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Ken Norton Jr isn’t out of the woods just yet

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

At the midway point of last season, Brian Schottenheimer was still getting praise for letting Russell Wilson cook and Ken Norton Jr was running a staggeringly inept defense that necessitated the Seattle Seahawks having to win a style of shootout football that they’ve historically tried to avoid.

By the end of the season, the switch had flipped and Schotty was gone while Norton remains on the coaching staff after a substantial defensive improvement at a time when the Seahawks offense had gone cold. DVOA ranked the Seahawks as bang-on average, which is important to note given this metric takes into account strength of opponent.

In Norton’s defense (no pun intended), Jamal Adams missed several games due to injury and he did not have a true quality pass rusher on the defensive line until the Carlos Dunlap trade, which clearly proved pivotal with his presence.

Buuuuuuut do you remember that slate of quarterbacks the Seahawks faced?

I didn’t really count John Wolford because he played a handful of snaps before getting injured in the postseason game against the Rams.

With the exception of Goff, Seattle played exclusively quarterbacks who were backups or were benched for their backups from the end of November through their playoff exit. You could say their defensive turnaround started in earnest against the Arizona Cardinals, in which case Kyler Murray prevents this from being wholly underwhelming.

You can say that Norton is “just running Pete’s defense” but no one has run it more poorly than him. Seattle’s DVOA in his three seasons as DC are 17th, 21st, and 16th respectively. The regular season EPA/play was 13th in 2018 before tapering off to 19th in 2019 and improving slightly to 18th in 2020. Mediocre at best and ruinous at worst. Dominating awful offenses is nothing to champion, it’s what you’re supposed to do.

It is true that Seattle’s defensive talent is nowhere near its peak Legion of Boom years, but the cupboard is not bare. But the safety pairing of Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs should be considered among the top in the NFL. Bobby Wagner is still performing at a high level and Jordyn Brooks impressed towards the back-end of his rookie season. Seattle re-signed Carlos Dunlap (after cutting him first) and Benson Mayowa, added Kerry Hyder Jr, and hopefully we will see Darrell Taylor make his debut after not playing last year.

I am not expecting a top-5 unit or an LOB redux. None of this is likely to happen and you have to adjust your expectations accordingly. But far too often under Norton and especially against teams with competent offenses/quarterbacks they have not been up to the task. If we get more of the same inconsistency in 2021 then it’s hard to justify Ken staying into 2022.