A week ago, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll thought his optimism and patience were paying off.
If far from perfect, Seattle’s 37-27 victory over the 49ers on Nov. 1 had looked like a clear step in the right direction for the beleaguered defense — the Seahawks giving up just 112 yards in the first three quarters. And now, for their game against the Bills, the Seahawks were going to add strong safety Jamal Adams, back from injury, and end Carlos Dunlap, acquired via trade.
“I would have felt clear about that,’’ Carroll said Monday. “We came into this game (Sunday against Buffalo) to go ahead and continue from that.’’
Instead, if the 49ers game had been one big hopeful step forward, the Bills game appeared to be two equally big steps back. The Seahawks gave up 292 yards in the first half alone, falling behind 24-10 at halftime and eventually losing 44-34 — the most points a Carroll-coached Seahawks team has given up.
Seattle ended up allowing 420 yards, and is allowing 455.75 per game at the halfway point of the season, on pace to break the NFL record for yards allowed in a season set by the New Orleans Saints in 2012 (440 per game).
But anyone who might have hoped to see some drastic measures from Carroll on Monday — such as vowing to make widespread changes either with his players, scheme or coaching staff — was left wanting.
Carroll, instead, preached the same message of patience and belief that things will get better when he talked to media members via Zoom on Monday.
Carroll pointed to the season-high seven sacks — almost matching the nine of the first six games — as one reason for optimism. He also pointed to just needing a little more time for the players who are new to the team this season or are coming back from injury to get integrated or reintegrated.
That’s specifically true in the secondary, where the team’s projected starting four still has essentially played just one game together: the season opener against Atlanta.
“So that’s why if you’re wondering about where the patience comes from, I think it’s out of necessity right now that we just have to work guys through it,’’ Carroll said.
Still, the secondary might not be whole anytime soon, with Carroll’s uncertainty whether starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin will make it back for the game Sunday in Los Angeles against the Rams.
And then there’s the curious case of Quinton Dunbar, who has taken over Griffin’s left corner spot the past two games with Tre Flowers on the right side. A highly-hyped offseason acquisition coming in a trade from Washington for a fifth-round draft choice, Dunbar has struggled of late while dealing with a chronic knee issue. He is limited most days in practice, which, along with injuries to Griffin and Adams, has hurt the continuity of the back end.
Via Pro Football Focus, Dunbar gave up seven receptions on eight targets for 99 yards and a touchdown and also had a missed tackle against the Bills.
Many watching the game questioned how far off the line Dunbar appeared to be lining up.
Carroll said that wasn’t really by design.
Carroll noted that this is Dunbar’s first year with the team — and he hardly needs to repeat that no team had a traditional offseason or training camp — and that he’s still learning to play the Seattle way.
“Sometimes you’ve got to play the call and play the system,’’ Carroll said. “He’s a different player than the guys that we’ve been playing with and his background is much different.’’
Carroll said Dunbar’s injury will have to be managed the rest of the season. Especially if Griffin remains out, the Seahawks basically will have no choice but to hope Dunbar — who played 54 of 68 snaps Sunday — can stick it out.
Carroll also said it might have been a lot to ask Adams to play every snap — as he did — in his first game back from a groin injury after not playing since Sept. 27 and having just four practices.
“Playing four quarters was a challenge for him,’’ Carroll said of Adams, who had a critical illegal contact penalty to wipe out a sack on a third-down play when Seattle had cut the lead to 27-20 early in the fourth quarter.
“He had a couple plays that got away from him, that he would like to play better,’’ Carroll said. “But he was a factor. He’s going to be really aggressive, really tough.’’
Carroll also clarified a comment he made after the game about the Seahawks being surprised the Bills passed as much as they did — 28 of 31 plays in the first half — saying he didn’t mean to imply Seattle didn’t figure it out quickly.
He said it took “about eight or 10 plays’’ to realize the Bills didn’t seem intent on running much (which they had the previous week against the Patriots, a 38-18 run-to-pass ratio, though in much less favorable weather).
“I know that when I make that mention it sounds like, ‘OK, we weren’t prepared for this,’ ’’ Carroll said. “It was an unusual circumstance and so we just had to turn to it. And that’s all it was, really, it’s nothing more than that.’’
And the Seahawks did largely abandon their base defense, with nickel corner D.J. Reed playing 58 of 68 snaps.
Seattle brought more pressure as the game wore on, getting four sacks in the second half alone. But that also meant the secondary had to play a lot of man coverage, which made Seattle susceptible to a few big plays, such as the third-and-16 screen that went for 33 yards and set up the touchdown that put the Bills ahead 34-20.
In other words, defensively, nothing really seemed to go right, no matter what Seattle tried.
But Carroll said he saw hope in things like the play of Dunlap, who played 46 snaps and had five tackles, a sack and five pressures, via Pro Football Focus. He’s also hopeful that, once everyone plays a few games together, the corner-turn he thought had happened last week will happen again — this time for good.
“We’ve not had the good fortune of that,’’ Carroll said. “So I’m hoping that as we keep going here, as we get a chance to finish in the stretch, that we’ll keep our guys out there together and we can make some progress.’’