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The Seahawks miss Ken Norton Jr.

Detroit Lions v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

When the curtain came down on the 2021 season for the Seattle Seahawks, many fans were convinced that one of the biggest issues facing the team was defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. The man who had been in charge of a defense that finished 11th in the NFL in points allowed, but whose defense had been dinked and dunked all the way down the field so many times that time of possession was ridiculously lopsided.

The ranking of 11th in points allowed was tied for the highest of any KNJ-coordinated defense during his seven seasons as a defensive coordinator for the Hawks and the then Oakland but now Las Vegas Raiders. There was no shortage of rejoicing when it was announced in January that Seattle and KNJ would be going separate ways for the 2022 season, and while the 2022 season is just five games young, Seattle fans would love for the team to be anywhere near 11th in points allowed per game. Instead, the 2022 iteration of the Seahawks bend but don’t break defense has broken quite a lot in recent weeks and is currently next to last in the league for points allowed.

So, what’s the deal? What’s going on with the defense and why can’t it stop anyone?

Injuries and inexperience have combined to create a secondary that is an adventure at times, to say the least. The veterans signed in free agency to play cornerback, Sidney Jones, Artie Burns and Justin Coleman, have logged just 101 defensive snaps between them with Coleman accounting for more than half of those snaps. That opened the door for Tariq Woolen, Coby Bryant and Mike Jackson to lay claim to the starting roles, and while those three have provided a spark and generated some big plays, with Jackson and Woolen each having scored a touchdown already on the young season.

Meanwhile, while the youth in the cornerback room has been flashing their potential and developing as one would hope, the front seven has been an entirely different story. The veteran defensive line was expected by many to be the leaders of the group, and to continue the strong performance they showed against opponents on the ground in 2021. Instead, exactly the opposite has happened. The defensive line has been blasted off the ball regularly, which has led to subpar performances from the linebackers, a group that is absolutely brimming with youth and talent, but which has so far failed to deliver on that potential in 2022.

Which brings about the question why are the linebackers struggling, and the simple answer may be that the youth and potential may not be getting the coaching needed to reach its ceiling. The development of Jordyn Brooks, Cody Barton and Darrell Taylor had, at least to some extent, been under the watchful eye of KNJ, who may not be cut out for being a defensive coordinator, but who has a proven track record of success in developing linebackers.

Whether it’s Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith, Khalil Mack or any of the other linebackers he helped develop, there is zero questioning Norton’s ability to develop talent at the linebacker position. And his absence seems like a ready answer for the reason why Brooks may be unperforming relative to prior seasons, while Taylor seems to have fallen off the map. After a 6.5 sack season in 2021, expectations were through the roof for Taylor, who is currently sitting at just a single sack heading into Week 6. Add in that Taylor was benched for Darryl Johnson heading in to Week 4 before an injury gave the starting role back to Taylor, and the amount of optimism for the next 12 games has certainly dipped when it comes to discussing Taylor.

All that said, there is still plenty of time for the defense and the front seven to right the ship during the 2022 season, the question is simply whether they will and whether it will be enough. To this point in the season, it seems apparent that the defense has yet to adjust to not just the new scheme, but to the new style of coaching as well. So, while the players still have time to develop and perform in the new scheme under new coaches, so far defensively the 2022 season feels a lot like tripping over oneself.