The Seahawks got their offense going Sunday against Atlanta. But their defense? Well, that was another story, one that ultimately resulted in an unhappy ending for the Seahawks with a 27-23 loss to the Falcons.
In our weekly Four Downs, Seahawks beat reporter Bob Condotta addresses four questions left lingering in the aftermath of an especially tough loss.
1. Just how bad has the defense been this year?
By almost all of the traditional statistical measures and the newer advanced ones, the Seahawks have definitely been bad on defense.
Not that the eye test hasn’t also revealed that.
Thankfully for the Seahawks, there is one area they have remained strong in — red zone defense. Opponents have scored touchdowns on just 5 of 13 drives inside the 20 (38.5%). Without that, Seattle would be 0-3, and the only talk about the team right now might be how high of a draft pick the Seahawks would be getting in 2023.
But 13 drives inside the 20 is tied for the third most in the NFL — indicative of how lax the Seattle defense has been everywhere else on the field.
Red zone success is also something Seattle can’t logically sustain without improvement elsewhere. If you take out Denver’s 0-4, the last two opponents have gone 5-9, a 55% rate that would rank 15th in the NFL.
One traditional number to indicate where things are — Seattle is allowing 397.3 yards per game, which for a whole season would rank just behind the worst mark in team history, 399.4 in 2000.
A few advanced numbers that show had bad things have been?
Seattle is allowing both the most plays per drive, 7.3, and yards per drive, 44.1 (tied with Miami), and is third in points allowed per drive (2.59). All are worse than last year, when the Seahawks allowed the most plays in the NFL at 1,234, allowing 6.5 plays, 34.1 yards and 1.91 points per drive.
2. So is there any hope for the defense?
Coach Pete Carroll said Monday on his radio show on Seattle Sports 710 that after three games to assess how the team is playing in the new 3-4 dominant scheme installed by first-year defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt, some changes will come.
“We have to adjust a couple things,” Carroll said, adding, “We have to help our guys more with what we are asking them to do.” As expected, Carroll said he wouldn’t go into more detail, so we probably need to wait until Sunday’s game at Detroit to get a sense of those.
Personnel-wise there doesn’t appear to be anything overly significant Seattle can do to change much, at least not quickly, other than letting some younger players such as linebacker Boye Mafe play a bit more (something Carroll mentioned Monday). The return of defensive lineman Shelby Harris, who has missed all but three plays of the last two games from a glute injury, would surely help.
But the larger hope is that some of the younger players on defense and/or those simply new to starting at their positions — such as inside linebacker Cody Barton, cornerbacks Michael Jackson, Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant — will progress as the year rolls around. It’s worth remembering that the likes of inside linebacker Jordyn Brooks and edge rusher Darrell Taylor are in their second year as full-time starters.
3. Why was the offense better Sunday and is it sustainable?
Well, one thing that can’t be ignored is that after playing two of the better defenses in the NFL in Denver and the 49ers, the Seahawks played one of the worst in Atlanta. The Falcons are one of the only two other teams in the NFL allowing more points per drive than Seattle is at 2.7. The 49ers are second best at 0.75 and Denver third at 0.91.
Knowing the Seahawks were facing a struggling defense was one big reason Carroll felt more comfortable opening up things. One way Seattle did that is to go with more no-huddle — 25 times Sunday, according to the official stat sheet, compared to 10 the first two weeks, via Pro Football Reference. Seattle went no-huddle four times on its first drives, all runs good for a combined 30 yards, and continued to throw it in throughout the game.
With confidence that the offensive line could give Geno Smith more time — and rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas continuing to provide reliable pass protection — the Seahawks did throw it vertically more. Smith had an intended air yards of 9.1 per pass attempt against Atlanta after averages of 5.1 and 5.4 the first two weeks.
The good news: Detroit’s defense is also struggling through three games so maybe the Seahawks can do more of the same Sunday.
4. What’s one really eye-catching stat about the Seahawks so far?
The thought was that without Russell Wilson, the Seahawks would be more ground-and-pound than ever.
Surprisingly, Seattle’s offense so far has been the exact opposite, throwing the ball on 66% of plays, the seventh-highest pass-to-run ratio in the NFL and on track to be the highest of the Carroll era (Seattle threw it 56.7% of the time in 2021).
That includes a 44-23 pass-to run ratio Sunday. True, Seattle threw a lot in catch-up mode late — a 12-3 pass-run ratio in the fourth quarter. But even through three quarters, the Seahawks were at 32-20 (61%).
Overall, Seattle has 103 pass attempts to 56 runs. That means Seattle is averaging 18.6 rushes per game, on track to shatter the fewest rushing attempts in team history — the 2010 team holds the record for fewest average rushes in a 16-game season with 24.
Worth noting that Seattle is also averaging just 55 plays per game, 30th in the NFL. But Seattle averaged only 56 last year when it ran it just over 24 times a game. And true, teams are passing it more than ever — the average rushes per game of 25.7 would be the lowest in NFL history, according to Pro Football Reference. And maybe it’s just an early-season anomaly (though three games is 17.6% of an NFL season).
But it seems to go against everything Carroll talks about in how he wants the Seahawks to play that you’d think at some point that number has to even out if Seattle is to make much of this season.