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The Seahawks defense keeps wasting great field position

Seattle Seahawks v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks defense has struggled, to say the least. Some of it has been minor to serious injuries at all three levels from defensive line to secondary, a lot of it has just been very underwhelming play for essentially the third straight season.

One of the obvious things that has to be corrected after the bye week is their own ability to get off the field. Last year they ranked 31st in punts/drive, and this year they are dead last. Less than 20% of all drives they have faced this season have ended in a punt, while everything else has ended in a score, turnover on downs, or an actual turnover. Usually the sign of a great defense is that in addition to turnovers, they also force a lot of punts. Seattle has literally not had a single game this season in which their opponent punted more than three times. Meanwhile, Michael Dickson has punted at least four times in all but one game.

Now what makes this year’s inability to force punts more glaring is that they have consistently been gifted favorable field position by Dickson, Jason Myers, and/or the coverage units. Seahawks opponents have only had one drive all year start at midfield or Seattle territory, and that was last week when Russell Wilson was picked off by Eric Wilson.

Seattle’s opponents have the worst average starting field position in the NFL at (rounding up) their own 21-yard line. The Seahawks have had 21 defensive drives in which their opponents started at or inside their 20-yard line, and 10 of them have ended in scores (7 field goals, 3 touchdowns). A scoring rate of 47.6% ranks 25th in the NFL, and none of the teams worse than them is higher than 15th in defensive DVOA. Minnesota has a 50% scoring rate allowed but that’s out of just four drives. Seattle’s seven field goals allowed is the worst in the league and tied for the worst percentage.

If you want to be really freaked out, seven of the 21 drives have ended in punts, which means more than half of Seattle’s punt-forcing drives came with very favorable field position. You can figure out what usually happens when teams aren’t closer to their own end zone than they are midfield. The turnovers are essentially the only thing preventing the Seahawks from giving up points way over half the time, and I suppose that’s a positive that they can come up with such big plays when needed.

I don’t know about you, but the purpose of a “bend but don’t break” defense should not be letting teams get into scoring position time and time again and hoping for field goals. We are fortunate that the Seahawks offense has been a touchdown machine because *in John Madden voice* usually giving up points is not a good thing.

For the Seahawks to be even an average defense, they need to do more than just rely on the high variance that is creating turnovers. For example, the Seahawks forced 13 turnovers in a four-game stretch in 2019 and then ended the final four games with zero takeaways and a 1-3 record. They’ll have to get third down stops and force more punts or else I think you know how this season is going to end, and it’s not with a happily ever after.

No team has had more defensive snaps through five games than the Seahawks. Some of this is actually on the offense because they have been a boom or bust unit with a lot more boom (touchdowns) than bust (punts), but they’ve also had a pretty high three-and-out and punting rate. Ultimately, the onus is on this defense that has otherwise been responsible for its own inability to get off the field in a timely manner.