If the story line of the Seahawks’ offense this offseason was needing to change, the theme for the Seattle defense as a new season begins is about hoping to stay the same.
It’s not what anyone would have expected after the first two months of the 2020 season, when the Seattle offense was a high-flying unit on the verge of setting numerous team records and the defense was statistically rivaling some of the worst in NFL history.
Through eight games, the Seahawks allowed 30 points per contest and were on pace to set NFL records for most total yards and passing yards allowed.
But everything changed the last two months. The Seattle offense hit a lull and the defense reversed course, not allowing more than 23 points to any of its last eight regular-season opponents.
With a starting lineup that could include nine players who ended last season as starters, the expectation is that the defense should be better than it was at the end of last year.
“The sky is the limit, man,” said safety Jamal Adams on the day he signed a new contract keeping him with the Seahawks through 2025. “We’re very versatile in a lot of ways, we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things and it could get scary.”
The Seahawks appear to have their deepest — and possibly best — defensive line since the 2013 Super Bowl champs, led by pass rusher extraordinaire Carlos Dunlap and rising star tackle Poona Ford.
In Adams and Quandre Diggs, they have their best safety tandem since Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
Their linebacking corps features future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner in the middle and two exciting young players at the other spots — Jordyn Brooks at weakside and Darrell Taylor at strongside, the team’s top two picks in the 2020 draft.
But there is one big lingering question — cornerback — a position that for years was never a worry for Seattle as long as Richard Sherman was on the left side.
The position was still uncertain as the Seahawks wrapped up training camp. So uncertain that nine days before the season opener, Seattle traded the player who entered camp as the starter on the all-important left side — Ahkello Witherspoon.
At press time, it appeared as if D.J. Reed, who ended last season as the starter on the right side, would take over for Witherspoon. That meant Tre Flowers would apparently start on the left.
Flowers has been oft-criticized by fans, especially since the rocky performance in the playoffs following the 2019 season. But he re-won the confidence of coach Pete Carroll in the preseason, which helped precipitate the move of Reed to the left side and likely, the dangling of Witherspoon in trade talks.
Flowers has 37 NFL starts so there’s some experience to bank on. And if the pass rush is as good as it looked at the end of last season — Seattle’s 37 sacks in the final 10 games of the season were six more than any other team — then it may not matter that much if the corner position is a little iffy.
Four things happened to lead to the second-half breakthrough last season:
One, the Seahawks played worse offenses in the latter part of the year; two, the Seahawks traded for Dunlap, who added a proven veteran presence on the edge, and also got Adams healthy and involved in the defense; three, the Seahawks made some tweaks to the scheme to take advantage of the new players, notably Adams, blitzing as much as at any time in the Pete Carroll era and going with more five-man fronts to get more pass rushers on the field; and, four, everyone grew comfortable in their roles.
“I think everyone just needs to focus on the small details and continue to communicate with each other,” Diggs said. “We have to know each other. And I think the second half of the season we got better with knowing who we are, what our identity is, and how we wanted to play ball. We started camp off that way and it’s all just going and going. We have some good days and bad days, but we know how to fix them. Hopefully, we start off fast and we plan on playing great defense like we did in the second half of the season.”
Adams said this year there are no excuses.
“When you have guys that are coming from new teams and whatnot, and free agents, everybody was new, and it took us some time,” he said of what happened in 2020. “Then some injuries happened, I got hurt, and a little bit of everything. Now, we’re fully focused, we understand what’s at stake, and we understand that we’ve got a goal in mind and that’s to win a championship.”