The Seahawks say a few troubling early defensive stats are the result of things that can be easily fixed.
It’s a stat that on the surface is as jarring as can be — a year after leading the NFL in fewest yards allowed per rush at 3.4 the Seahawks are currently last, giving up 5.3 in the first three games of the 2017 season.
The caveat, one cited by Seahawk after Seahawk this week, is that almost a third of the 438 rushing yards Seattle has allowed so far have come on two runs of 75 and 61 yards.
“I think a lot of the plays, a lot of the yardage that we have this year have came off one or two plays each game,’’ said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. “So to say there is like this crisis, I don’t think there is this crisis. We just have to clean up a few things.’’
Conversely, this is a defense designed not to give up big plays. Seattle annually ranks among the the bottom half in blitz rate in the NFL with a philosophy based on forcing teams to go on extended marches to score touchdowns, the idea being that the Seahawks will more often than not win those elongated battles (though according to Pro Football Focus, this year Seattle is bringing pressure 28.3 percent of the time, just above the NFL average of 28.3).
It’s a philosophy coach Pete Carroll re-stated after Seattle’s 12-9 win over San Francisco in week two.
“We make them go long yards,’’ Carroll said. “We make them go against our defense, and then keep working that clock.’’
That worked well from 2012-16 when the Seahawks for four straight years led the NFL in fewest points allowed and were third in another. And the Seahawks are allowing just 19.7 points per game this year, eighth-fewest in the NFL, a sign that in general things are still pretty good.
But a few other stats make some wonder if there are any potential cracks in the armor.
Seattle has forced just two turnovers — the only team with fewer is a Miami team that has played just two games — and also has just six sacks, four coming in the first half of the first game at Green Bay.
According to ESPN, “Seattle is pressuring opposing quarterbacks on only 17.9 percent of its dropbacks through three weeks’’ the third-lowest rate in the NFL.
And then there’s the leaky run defense. Take out the two big runs — a 61-yarder by Carlos Hyde and a 75-yarder by DeMarco Murray — and the Seahawks are allowing 3.7 yards per rush. That’s a decent enough number and would rank 15th in the NFL.
On the other hand, those are also the two longest runs the Seahawks have allowed since 2012 — with the 75-yarder the longest in the Carroll era.
“It’s humbling because they are uncommon,’’ said defensive coordinator Kris Richard. “It’s something to where yeah, historically they are uncommon. But it has happened before. But it’s time to hit the rest button. We are done with that.’’
A question that will need more time to be answered is if it’s just been a few fluky plays or the sign of a defense that may be beginning to show more vulnerability as teams grow more accustomed to playing against it and also as it ages — according to ESPN the Seahawks have the second-oldest overall defense in the NFL with an average age of 28.7 of its starters and the fourth-oldest front seven.
Seattle defenders this week insisted it was just a couple of bad plays.
Murray’s 75-yarder was largely attributed to the team being misaligned at the snap. Some motioning by Tennessee appeared to have a few Seattle defenders still trying to figure out who to cover as the play began.
They pointed to similar issues on Hyde’s run.
“I think for the most part we played (the run) fairly decent,’’ Wagner said. “Just a couple of plays got caught whether we didn’t get the play in or we weren’t set up as fast as we should be set up. A lot of that is the guy who calls the huddle (Wagner). So I can do a better job with that.’’
Wagner also said teams are getting smarter about how to run offenses against Seattle.
“I just think teams are starting to get the ball out fast,’’ he said. “We are seeing a lot more quick game than we normally see. It’s smart. You have a great pass rush (on defense), you get the ball out quick (on offense). So it causes us to be a little bit more focused in on the coverage. Got to cover a little bit better, give the D-line time to get there.’’
The Titans also scored long touchdowns on a screen when the Seahawks jumped offsides, with several players appearing to hesitate — Green Bay also scored on a similar “free play’’ in week one. And Tennessee also scored on a well-designed pass to a tight end up lined up as a fullback.
“All of it were gadget plays,’’ safety Earl Thomas said of the Tennessee game. “They can’t beat us straight up. They are going to be looking for gadget plays because that’s the only way they can beat us.’’
Still, there could be reasons to worry about the defensive line. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are each 31 and Frank Clark is playing with a variety of injuries. Clark is still having casts put on each hand prior to games to repair a broken thumb in one and a ligament tear in the wrist of another. He also suffered cramps last week at Tennessee — he said the team wanted him to go into the locker room to have an IV but he insisted on continuing to try to play — and also was limited at times this week in practice with a hamstring.
“It’s hard as hell,’’ Clark said of playing with the injuries. “But I don’t make excuses for nothing. I’m a ball player and I go out there every day and give it my all.’’
Clark also noted that the Titans have a good offensive line and often kept in a tight end or two, as well.
“They had seven-man protections, six-man protections to slow down our pass rush and they did a good job,’’ Clark said.
Indeed, the Seahawks not only didn’t have a sack against Tennessee but were also not officially credited with a quarterback hit.
“It pisses us off,’’ Wagner said of the defense’s play against Tennessee. “You don’t want to have plays like that happen. But I do feel like we have been around. We have been with a group of guys for a long period of time that understand that we just need to play better. We don’t necessarily go into a panic, we just kind of come together and say we need to improve this and stop it. And I think whenever we do that we tend to stop it. So I look forward to stopping it.’’