It’s time again for Four Downs, our weekly look at four pressing questions from the previous day’s Seahawks game, in this case an unhappy 44-34 loss at Buffalo.
Answering four questions are Seattle Times Seahawks beat writers Adam Jude and Bob Condotta:
Question 1: Pete Carroll, we all know, might be the most optimistic coach in NFL history. Is there truly reason to be optimistic about this defense going into the second half of the season?
Jude: Sure there is. The biggest reason to believe this defense will get better: It can’t get any worse, right? (Right?)
Because, like, literally, it has never been worse, like, ever. The Seahawks are allowing 456 yards per game and remain on pace to break the NFL record for yards allowed in a season (7,042 by the 2012 Saints).
Sunday in Buffalo, the Seahawks were outplayed and out-coached. Carroll acknowledged he was surprised at the Bills’ pass-heavy game plan. Which is baffling. Buffalo has been one of the most aggressive passing teams in the league, and more to the point, why would anyone not throw against this Seattle secondary? In defense of Seattle’s coaches, though, they don’t have the personnel to execute an ideal defensive plan right now, and that no doubt was why they came out in the soft zone coverage they did. Yes, injuries have been a factor, particularly at cornerback. But the game plan has to be better, too, and both of those issues combined gives ample reason to be more pessimistic about this defense in the season’s second half.
Condotta: I feel a little less optimistic today than I did a week ago for one reason — now that we are past the trade deadline, the personnel at this point is basically what it’s going to be, other than getting guys like Shaquill Griffin back from injury and adding Damon Harrison (though the fact the team hasn’t thought it necessary to make him active the past two weeks might mean we should temper expectations) and more fully integrating Carlos Dunlap.
The hope is always that young players will begin to really come on in the second half of the year, as happened commonly early in the Carroll era (most specifically 2011, when Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor first became starters). But the results feel pretty mixed so far about young guys like Alton Robinson (36 snaps with no stats Sunday) and Jordyn Brooks (22 snaps with two tackles Sunday) and whether they can make the kind of quantum improvement at this point in the roles they are in to make a huge difference. And then there is the fact guys like Quinton Dunbar are dealing with injuries that may never really get better this season.
Question 2: What’s one fix this defense has to make right now?
Condotta: Maybe begin to fully realize what the personnel can and can’t do and accept that and play to those strengths and weaknesses more fully. Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network passed along an interesting stat Monday about Seattle’s scheme, citing stats from Pro Football Focus. Stated Jeremiah: “According to @PFF, the Seahawks were in cover 0 for 11.8% of their snaps & cover 1 for 33.8% of their snaps vs BUF. That’s WAY too much man coverage for that secondary.’’ Carroll basically acknowledged that after the game, saying they needed to “help’’ the secondary a little more. The problem there is that Seattle played as much man as it did to try to put more pressure on Josh Allen, which brings it all back to getting more pressure out of a four-man rush. Seattle did that at times Sunday and maybe they just have to play more of that kind of game going forward. It may not excite fans much to try bend-but-don’t-break more, but that may be what this team has to accept.
Jude: Trade for 1994 Deion Sanders? Summon the Purple People Eaters? Travel back in time to 2013? Outside of some serious witchcraftery, there isn’t one elixir to cure this mangled Seattle defense. Scheme-wise, they figured out the past two weeks how to plug one major hole — the pass rush. They’re blitzing more than ever, and more than Carroll is probably comfortable with. Of course, that’s only opened another hole in the dam — and the reliance on one-on-one coverage in the secondary isn’t a sustainable plan with this personnel, either. But you can only work with what you have, and the uber-aggressive, high-risk, high-reward blitzing strategy is probably the best solution they have at the moment. And against a QB the Seahawks will face this week — the Rams’ immobile Jared Goff — they might as well stick with that all-or-nothing approach.
Question 3: What do you make of Carroll’s new contract extension through the 2025 season?
Jude: Other than the awkward timing for the news to break — the day his defense allowed more points than it ever has — it’s great news for the Seahawks and their fans. Carroll’s old-school approach has drawn criticism the past few years. Sure, he took too long to embrace a modern offense built around his star QB, but the larger body of work — and the culture he’s created as the best pro coach in Seattle history — made an extension a no-brainer.
Condotta: Most interesting to me is the length of time it ties Carroll to Seattle, which is longer than at any time since he signed his initial five-year deal in 2010. His three extensions since then, in 2014, 2016 and 2018, were each basically two-year extensions that then assured he would be with the team for three more years (his most recent deal, signed in late 2018, went through the 2021 season). But now he’s tied to the team for five more years, longer even than GM John Schneider (through 2022) and QB Russell Wilson (2023). I would imagine Schneider would get a new deal soonish, as well, to maybe keep him in lockstep with Carroll. Carroll in the past maybe was leaving himself just enough room that he could leave and coach somewhere else someday if he wanted. But maybe knowing he has Wilson for at least three more years made it easier to commit. It’s also a statement of stability from the organization, which two years after the death of owner Paul Allen has taken major steps to secure the two most important members of the organization — Carroll and Wilson — for the long haul (by NFL standards, anyway). I don’t really understand, though, why the Seahawks wanted to keep it quiet for so long, but the team did finally announce it Monday.
Question 4: Russell Wilson has seven turnovers in the Seahawks’ two losses. Is his play of late concerning?
Condotta: No. It’s no coincidence that those turnovers happened in losses in which opponents were moving the ball at will and Wilson was taking some risks he wouldn’t normally. The two picks yesterday came on fourth-and-one in the end zone and third-and-25, when Wilson knows an incomplete pass means a punt and the Bills getting the ball back likely near midfield with a 34-20 lead. If he were just missing on routine throws on first down or something, I’d be more worried. The first fumble, maybe Wilson has to read that one a little better to make sure to get rid of the ball more quickly. But Wilson seemed to be in “I’ve-got-to-make-every-play-I-can’’ mode from the start. It might not surprise me, though, if Carroll dialed down “Let Russ Cook’’ just a bit to maybe try to play ball control more and keep opposing offenses off the field as much.
Jude: On a scale of 1-10 of Seattle’s problems, Wilson falls in at 0.00012.