We logged on a couple of months back and told overzealous fans to calm down just a little bit as the Legion of Boom comparisons began flowing. Jamal Adams had been acquired and Quinton Dunbar, um, was never at that party.
This Seattle Seahawks secondary is certainly a legion, as nobody except Shaquill Griffin has survived throughout three games. However they’re not a legion of anything good, and it’s been historically stressful.
No defense in NFL history has allowed more passing yards in the first three games of the season than the Seahawks. It's not close.— Brian Nemhauser (@hawkblogger) September 28, 2020
1. SEA 1,292
2. NE 1,131 (2011)
3. SF 1,107 (2005)
4. HOU 1,106 (2010)
5. TAM 1,088 (2018)
So while I firmly believed the comps weren’t ready yet, I don’t think any of us could have seen the circus that has been the Seattle passing defense.
I asked myself “Who is responsible?” and came away with a few surprises.
Week 3 Power Rankings: Seahawks Defense
This is a very simple ranking system. It will have four tiers, beginning the worst and ending with the best. Let’s begin.
Tier 4: Please Leave
Tier 3: This is a problem
The secondary. Again, this is nothing new to anyone who has seen more than five minutes of Seattle football this year. It is bad, it has caused problems, but it also (might) not be quite as bad as it seems, or for quite the reasons one might think. Maybe.
The first hint towards this is the original secondary that the Seahawks coaching staff prepared this offseason has only played together for one game, and they actually were very good. Quinton Dunbar, Shaquill Griffin, Marquise Blair, Quandre Diggs, and Jamal Adams were on the field simultaneously against the Atlanta Falcons. And only the Atlanta Falcons. One half of an offensive drive by the New England Patriots does not count.
In that game against the Falcons, Jamal Adams led the team in tackles, but primarily at the line of scrimmage and not in deep coverage. Griffin was second, because Julio Jones. Normally a team doesn’t want their corners doing all the tackling because that means receivers are getting catches. Against Jones, sometimes you just have to smile it’s not a 12/210/3 line.
Atlanta put up 25, which is the lowest score against Seattle this year. But Matt Ryan only threw two TDs to one INT, had a passer rating under 100, and 17 incompletions. The 38-25 final score was not as representative as the 38-18 that existed until the garbage time free-for-all happened in the fourth quarter. The original five in their first game against ridiculous receivers were good. Yards don’t matter.
That being said, things do not go to plan in the NFL, and this team is not apparently built to withstand that in the backfield. Flowers is bad, listed above and in Winners and Losers. Griffin is the most baffling player on defense this year. His pick was very nifty indeed, but why in the world are we enduring big plays like this?
Diggs seems very mellow at the moment, which leaves just the last two fascinating pieces of this.
Ugo Amadi was the best defensive player on Sunday, not counting Bobby Wagner and Alton Robinson. If there’s one thing in 2020 I was not expecting, it’s that the Seahawks would lose Marquise Blair and that Amadi is playing, at least as well. Might be better.
The wrench in all this is, and will continue to be Jamal Adams. The coaches blitz Adams so often, they’re barely using him as a safety. He is so good going after the ball, the quarterback, the running back, anyone in the vicinity of the line of scrimmage really. Seattle uses him to help up front because he excels at it and they believe the team needs it. I think only one of those things is true.
This use of the strong safety has an undeniable effect on the back end, as quarterbacks are throwing against one less defender far more frequently than the Seahawks have showed in seasons past.
Tier 2: A man among boys, but also aging men
Bobby Wagner’s still got it. KJ Wright does not. Bruce Irvin never had a chance. Jordyn Brooks probably hasn’t even been properly hazed yet due to COVID restrictions.
But I mean this with all the respect in the world for one of the all-time Seattle legends: Wright is not so good in man coverage at the moment.
KJ Wright against a WR is probably not good pic.twitter.com/P5LidIQcng— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 27, 2020
Now who knows why Wright is one-on-one against some man named Cedrick Wilson but it’s not the best part of his game anymore.
To his credit Wright was stellar against the run, with two tackles for loss and more broken plays than that. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from Wright anymore, and one half of him is still really, really good.
But these are the types of things that are contributing to the poor passing performances. That’s 35 yards passing just on the clip above.
Wagner seems to be at the top of his game when Adams also draws attention. Beyond that, this group is not a plus against the pass. Against the run, absolutely. But this is not the group to shut down the underneath routes against three and four receiver sets.
Tier 1: Has it really come to this
It makes no sense whatsoever, but here we are.
Seahawks defense against the run:— Tyler Alsin (@TylerjAlsin) September 28, 2020
ATL - 3.4 ypc
NE - 2.7 ypc, includes Cam Newton
DAL - 2.9, and Zeke was even worse
Ezekiel Elliott has just 20 yard on 12 carries today as the #Seahawks run defense continues to be tremendous.— Joe Fann (@Joe_Fann) September 27, 2020
The pass defense, however, continues to be woeful. Prescott at 322 yards through 3 quarters.
The Seahawks looked 2020 in the eyes and said “Here’s what let’s do. We’ll stop running backs and make them not matter.” So far, opposing teams seem willing to oblige. By excelling against the run, teams have gone full-pass for three straight weeks.
The passing attempts against Seattle this season:
That’s 52.6 pass attempts per game average. The Dallas Cowboys have the highest pass rate this season, at 48.3 attempts per game. Last year, Atlanta led the league by almost five attempts per game, and they had a 42.8 attempt per game average. Teams are throwing against the Seahawks at a ridiculous and likely unsustainable rate.
It is because the secondary has struggled, sure, but it’s also because there’s no fans for these road games, because quarterbacks are playing well in empty stadiums, and because this Seattle defensive front is actually pretty good.
I think it needs to be said that this is not a pass rush problem. Here’s 2019 per-game averages through three games compared to the same stats for the 2020 season.
This Seahawks defense is on par with sacks, while actually ahead (significantly) in tackles for loss and QB hits per game. I’ve included passes defended, because seven of the 19 PD this year have not come from the secondary.
So to all those waiting for Clay Matthew or somebody to come “solve this pass rush” because it’s causing problems and resulting in a mile per game of passing - he can’t fix what’s not the weakness.
So again, this season has revealed that Flowers is terrible, the secondary is wildly inconsistent currently, the linebackers have strengths going forward and weaknesses going backwards, and that the defensive line is very good while often making people think it’s very bad. Hooray 2020.
Eventually this team will have Dunbar, Griffin, Diggs and Adams, on the field against somebody average, and it’s going to be a blowout.
Oh, I see the Miami Dolphins are up next.