoan Pete Carroll’s ultimately fatal decision to punt on 4th and 11 all you want and I will fully understand why. A defense should be able to step up when called upon, and instead we got to see Norton send Jadeveon Clowney into coverage with the damn season on the line. Norton may have been a quality linebackers coach and by all accounts is well-liked by the Seahawks roster, but the results tell you that his future on this team should not involve him as defensive coordinator.