In other words, it’s the perfect time to answer a few questions readers have asked via social media/email about the Seahawks. So let’s get to them.
Q: Any chance we see more nickel from the Seahawks’ D in the back half of the season?
A: We’ve already seen a lot more of it the last two weeks than we saw earlier in the year — not that it’s helped all that much.
Nickel corner Jamar Taylor had two of his three highest-playtime percentages the last two games – 41% against Atlanta and 43% against the Bucs — while linebacker Mychal Kendricks has conversely had two of his three lowest playtime percentages (63 and 68). The only other game this year where Taylor has played more than 30% of the snaps was against the Rams (47).
Showing that simply playing more nickel may not be the answer to Seattle’s pass defense issues, those three games are three of the four in which the Seahawks have allowed the most passing yards (395 Rams, 443 Falcons, 319 Bucs — the other is 395 against the Bengals).
Much has been made, and understandably so, of Seattle playing much more base defense this year, with all three linebackers and four defensive backs.
But my view is that this is mostly a question of personnel, not of scheme. Seattle simply has preferred to have Kendricks on the field more (he’s also making $4.5 million this season) than Taylor, or rookie Ugo Amadi, the only other player who has seen any significant time at nickel this year but now appears to be concentrating his time at safety.
The thinking there was that Kendricks could defend the pass well enough while being a big upgrade against the run, which was a huge issue last year, when the Seahawks allowed 4.9 yards per carry, by far the worst of the Pete Carroll era.
The run defense was better for a while, but Seattle is now allowing an average of 4.7 yards per carry, worse than all but five teams in the NFL, which may be one reason the Seahawks have decided to go with more nickel the past two weeks.
Quandre Diggs’ addition via a trade with Detroit two weeks ago could change things. Diggs has yet to play, or really practice, because of a hamstring injury, and Carroll has been vague about how he will be used once healthy.
But Diggs has played nickel substantially during his NFL career, and it makes sense to think he’ll get a shot with Taylor not having solidified it (he was Seattle’s lowest-graded defensive player Sunday by Pro Football Focus, allowing five receptions on five targets for 68 yards).
The matchup each week, though, also plays into it. The 49ers are one of the best running teams in the NFL — second in rushing yards per game at 171 — and that might compel the Seahawks to want to leave their best run defense alignment on the field as often as possible.
Q: What’s the deal with Rashaad Penny and L.J. Collier? Why aren’t they being given more of a chance or making more of an impact?
A: Certainly, the lack of much of anything of late from the team’s two most-recent first-round picks (Penny in 2018 and Collier in 2019) has been notable and eyebrow-raising — the two combined to play just 17 snaps Sunday.
With Penny, the answer here is pretty simple — Chris Carson is playing at a really high level (other than those darned fumbles) and there’s just been no real reason to take him out. There was a thought going into the year that Penny might emerge as the third-down/two-minute back, but Carson has shown he can handle that role, too — he has 24 receptions on 29 targets, each career highs.
Interestingly, Penny’s stats when he’s played are basically a mirror image of last year — he has 165 yards on 34 carries, 4.9 per attempt, which is the same average as his rookie season. And he’s turned in some big plays at key times such as the 37-yard TD at Pittsburgh and the 30-yard catch against the Rams.
But after a decent start to the season (80 yards on 16 carries in the first two games) Penny suffered a hamstring injury that held him out for a few weeks. With the way Carson is playing, I think it’s simply been hard for him to forge much of a role once he returned.
But, it obviously only takes one injury for Penny to suddenly be a starter. And assuring that the team had the depth it needed at tailback was one reason the Seahawks took Penny in 2018 following the injury-induced merry-go-rounds at that position from 2015-17. A first-round pick is admittedly a lot to spend on a security blanket. But for now, that’s pretty much what Penny is.
Unlike with Penny, who has one of the best players in the league standing directly in his way, there’s all sorts of opportunity for Collier to get on the field.
Players at his spot commonly rotate with three to four in a game capable of getting significant snaps, and Seattle can obviously use all the help on the defensive line it can get.
Despite that, Collier isn’t earning any significant playing time. He has played 18% of the snaps or fewer each of the past four games, with just 34 total snaps in that time, having been credited with just one tackle.
And recall that one of the reasons Seattle drafted Collier was the hope that he could contribute immediately — he just turned 24 and was a full-time starter at TCU his last three seasons (where he spent five years total), so he doesn’t fit the mold of a developmental player who figured to need more time than usual to find his way.
Collier played just 20 snaps the last two games, when Quinton Jefferson was sidelined with a hip injury, fewest of any of Seattle’s eight active defensive linemen, making it pretty clear that for now, Collier is ninth of the team’s nine DLs.
If Jefferson returns this week, it’ll be interesting to see if Collier is even active, let alone if he plays much.
While it’s far too early to make definitive assessments, it’s fair to say this is not the beginning to Collier’s career the team hoped for or anticipated.