RENTON — You’ll find Carlos Dunlap front and center before every Seahawks game. He stands on the edge of the Seahawks sideline, near the 50-yard line, often next to a TV camera and usually the closest teammate to quarterback Russell Wilson during the playing of the national anthem.
As the song plays, Dunlap bounces and dances, bobbing his head and kicking his feet. He looks ready, eager to play.
After kickoff, though, the spotlight has diminished considerably on Dunlap of late, and it appears the 32-year-old, two-time Pro Bowler might be getting further edged out of the Seahawks rotation at edge rusher.
Dunlap played a season-low 17 snaps in the Seahawks’ 23-13 loss to Arizona on Sunday, and he has played just 45% of Seattle’s defensive snaps this season — down from 56% in his final eight games with the Seahawks last season.
Curiously, when asked about Dunlap’s snap count against Arizona, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll pivoted his answer to Alton Robinson, indicating the team might turn to the second-year defensive end in favor of Dunlap in an attempt to reinvigorate a disappointing pass rush.
“We were working the rotations a little bit differently in that (Arizona) game,” Carroll said Wednesday, when asked about Dunlap. “We’re going to continue to tweak some stuff, and part of that is Alton’s opportunities. He’s alive for us, and we need him to be a factor.”
How, Carroll was asked in a follow-up, does he assess Dunlap’s play overall this season?
“He’s been quiet, numbers-wise,” Carroll said. “You would just like to see more production, you know. But he’s been consistent with the way he brings it. He’s a power rusher and he does break down in the pocket and does give us some of that push that we need. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t had the (sacks). These guys are living and dying by the sacks, you know, and the numbers aren’t there for him.”
Dunlap has officially been credited with only a half sack and just four QB hits in 10 games this season. His most memorable play this season, for all the wrong reasons, was his shoe-throwing antics that resulted in a costly unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty at Green Bay.
As a team, the Seahawks rank 30th in the NFL with just 17 sacks and 24th in pressure rate (22.6%), according to Pro Football Reference.
With Darrell Taylor’s early-season emergence at the LEO (rush end) position, Dunlap has often been relegated to a third-down pass-rush specialist.
“This is a very low year for me in my career and to my standard,” Dunlap said in an interview last week with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Dave Wyman and Bob Stelton. “I’m looking forward to these next few opportunities to turn around and do what I’ve done in my career. I’ve been very consistent in my career, but obviously it’s the first year in this role, so just trying to adjust to it and maximize the opportunities when I get them.”
Acquired in a trade with Cincinnati before the 2020 trade deadline, Dunlap was a big part of the Seahawks’ defensive turnaround in the second half last season. He posted five sacks in eight games, and then the Seahawks (after initially releasing him) signed him to a two-year deal worth up to $16.6 million, one of their biggest offseason moves.
Dunlap was supposed to be an anchor — the anchor — to a pass-rush rotation that many viewed as the strength of Seattle’s defense coming into the season. Instead, the pass rush has been one of the biggest disappointments for a 3-7 team.
Taylor leads the Seahawks with four sacks, Rasheem Green has three and Bryan Mone — their 345-pound nose tackle — is third with 1.5. Benson Mayowa (1.0), Robinson (1.0) and Kerry Hyder (0.5) have combined for 2.5 sacks.
Philosophically, the Seahawks have altered their approach on pass-rushing downs. They’re blitzing just 25.5% of the time, down from 33.5% a year ago, when they often asked safety Jamal Adams to chase the QB. Adams has typically played in a more traditional Cover 2 safety role this season.
Part of that thinking, defensive coordinator Ken Norton explained, is based of the offenses the Seahawks are playing — featuring a lot of quarterbacks, he said, who get rid of the ball quickly. Opponents are also taking advantage of Seattle’s struggles to defend the screen pass (over and over again).
“It’s just important for us to really be aware of the moments that you have, third-and-longs, and understand the type of team you’re playing against,” Norton said. “ … There’s a lot of different things that go into it. Teams aren’t just going to lie down and take a knee when you rush ’em. You have to go out and play ’em. When you look at the numbers, there’s a lot of things we’re doing really good, and there’s a lot of things we need to improve on. And, obviously, sacks is one of them.”