For a good while there, it looked like the Seattle Seahawks had fixed their dreadful run defense from 2022. From Weeks 1-8, the Seahawks ranked 8th in EPA/play and 1st in success rate*. Huzzah!
*Success rate is traditionally defined as gaining 40% of needed yards on first down, 60% on second down, and 100% on third- and fourth-down.
Then Uchenna Nwosu got hurt, and the good times ended.
Nwosu is not only one of the team’s best pass rushers, he’s also one of the best run defenders. On an otherwise poor run defense, Nwosu was one of the few bright spots on last year’s squad.
Perhaps there is no correlation = causation to be had here, but the splits are damning (via Rbsdm.com):
Weeks 1-7: Seahawks run defense with Nwosu in the lineup
EPA/play: 8th (-0.162)
Success Rate: 1st (31.4%)
Weeks 8-12: Nwosu not in the lineup
EPA/play: 32nd (0.072)
Success Rate: 30th (46.5%)
Week 12 isn’t over yet but only the Indianapolis Colts are close to unseating Seattle at the bottom. All quarterback scrambles are excluded, so these are pure designed rushes.
Unlike DVOA, these stats don’t factor opponent quality; in fairness, the schedule does matter and the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are two of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. Nwosu being there or not may not have made much of a fundamental difference in the outcome. But they also allowed a 43% success rate against the Cleveland Browns and Washington Commanders, as well as 40% against the Los Angeles Rams. Neither the Commanders nor Rams had big statistical days on the ground, but the Rams’ comeback was significantly driven by their ability to generate positive rushing plays and drain precious time off the clock.
Since Week 8, almost 31% of all run plays (including scrambles) against the Seahawks are going for first downs or touchdowns, the 4th-highest rate in the NFL. From Weeks 1-7, it was just 22.8% and one of the best marks in the league.
Maybe the increased schedule difficulty would have exposed all of the flaws on this team in the most troubling ways possible. I’m of the opinion that Nwosu’s absence has made a huge impact on Seattle’s entire defense, but especially the run. If he’s healthy, Frank Clark never signs here and Darrell Taylor doesn’t have his role increased. PFF grades indicate that Clark, Taylor, and Derick Hall are all ruinously terrible run defenders, and Nwosu’s presence would see to it that Clark isn’t playing, Taylor may very well have been traded already, and Hall’s playing time would be restricted to passing downs. Instead, you have a thin rotation at outside linebacker that’s getting badly exposed every week.