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The Seahawks’ defense faces an uphill battle Sunday against the Colts

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Despite who they have under center, don’t overlook the Colts this Sunday.

Indianapolis is likely to cause problems for the Seahawks’ defense all day long, and have a good shot at tearing up the Seahawks’ secondary in the same way that plenty of Seattle’s opponents did in the first half of the 2020 season.

The number one problem that caused Seattle to bleed yards profusely on the defensive side of the ball last year was the inability to put pressure on the quarterback. Although the acquisition of Carlos Dunlap did assist in improving the team’s pass-rush, there’s no doubt in my mind that the team’s defensive stats for the second half of the season were at least decently inflated by the incredibly weak strength of schedule.

With that being said, the Colts have an elite offensive line (second-ranked by PFF entering 2021) and an average quarterback, a combination which tortured Seattle defenders frequently last year. The Patriots, with the now-released Cam Newton and the 4th-ranked 2020 offensive line (per PFF), put up 464 yards of offense against the ‘Hawks. The third-ranked Rams line and their mediocre quarterback Jared Goff managed to beat Seattle twice in three tries last year, in large part thanks to their pass protection.

While Seattle did play well against strong offensive lines like Washington later in the year, they never really performed well against this particular combination seen on the Colts (the Football Team is excluded due to Dwayne Haskins’ particular inability to play the quarterback position).

Historically speaking, it shouldn’t be too much harder to beat Carson Wentz than it was to beat Haskins, even though Wentz is clearly the better player. The Seahawks are 5-0 against Wentz since he joined the NFL in 2016, and a Wentz-led team has never managed to score more that 17 points against the ‘Hawks. However, behind a good line, most NFL starters can look like Pro Bowlers. And let’s not forget that the Seahawks made nearly every quarterback they faced in 2020 look much better than they really are (including Colt McCoy).

Of course, the Colts’ offensive line helps boost their run game, too. Jonathan Taylor is poised for a breakout year, and Nyheim Hines can provide a change of pace on the ground and excel in the passing game. Should Wentz struggle, Taylor is a true workhorse back who is capable of carrying the offense at any time.

Let me be clear: I think the Seahawks’ defense is better than it was when it struggled against Newton’s Patriots, and that real improvements have been made, especially along the defensive line. It’s just a matter of how drastic these improvements really are. I’m just not convinced that this defense is ready to perform well against an elite offensive line yet alongside a competent quarterback and coach (and let us not forget the loss of Jarran Reed, either). I’d love to be proven wrong, but right now I just have this sinking feeling that Wentz is going to light us up, and frankly, it’s not an unfounded sentiment.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Seahawks’ defensive backfield in this equation as well. As much as we like to ignore them, there are still questions around Jamal Adams’ coverage abilities, even though he is now healthy. Tre Flowers doesn’t inspire confidence in me at cornerback, either, and whoever starts across from him isn’t going to be a game-changing player, either (at least in a positive sense).

Generally, I like to be optimistic about the Seahawks. For example, I think the team’s offense will blow the solid Colts’ defense out of the water Sunday with its complexity and tempo. But last season (especially the first half) still looms large in my mind, and there are plenty of reasons (including weak competition and the losses of key players like Jarran Reed and Shaquill Griffin) to believe that the defense is not out of the woods yet, despite some solid performances towards the end of 2020. The Colts present a group of offensive personnel that just adds to the threat of collapse.