Sometimes, to let him know it’s not a full interrogation, you lob a softball at a player before a line of critical questions. It gives him a chance to highlight the positives and usually leads to more honesty about the negatives.
But after Sunday’s win, Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney felt compelled to forgo the fluff.
What did you think about Russ bringing you guys back today? I asked.
“The defense needs to play better,” Clowney said. “We can’t give up 34 points.”
The ambivalence among the Seahawks’ defensive players was striking in the locker room Sunday. The 40-34 overtime victory against Tampa Bay had them smiling and shaking their heads simultaneously.
Once again, they got away with a shoddy performance that quarterback Russell Wilson erased with his late-game heroics. But they have to know a championship is impossible unless they make significant improvements.
To call the Seahawks’ D mediocre through the first nine games of the season would be a show of generosity. Seattle (7-2) is 25th in the NFL in yards allowed per game, 29th in yards allowed per play and tied for 22nd in points allowed per game. These would be ugly numbers regardless of whom the Seahawks have played, but when their opponents thus far are a combined 30-42-1, those numbers could turn men into stone.
The defense looked particularly hapless Sunday against the Buccaneers (2-6), who put up 418 yards — including 335 in the air. Mike Evans alone racked up 180 receiving yards on 12 catches.
Maybe this isn’t surprising given that only four teams have allowed more passing yards per game than Seattle has this year. But this matador-style D isn’t sustainable — and the players know it.
“To feel like you know when somebody is going to do something and you still can’t stop it, that’s when you know that you’re in trouble,” Seahawks safety Bradley McDougald said.
So how are you guys feeling right now?
“It’s kind of the feeling that we’ve been having a lot lately,” McDougald continued. “We’re happy to get the win … but we all know that we still got improvement. We have to get better.”
Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright echoed McDougald’s thoughts and made it clear that this wasn’t just one off day for his team. He said that while the Seahawks have been racking up wins over the past few weeks, they haven’t been coming the way they want.
Asked if there was one particular area they needed to shore up, the generally candid Wright went broad.
“It’s across the board,” he said. “It’s all 11 guys.”
That seems to check out. In the Seahawks’ loss to New Orleans, it was Saints running back Alvin Kamara racking up 161 yards of offense. In their loss to Baltimore, it was quarterback Lamar Jackson rushing for 116 yards on 14 carries while adding 143 yards passing. In the near-loss to the Rams, it was Jared Goff throwing for 395 yards, which was 16 fewer than Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton tallied in Seattle’s one-point win over winless Cincinnati.
Just about everyone on that side of the ball has either made a mental mistake or been notably torched at some point this season. So what needs to change?
“The first thing that comes my head is discipline,” Seahawks linebacker and five-time Pro Bowler Bobby Wagner said. “All around, every aspect — discipline.”
Wagner had a rare undisciplined moment on Tampa Bay’s opening drive Sunday, when his third-down late hit on quarterback Jameis Winston extended a drive that ended in a touchdown. But Wright added there are guys who are regularly in the wrong spots, which is an obvious source of frustration.
To the Seahawks’ credit, they have forced 16 turnovers this year (seven interceptions and nine fumble recoveries), and their plus-seven turnover margin is third best in the league. That ratio has long been a point of emphasis for Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
But let’s be real here: The way the Seahawks are playing on defense can’t work long term. To have any chance of getting back to the Super Bowl, they need to make significant improvements.
Seattle’s next seven opponents have a combined record of 40-18-1, and it could easily lose the majority of those games without noticeable adjustments.
Wilson’s magic has gained national praise all season long. He has dazzled fans, stunned opponents and earned the acclaim of media everywhere. More than anything, though, he has bailed out the Seahawks defense.
Great as he is, Wilson can’t keep doing that. As the schedule toughens, Seattle’s D has to give him more to work with.