Meetings the night before games are a regular part of an NFL team’s routine.
But as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll watched the meeting defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. held with his players Wednesday before their key NFC West game against the Arizona Cardinals, he sensed this was different.
Carroll sensed a defense — which through nine games was on pace to be considered among the worst in NFL history, allowing a league-high 448.3 yards per game — that finally was ready to turn a corner.
Carroll said Norton organized the meeting “so that guys had a chance to speak up,” each player being asked to detail his responsibility in the base defense and his understanding of the play calls.
“It was just a remarkable meeting of accountability,” Carroll said. “Guys were great. That means they have learned really well. Instead of having the coaches say it, the players were saying the stuff and talking about assignments and all, and it was just a real nice step forward. But it was powerful.”
Carroll said having players speak in such a manner also isn’t unusual — quizzing players on assignments is a regular part of NFL life.
But the interaction Wednesday, he said, stood out.
“I’ve never seen a better meeting for guys holding themselves accountable,” Carroll said. “And in really illustrating the command they have of what they’re doing.”
That has been an issue for the Seahawks this season with so many new and moving parts on defense.
But finally, as the calendar is turning to mid-November, the Seahawks defense is beginning to become closer to whole, with players such as Jamal Adams, Rasheem Green and Benson Mayowa returning from injury and newcomers such as Carlos Dunlap and Snacks Harrison becoming more integrated.
And to prove the meeting wasn’t just a lot of empty words, the Seahawks took to the field roughly 24 hours later and held the Cardinals to 21 points (eight below their season average) and 314 yards (far off their 425 average that ranked first in the NFL), and Seattle earned a 28-21 victory that put them back in the driver’s seat in the NFC West.
The points and yards allowed were season lows for the defense and marked a second consecutive week Seattle had allowed a season low in points (23 the previous week against the Rams).
It also was a stark contrast from the first Seahawks-Cardinals game 25 days earlier, a 37-34 Arizona win in overtime. The Cardinals had 519 yards, including 157 on the ground, and didn’t allow a sack in that game. On Thursday night, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was sacked three times, and Arizona had just 57 rushing yards, far off its 168.9 league-leading average.
In seeking a reason for the improvement, the difference in personnel can’t be ignored.
Dunlap, who was acquired three days after the first game, had two sacks and three of Seattle’s seven quarterback hits.
Adams, who missed the first game because of injury, had a quarterback hit and forced an intentional-grounding call that helped set up a fourth-quarter safety.
And Green (40) and Harrison (26), who didn’t play in the first game, combined for 66 snaps on a defensive line that is playing the best it has all season.
And as linebacker Bobby Wagner said, the Seahawks made note of what worked well for Arizona in the first game, specifically in the running game, and tried to take that away.
“We saw the plays that they got us the first go around, and I think that they ran some of the similar things,” Wagner said. “It was just going downhill, and not playing on your heels, but attacking them. Bringing the fight to them and playing on their side of the ball, which I think we did.”
Seattle also may have caught a break Thursday when Murray appeared to suffer a right-shoulder injury, reportedly a sprain, early in the game. How much that affected Murray is hard to know, but he ran just five times in the game, tied for his fewest rushes this season.
But as important as anything, the Seahawks simply played their most disciplined defensive game of the year (save for a few plays such as the touchdown pass to a wide open Chase Edmonds in the fourth quarter), transferring to the field the lessons learned in the Wednesday meeting.
“I think we just played really sound defense,” Wagner said. “Everybody did their job. We executed the plays that the coaches were calling. I really felt like we just played fast.”
Carroll also cited the manner in which Wagner and linebacker K.J. Wright made the play calls to assure everyone was in the right spot.
“What I felt (Thursday) night was their poise and communication to other guys helped everybody,” Carroll said. “We were adjusting during the night — we didn’t do a lot of different things as the game went on, we just adjusted in our base stuff. And to get that done they have to convey that to the guys around them. … I just felt it was the best we’ve seen all season and as good as I can remember us being. I just felt like those two guys really kind of took the game over in a sense and kept us all really intact.”
To Carroll, it backed up claims he’s made for weeks that once the defense got more experience playing together there would be vast improvement.
“I can’t tell you why it took this long, necessarily, other than the lack of continuity, guys being out there,” Carroll said. “But we have taken a step.’’
Carroll, though, knows it’s always the next step that matters most.
“It doesn’t mean anything until we come back and play again,” Carroll said.
But should Thursday night — coming on the heels of a good second half against the Rams — prove to be the moment the Seahawks defense finally came into its own, Carroll will also point to what happened the night before.
“I was glad that I was there to hear it, to capture it,” Carroll said of the meeting. “To make sure that they realized what had just happened, because it was a big statement about everybody knows exactly what they need to do, and also that they’re willing to go do it and how they’re going to do it. And all of that’s such important stuff.”