The Seattle Seahawks finished the 2020 season 12-4 and champions of the NFC West. Important to coach Pete Carroll, they closed well, winning the final four games and six of the last seven.
Seattle’s strong finish came on the back of a near-miraculous defensive turnaround. The defense that seemed destined to set all-time horrible NFL records finished 23rd in the league in yards allowed.
For clarity, in mid-October the media noticed that the Seahawks were on pace to give up 7,500 yards and be the worst in NFL history by a bunch. Two months later, they lowered the average yards per game by a hundred.
One. Hundred. Yards per game improvement over 10 games.
Who does that?
Dare we say Ken Norton Jr. just did?
Speaking of mid-October, that was when the Atlanta Falcons fired Dan Quinn after five consecutive losses. He quickly became the emotional runaway favorite to replace Norton. Sports Illustrated said it, the 12th Man Rising said it, half of Brock and Salk said it.
But as time always proves, making decisions from the couch is harder than it seems. The Falcons’ defensive points per game during those five losses was 32.2 PPG. After Quinn was let go, Atlanta gave up 21.7 PPG for the remainder of the season until a meaningless Week 17 game.
Quinn was the former defensive coordinator in Seattle and had a heavy hand on the defense for the Falcons. In one respect it made perfect sense to call a former coach, with local Super Bowl experience, to assist the floundering Norton. Or take his job. Even some simple advice simple advice like “cut it out” would have been welcome. But the second half of the season showed Norton has the ability to fix in this team what Quinn could not on his. There are simply no guarantees that past success is any indication of a mid-season, cross-country change for positive.
People are still talking about “the meeting,” ahead of the defensive turnaround that began with the win over the Arizona Cardinals in the rematch. Whatever was wrong with this squad, hearing everyone else explain where they are going to be on each look and share specific assignments seems to have solved it.
Now if they can just do one of them fancy meetings and talk about 3rd down I can put money down on the Super Bowl.
Obviously an NFL coaching staff is enormous, and there are voices aplenty for every player and position group. But you have to give Norton the bulk of the credit for righting the ship. Additionally, it seems fair that at least some of the weight falls on his shoulders for the development and use of the new guys. This has been a wildly successful year for the growth (or fit-finding) for Jordyn Brooks, Alton Robinson, D.J. Reed, Ryan Neal, Poona Ford, Benson Mayowa, L.J. Collier, Ugo Amadi and L.J. Collier. I would include the creative freedom given to Jamal Adams, but you might not so let’s not write that part.
Regardless, we’re looking at nearly a dozen new or rookie-contract athletes who have played better this year than last year.
For all those who wanted Ken Norton fired when the planned secondary had played a couple of dozen snaps together, can you bite the bullet and celebrate the growth?
The Seahawks expected to play 2020 with starting cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar next to safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs. Now that Quinton's season is officially done, that group will have played just 77 snaps together, by my count.— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) December 23, 2020
There’s so much more to say about this side of the ball leading up to the playoffs, but this truly has become one of the best defenses in the NFC playoff bracket. They’ll look to shut down the Los Angeles Rams once again on Saturday.