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Fact-checking Seattle’s defense

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

It’s very important to establish why certain statistics exist.

Listening to the radio and Pete Carroll’s press conference yesterday, there were several references to the ‘good’ run defense and the number of pressures and QB hits the Seahawks are delivering.

Stats can be deceptive, however. In isolation they don’t always tell the full story.

So let’s do some fact checking using Pro Football Reference.

“The Seahawks are hitting the quarterback a lot and this is good news!”

Seattle leads the NFL in QB knockdowns after three weeks (18) and their knockdown percentage is 11.6% (sixth best).

They also rank second in the NFL for pressures (37) although their pressure percentage is only middle-of-the-road (22.4% — 16th in the NFL).

Without context, these stats suggest Seattle’s defensive line is doing a better job than many people think.

A more extensive look at the stats tells a different story.

If you blitz often, you will manufacture pressure.

If you send six or seven defenders to take on five blockers — you will have players in the backfield and you will hit the quarterback.

Seattle’s blitz percentage is 36.4% — fifth highest in the league. In comparison, last year they blitzed only 26.9% of the time and in 2018 the number drops to 18.4%.

The Seahawks are currently blitzing more than Gregg Williams (32.7%). They have blitzed 60 times, second most in the NFL behind only the Steelers (65).

Jamal Adams has blitzed 33 times so far — the second most among any player in the league behind only Shaquill Barrett (37). Had Adams finished the game on Sunday, the chances are he would be leading the NFL in blitzing.

The high number of pressures and QB knockdowns are simply a result of Seattle’s increased blitzing this year.

For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers have by far the most pressures in the NFL after three games with 59 (22 more than second placed Seattle). They also blitz 51.2% of the time — way more than anyone else. It’s 7.4% more than the second heaviest blitzers (Tampa Bay — 43.8%).

The reason the Steelers have so many pressures is directly because they are blitzing on more than half of their snaps.

Seattle’s QB knockdowns and pressures are equally manufactured because they are blitzing more than they’ve ever done under Pete Carroll.

It’s not indicative of defensive line improvement or success. It’s simply a byproduct of a more aggressive approach.

The key to success when blitzing is sacks — not pressures or knockdowns. If you are bringing the house you have to get home. If Jamal Adams bursts into the backfield and hits the quarterback but the pass is complete — that counts as a pressure but it can still lead to a big play (as we are seeing).

Seattle’s sack percentage, despite their blitzing, is just 3.1%. It’s the fifth worst in the NFL. That is the problem and that is the key statistic to focus on.

Let’s look at the five worst teams for sack percentage and how often they blitz:

Carolina — 1.7 % sack percentage, 14.4% blitz percentage
Minnesota — 2.8% sack percentage, 32.7% blitz percentage
Las Vegas — 2.9% sack percentage, 23.1% blitz percentage
Detroit — 2.9% sack percentage, 22.9% blitz percentage
Seattle — 3.1% sack percentage, 36.4% blitz percentage

With the exception of struggling Minnesota (who are missing Danielle Hunter), none of the other teams are blitzing anywhere near the rate the Seahawks are. Seattle’s sack percentage is comparable to Detroit and Las Vegas but they are playing so much more aggressively to try and sack the quarterback.

This is a failure.

They are producing sacks at the rate of teams who rarely blitz — and yet they are one of the heaviest blitzers in the NFL.

Let’s go back to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lead the league is blitzing. Their blitz percentage is 51.2% but their sack percentage is 12.3% — also the highest in the league. That is what it’s supposed to look like.

Tampa Bay, who blitz 43.8% of the time, have a sack percentage of 9.7%.

The simple fact is there’s no comfort to take from Seattle’s increasing pressures and knockdowns. That is an inevitability of blitzing at the rate the Seahawks are. The problem they have is despite being so aggressive in bringing heat, their sack percentage is poor.

It creates a perfect storm of mediocrity. You’re exposing the second and third level of your defense by blitzing so much but by not sacking the quarterback, you’re giving them an opportunity to expose your limited numbers at the back end and find mismatch opportunities.

For example:

Hits and pressures are nice but the Seahawks will continue to give up a NFL-leading 430.7 passing yards per game, 6.6 yards-per-play and will blow-up the league record for passing yards conceded in a season (they’re on pace to give up 6891) unless they turn these blitzes into more sacks or they blitz less and find a way to do a better job rushing with four.

“Seattle’s run defense is really good!”

This is an even bigger mirage.

Teams do not need to run against the Seahawks and the stats make this case very well. Seattle isn’t ‘taking away the run’ and ‘forcing teams to pass’. Opponents are simply ignoring the run and preferring to pass.

There are two reasons for this.

One, the Seahawks are doing a good job applying scoreboard pressure and forcing teams to ‘chase the game’. That isn’t conducive with running the ball and ultimately it isn’t a review of Seattle’s run defense. This is down to the success of Russell Wilson and the offense.

Secondly, teams are passing for 430.7 yards per game and it’s too easy to throw against Seattle. The Cowboys had a three-play, 75-yard scoring drive that lasted 48 seconds on Sunday. Throws for 13 yards, 22 yards and 40 yards had them in the endzone. They then had a three-play 93-yard drive that lasted only 39 seconds. Throws for 52 yards and 42 yards were enough to score a touchdown.

The Seahawks gave up similar drives against both Atlanta and New England.

They’ve conceded more explosive pass plays than any other team in the league. They’ve surrendered 18 pass plays of +20 yards and six pass plays of +40 yards.

Are passing yards against everything? No. However, there’s a difference between giving up slow, time-consuming drives and giving up loads of explosive plays that lead to quick touchdowns. The Seahawks are giving up far too many explosive plays.

Basically opponents don’t need to run. They are saving their running games for short yardage and goal line situations, having thrown to get into position to score.

Atlanta, New England and Dallas only combined to run 67 times against the Seahawks — the third lowest total in the league behind only Pittsburgh (61) and Green Bay (63).

The difference between the Seahawks, Steelers and Packers is quite simple. Passing yards conceded:

Seahawks — 1292
Steelers — 708
Packers — 741

When you combine Pittsburgh’s sack percentage (12.3%), passing yards conceded (708) and running yards conceded (162) you can make a strong case for them possessing a rounded, elite defense. Last week they were ranked #2 in the NFL on defense by DVOA.

The Seahawks are in a totally different situation. Their sack percentage is 3.1%, they’ve given up 1292 passing yards and 200 running yards. This isn’t rounded at all. It’s emphatically weighted towards a negative pass defense.

Teams are having their merry way with Seattle when they throw the ball. It makes the running game a complete irrelevance.

Seattle is giving up, on average, 8.5 yards per attempted pass (second highest in the NFL). In comparison, Tennessee have the worst yards-per-run statistic so far at 5.8 YPC. So even compared to the worst running defense in the league, you’re still getting nearly three more yards per play if you throw against the Seahawks.

Running against Seattle simply makes no sense. Not because they are doing anything right but because they’re doing so much wrong in the passing game.

Media members and fans have been quick to praise Seattle’s 3.0 YPC conceded so far. That’s the third best mark in the league, behind the Steelers (2.7) and Buccaneers (2.9). Again though, this doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.

As noted, teams have only attempted to run against the Seahawks 67 times so far. This includes a combined 18 runs by Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Dak Prescott — most of which were clear short yardage situations or scrambles.

These types of runs are not intended to lead to big gains. A small sample size can easily be impacted if you have teams running mostly in short-yardage situations. If the max-gain on a play is a couple of yards, you’re not going to see a high YPC average.

In comparison, Pittsburgh’s 61 runs faced include two rushes by Jeff Driskel, four runs by Daniel Jones and one run by Deshaun Watson for a total of seven quarterback carries — 11 fewer than Seattle has faced.

The Packers have faced only five quarterback carries (four by Kirk Cousins, one by Matt Stafford). Without the high number of quarterback carries in their first three games, the Seahawks would’ve faced by far the fewest runs in the NFL.

Zeke Elliott ran only 14 times against the Seahawks on Sunday. Three of those runs came on one drive on first and goal (one from the five-yard line and two from the one-yard line, leading to a touchdown). A further carry came on fourth and 1 (converted) and another carry came on 2nd and 1. He also ran the ball from his own end zone leading to the safety, with the Seahawks wisely guessing the play-call and bringing the house to score two points.

Nearly half of his carries were in situations not conducive with big gains. So again, this impacts YPC.

Pro Football Reference has a statistic called ‘expected points contributed by rushing defense’. The Steelers lead the league with a score of 13.64. This means their run defense is helping them gain the value of a couple of touchdowns per week. Tampa Bay, who are blitzing at a similar rate to the Seahawks and have conceded a similar number of yards in the running game (200 vs 211) are gaining 10.94 points of benefit from their run defense per week.

The Seahawks are only gaining 3.22 points from their run defense.

It perfectly highlights the difference between a ‘good’ run defense and an ‘irrelevant’ run defense.

So what about the passing game? Pro Football Reference also projects ‘expected points contributed by passing defense’. Seattle’s passing defense is contributing -47.16 points per game — third worst in the league behind only Jacksonville (-53.57) and Atlanta (-48.06).

It means that Seattle’s passing defense is so bad that it’s giving opponents a near 50-point advantage week-to-week. Only the brilliance of Russell Wilson is enabling them to survive this so far.

The Seahawks’ run defense isn’t bad. It’s just totally irrelevant because the passing defense is atrocious. You don’t need to run unless you have to (short yardage). If you throw, you will be able to move the ball with ease and you will get explosive plays.

That’s the context of what Seattle’s defense is I’m afraid.

“Seattle’s secondary will make up for a bad pass rush!”

This was a common refrain during the off-season. The reality is very different.

Shaquill Griffin leads the NFL in yards given up (319). Quinton Dunbar is second (212) despite missing the Dallas game. Jamal Adams is seventh (209).

Tre Flowers has only started one game but he’s already been credited with 146 yards conceded. Quandre Diggs has given up 84 yards.

Both Adams and Diggs are among the league leaders in receiving yards per target (14.0 and 13.9 respectively).

Griffin is responsible for giving up three touchdowns — the most in the league by a defensive back. He’s also being picked on with 29 targets — second only to Darqueze Dennard (32).

Teams are completing 78.6% of their passes thrown at Flowers, 75.9% thrown at Griffin, 73.3% at Adams and 61.9% at Dunbar.

Quarterbacks have a 133.9 passer rating throwing at Flowers and a 131.2 rating throwing at Griffin.

Adams also leads the team in missed tackle percentage with 11.5%.

The second coming of the Legion of Boom? A group capable of making up for a terrible looking defensive line?

Not really.

I suspect the numbers would improve if the Seahawks weren’t having to blitz so much. Jamal Adams is a good blitzer and it’s a big part of his game but the total reliance on him as a pass rusher so far doesn’t seem to be doing him any favours.

If the Seahawks could rush with four 10% more of the time and actually win some 1v1 battles up front, then this would probably help the secondary in a big way.

However, this doesn’t excuse some of the numbers above — particularly in the case of Griffin and Flowers. They’re simply not doing a good enough job.

Rather than the secondary prop up the defensive line, the Seahawks need to improve their pass rush to take the pressure off a struggling secondary.

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Monday notes: Further thoughts after the Dallas game

Monday, September 28th, 2020

Pete Carroll looked dejected in his post-game press conference, despite the win

Here are some notes after the Seahawks moved to 3-0…

Pete Carroll is down on his defense and a little embarrassed

I think it’s clear. His body language and energy was zapped in his post-game press conference — not for the first time.

Carroll has cut a frustrated figure so far. Understandably so. He’s a highly respected Head Coach with a defensive background and he’s in charge of a defense that is putting on a horror show.

According to Brian Nemhauser at Hawk Blogger, no defense in NFL history has allowed more passing yards in the first three games of the season:

The Seahawks are also only six yards off being the all-time worst passing defense through three games in terms of yardage:

At the current pace, the Seahawks will give up 6890 passing yards this season. Last year’s league leader for yards conceded was Detroit with 4551.

This will be denting Carroll’s pride. I suspect the decision to ‘Let Russ Cook’ was partly through need rather than design. He knows they couldn’t play complementary football with this defense.

It’s easy to sympathise with Carroll. The Seahawks won the last two games, almost certainly, thanks to the culture he has created. No other team in the league is capable of winning close games at the rate of Carroll’s Seahawks.

Yet it’s equally fair to say this isn’t good enough. They entered the off-season stating they needed to fix the pass rush as a priority. Somehow, they’ve made the pass rush and the entire defense on the whole far worse.

Someone has to fix this and/or take responsibility.

What are the solutions?

Currently I think the options are limited. However, as I said last week, I do think there’s a rainbow ready to emerge. They just need the rain to subside.

With so many teams facing cap hell next year due to the economical impact of Covid-19, there’s a good chance we’ll see a fire sale down the line. When the Eagles, who need to raise tens of millions, can’t even beat the Bengals at home (and now face a gauntlet of upcoming games) — the chances are they will consider eating dead money this year to take cash off the books in 2021.

They aren’t alone. Several other teams are going to have some big decisions to make.

That could mean bargains to be had — either because teams cut players in a way they never would’ve dreamed of in the past, or they trade players at reduced prices.

What’s the alternative solution? You can’t walk into an off-season $60-80m over the cap.

The Seahawks possibly need to try and get through a few weeks here, get to the trade deadline and then maybe find some options. The problem is they don’t have a ton of cap space to play with themselves — so they’ll have to be creative to create space.

That’s why I’m not sure it’s the best thing to bring in Snacks Harrison. The Seahawks could use another defensive tackle in the rotation. Harrison should help keep the linebackers clean too.

Yet nobody is even trying to establish the run against the Seahawks. All of the issues are in the passing game and Harrison is going to contribute diddly squat there. Signing him eats up cap space and doesn’t really solve anything.

His salary won’t be guaranteed so they could cut him again down the line. A temporary signing could be smart. However, he’d need to justify his presence and his salary.

Bobby Wagner tells it like it is

Wagner looked disconsolate after the game. With a pained expression on his face, you could never have guessed the Seahawks had just won to go 3-0.

His words carried no energy. His body language said it all.

This isn’t good enough.

The media sought positives. Wagner wasn’t dismissive. He was polite and answered with respect. He couldn’t hide his true feelings though.

What does it mean to get a stop two weeks in a row to win?

“We shouldn’t have been in that situation”

How good is the run defense?

“It’s good to hold teams under 50 yards or 75 yards rushing but when we’re still giving up as many passing yards as we’re giving up it doesn’t matter”

Shaquill Griffin and Carroll (as noted above) told the same story with their post-game press conferences. If you’d not seen a minute of the action, you’d think the Seahawks had lost.

They know, as well as we do, that this isn’t good enough. This isn’t going to cut it.

Everything I said about the defense in yesterday’s instant reaction piece remains true. The defenders playing at the end deserve immense credit. Shaquem Griffin was like a man possessed — roaming the field in a new central position reading and reacting to the ball. Ryan Neal was mightily impressive in a very difficult situation with Jamal Adams out injured. Alton Robinson and Ugo Amadi stepped up to the plate.

What a tremendous effort, indicative of the culture and the spirit Carroll has created in Seattle.

Yet we also can’t hide from the reality of the overall unit. We can’t just stop discussing it because, by now, we all know things are bad.

I appreciate a lot of fans don’t want to talk about the defense. I know because people tell me all the time. If you want to bask in the glow of a 3-0 record, that’s perfectly understandable. That’s an admirable position to take.

I want to keep talking about it though. That’s my choice, as it is yours to read and debate or not.

As the writer Douglas Murray stated earlier this week:

“It’s much better to write about something that aggravates you or you’re really passionate about because it’s much better writing about those things than something you don’t feel all that enthusiastic about.”

This to me is the defining subject of the off-season and now the regular season. It needs to be discussed a lot.

How did the team come to identify the pass rush as their greatest need and yet do such a poor job despite spending so much money and picks?

How have they taken a problem and made it much worse?

Bobby Wagner isn’t papering over the crack, so why should we?

A brief look at the advanced stats

All stats provided by Pro-Football Reference. If anything changes in the week I will update the numbers.

— Seattle’s blitz percentage dramatically dropped after the Dallas game — from 36% to 22.8%. That suggests they reduced their blitzing significantly this week — although they remain the eighth heaviest blitzer’s in the league (Gregg Williams, on 26.2%, is now ahead of them again).

— The interesting thing is their pressure percentage also significantly dropped as a consequence — going from 22.4% in the first two weeks to 15.4%. That’s now just outside the bottom third in the league, despite the heavy blitzing numbers manufacturing more pressures because you’re always rushing more than the numbers in protection. Last week they were in the top-10 for pressure percentage.

— Jamal Adams only played 65% of the snaps in week three due to his groin injury. It’s likely that the Seahawks’ high blitzing numbers are simply a review of how they’re using him. With him not on the field, the blitzing is reduced. As such, so are the number of pressures.

— What this tells us is the Seahawks rely on blitzing for pressure. That’s stating the obvious at this point. When the blitzing reduces, so does the pressure. When Adams isn’t on the field, the blitzing reduces.

— Seattle’s sack percentage improved from 3% to 3.1% this week — a negligible change. This remains the key issue for the Seahawks. When you are blitzing as often as they are but you’re not sacking the quarterback, you create problems. A secondary becomes exposed. Second level defenders are committed to your pass rush. Instead of letting your elite linebacker and safety read, react and make plays — they are propping up the defensive line.

— Everything just looks discombobulated. That’s perhaps to be expected. This has never been a blitz-heavy team. They’re doing things they’ve never done before and they lack talent up front. It’s not a good mix and won’t be easy to fix during a season.

— The run defense continues to be a mirage that is praised by the media and fans. Of the teams that have played three games, the Seahawks have faced the third fewest carries. Of the meagre 67 run attempts they’ve defended, 17 were designed short-yardage runs or scrambles by Cam Newton or Dak Prescott. Several more were goal-line carries after opponents passed deep into the red zone. When you’re playing a team on track to give up 6890 passing yards in a season, you don’t need to run.

— Look at it this way — if the Seahawks had given up 350 rushing yards on Sunday to Zeke Elliott, would anyone be praising the pass defense for limiting Dak Prescott to 120? The Seahawks are simply too easy to throw against for the run defense to be relevant.

What do the PFF grades say?

Key performers on offense:

Russell Wilson — 89.1
Mike Iupati — 85.2
Jacob Hollister — 77.6
Greg Olsen — 71.5
Duane Brown — 69.1
Tyler Lockett — 68.8
Will Dissly — 66.5
Ethan Pocic — 64.7
Travis Homer — 64.4

Iupati’s pass blocking grade (89.5) was exceptional. Ethan Pocic (81.9) and Chris Carson (80.3) also excelled in pass-pro.

Poor/average performances on offense:

Jamarco Jones — 40.8
Jordan Simmons — 49.7
David Moore — 55.8
Chris Carson — 57.5
Freddie Swain — 58.6
Brandon Shell — 59.4
Carlos Hyde — 60.4
D.K. Metcalf — 60.6

Jamarco Jones received a 22.4 grade in pass protection which is appalling. Jordan Simmons’ run blocking grade was only a 39.6 but he faired better in pass-pro (67.0). Duane Brown was credited with giving up a sack, a hit and three hurries but overall graded well.

Key performers on defense:

Shaquem Griffin — 85.6
Bobby Wagner — 82.5
Ryan Neal — 80.8
Poona Ford — 79.0
Ugo Amadi — 77.3
Jamal Adams — 68.5
Shaquill Griffin — 68.1

Shaquem’s high grade is due to a 90.4 in coverage. His pass rushing grade was a mediocre 60.9 (which, to be fair, passes the eye test for me). It’s worth noting that for that 90.4 grade he was only credited with five snaps in coverage and 12 as a pass rusher so I’m not sure why PFF gave him such a positive overall score. Equally Shaquill’s grade is elevated thanks to an 82.4 grade as a tackler although PFF did give him a decent 67.8 grade in coverage (which doesn’t pass the eye test). Ugo Amadi received a terrific 82.3 grade as a tackler and a 78.7 grade in coverage. This was a big game for Amadi.

Poor/average performances on defense:

Jordyn Brooks — 29.1
Damontre Moore — 34.5
Tre Flowers — 38.8
Benson Mayowa — 45.0
Cody Barton — 48.7
Quandre Diggs — 49.5
Anthony Rush — 53.5
Jarran Reed — 54.8
Bryan Mone — 55.6
Alton Robinson — 57.2
K.J. Wright — 58.7
D’Andre Walker — 59.7
L.J. Collier — 60.9

This was an alarming grade on debut for Brooks but he was coming into a struggling defense. Benson Mayowa received a 28.1 grade for his tackling and a 52.3 grade as a pass rusher despite having fewer snaps this week. Bryan Mone’s run defense grade was a paltry 48.3 yet as a pass rusher he received a 68.2 (which is weird). Alton Robinson’s debut was graded as a 66.1 in run defense, a 73.6 as a tackler and a 61.0 as a pass rusher.

Re-assessing 3-0 by looking at the opponents

This has been an unusual start to the season. No fans, lots of injuries and for the Seahawks they have a record setting offense (in a good way) and a record setting defense (in a bad way).

The teams they’ve played add to the uniqueness of it all. What to make of them? Winning in Atlanta is good. They have a potent set of weapons and a good quarterback. Yet they’ve since imploded, throwing away two games to start 0-3. Dan Quinn might be back in Seattle in a few weeks as a defensive assistant.

The Cowboys equally have a talented offense with an assortment of skill players. They have a good (not great) quarterback. Yet they’re incredible flaky — as we’ve seen in all three games — and seem to have a really muddled identity.

It’s hard to decipher the quality of either win.

Really good? Expected? Modest?

The one victory that looks unquestionably impressive is the New England one. They handled the Raiders. The NFL’s best ever Head Coach has got them organised, disciplined and on-point. Cam Newton is playing well. The Patriots are going to be tough to beat all year and look like a clear playoff team.

It’s just a shame Seattle’s defensive woes had to turn what should’ve been a relatively comfortable victory at 35-23 into an avoidable nail-biter.

Positive injury news

It was a relief to hear none of the injuries were serious. The dreaded ‘ACL’ didn’t emerge like last week.

The NFL really needs to act on Trysten Hill too. That kind of thing needs to be kicked out of the game. A fine alone isn’t suffice. A one-game suspension would be more appropriate along with a severe warning.

If you missed yesterday’s ‘instant reaction’ podcast check it out below…

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Instant reaction: Seahawks win, somehow, again

Sunday, September 27th, 2020

Not only is there an ‘instant reaction’ blog post after every game, there’s now a new ‘instant reaction’ podcast. Check it out below…

The Seahawks defense deserves immense credit.

Not for the 472 yards they gave up to Dak Prescott. Not for giving up another 20 passing first downs. Not for the 75-yard, 45-second touchdown drives they conceded.

However — at the end of that game the unit was decimated. No Jamal Adams. No Quinton Dunbar. A laundry list of other players hurt. Replacements drafted off the practise squad and thrown in.

Shaquem Griffin roaming the field just finding someone — anyone — to cover or hit. Ryan Neal trying to replace not only Adams but also filling in as basically the fourth string safety. Alton Robinson getting his first career sack at the absolutely vital moment — making a total mockery of the decision to make him inactive last week so that Luke Willson could play zero snaps. Ugo Amadi playing his heart out.

Players who were clearly exhausted, elevating their play to win the game.

That was a fantastic last stand and everyone involved deserves huge praise. As a consequence, the Seahawks survive for the second week in a row and move to 3-0.

That only tells a tiny part of the story though.

There were problems before and new ones are emerging.

We’ve seen three weeks of this passing defense now and we know they are not remotely good enough. Teams can do what they want. Prescott’s 472 yards go alongside Matt Ryan’s 450 and Cam Newton’s 397.

We’ve also now seen how critical offensive production is. Today Russell Wilson was jittery behind poor pass protection and every drive in the second half — until the vital drive at the end — was exhausting to watch. Even when Wilson had time, nobody uncovered. A 17-0 scoring run for Dallas made it a game and neither unit had answers.

Nevertheless — there’s nothing they can do. I’m not sure why they’d bother signing Snacks Harrison personally. Their issues are pass rush and coverage — not an interior run defender. No opponent is running the ball anyway — they don’t have to.

They’re going to need that final stop spirit for a few weeks. The pass protection is going to have to be better so Wilson can continue to put up 35-45 points.

We’ll see if they can keep going. They’re 3-0 and that is a positive. This doesn’t feel sustainable though especially with the injuries.

I’m not going to linger on D.K. Metcalf’s error. He just needs to learn from that. Prescott’s interception before half-time and two missed extra points more than made up for it in the error stakes.

I do want to reflect on what looked like a bad injury for Chris Carson. He’s a fantastic player. Ideal size, physical, tough and skilled. Yet his career has been plagued by injury. The Seahawks are going to rely on Carlos Hyde and hope Rashaad Penny can come back at the earliest opportunity. Beast Mode? Don’t rule out another cameo.

I’ll finish with this. If you want to be the MVP — you have to deliver in the big moments. This was far from Wilson’s best performance but ultimately he delivered a scoring drive when it was needed. Job done.

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Pittsburgh’s Patrick Jones is one to watch

Saturday, September 26th, 2020

Patrick Jones is flashing first round talent

The Seahawks don’t have a first or third round pick in 2021 so if they keep their second rounder, there’s a decent chance it’ll be spent on the defensive line.

With such limited stock, it’s going to be hard to make projections for what could easily be a non-top-50 prospect. Testing is going to have a bigger impact than ever next year with many players opting out of the college football season (although it seems the idea of ‘writing-off’ the 2021 draft was a bit premature, given all the major conferences are now playing).

Pittsburgh’s Patrick Jones is definitely one to monitor.

Today, he was fantastic against Louisville — recording three sacks and three TFL’s.

On the first sack he forced the left tackle into a wide stance because he was terrified of his speed off the edge. It’s an awkward position for a blocker and Jones capitalised — engaging with a fantastic punch and driving him back into the quarterback.

It’s a classic speed-to-power move that will have NFL scouts drooling.

His second sack came on a spin move that completely stunned the right tackle. He exploded into the backfield but couldn’t bring down the QB who tried to extend the play. Jones kept his motor running and mopped things up shortly after.

Jones’ third sack was a speed rush to the edge where he actually lost balance as he flew by the tackle. He recovered to complete the play.

He was constantly in the backfield using his quickness to impact running plays and disrupt the quarterback.

It was especially pleasing to see him using his hands and winning with power because his 2019 tape showed plenty of ability to win with speed. Now he looks like the complete package.

The Seahawks like their pass rushers to be lean with great bend and flexibility. Darrell Taylor doesn’t have the best get-off but he has tremendous balance and works some ridiculous angles to beat the tackle and straighten to the quarterback.

Jones shows off similar skills. He’ll drop his shoulder and dip to avoid contact, pivot from the block then work to the passer.

If you don’t control him after off the release he can beat you with quickness. He can swim inside to offer variety. We saw today the power he possesses and he’s mixing in a spin-move. His get-off is certainly good enough (it’s better than Taylor’s). He’ll put a tackle on skates and he gets wide to avoid the initial contact and then he’s athletic enough to straighten and finish.

He’s a classical pass rusher in the Seahawks/Carroll mould. This is the type of player they look for. He’s a pin-your-ears-back and get after it type with the frame, size and hands to play early downs. He’s what the Seahawks currently are missing.

When you watch him operate in space he’s very fluid. There’s very little wasted movement. There’s a suddenness to him. He provides that quick, early pressure that disrupts a quarterback. You need someone who can create easy 1v1 wins (or at least make it look easy). He could appeal to 3-4 teams because of his mobility.

Jones could’ve declared for the 2020 draft but opted to return this year.

How he tests will be vital. The Seahawks will still want to see a good 10-yard split and a decent overall profile. He’s ideally sized (6-5, 260lbs) but arm length is also key. He was only a three-star recruit so there’s no guarantee he’ll test brilliantly.

In terms of personality he’s all business. Jones is a man of few words but he booms them out with a deep, serious voice.

He has a terrific backstory as John McGonical notes:

“…Jones, whenever he’s asked where he hails from, acknowledges that he’s “not really” from Virginia. The son of a naval IT chief, Jones spent most of his life overseas. And it was in Japan, 6,500 miles from Pitt’s campus, where the pass-rusher found the game he loves.

Jones was born in Yokosuka on Sept. 29, 1998. He doesn’t remember much, living there until he was 3 years old, when his father and family were relocated to a base in Jacksonville. After a couple years in Florida, the Joneses moved to Naples, Italy, for three years, then back to Japan. In 2007, they took temporary roots in Misawa, an eight-hour car ride north of Tokyo, on the northern tip of the island. A few years later, the family went back to Yokosuka, where they stayed until December 2012.

Jones’ official Pitt bio says Chesapeake is his hometown, where he and his family relocated and remained in 2013. But everyone who really knows him understands that the around-the-world childhood he experienced shaped him into something more than a normal stateside kid.”

He’s also a multi-sports star and excelled at baseball — something the Seahawks appreciate.

Tony Pauline is reporting that he’s been given a firm second-round grade by teams. Based on what I’ve seen so far that’s a conservative projection. He has first round potential and if he lasts into round two — he’s definitely someone the Seahawks could have on their radar.

This is a really talented Pittsburgh defense. I wrote about two of their other players back in July including safety Paris Ford who I also like a lot.

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Could the Seahawks trade for Fletcher Cox?

Friday, September 25th, 2020

Is it grasping at straws? Maybe.

We’ll take any scrap of hope at this stage.

Jimmy Kempski, a well known Eagles beat-writer for Philly Voice, has written an article discussing four possible trade candidates — including Fletcher Cox.

“It sure feels a lot like the collective nucleus that was kept in place from that Super Bowl run just isn’t going to contend in Philly anymore, and with a troublesome salary cap situation upcoming in 2021, it’s not as if they’re going to be able to add outlook-changing pieces to the mix.

But certainly, individual players on the roster from that Super Bowl run could help other teams.”

According to Overthecap.com, the Eagles will be $70m over the salary cap in 2021 if it reduces to $176m.

That’s staggering.

The fact is teams who drop out of contention before the trade deadline on November 3rd will need to be conscious of their cap situation.

The Eagles aren’t the only team in bother. New Orleans (-$83m), Atlanta (-$37m) and Pittsburgh (-$27m) are all facing a difficult situation. Clearing significant money off the books for next year is going to be necessary for some teams.

If the Saints and Steelers are in contention for the playoffs, they’ll probably push this problem into the off-season. The Eagles and Falcons, however, are 0-2.

The downside is fans are turning in Philly — on the coaches and GM Howie Roseman. They might not survive the flying of a white flag. The team has been stuck in neutral since winning the Super Bowl, benefitting mostly from a lousy NFC East to make the post season but not being good enough to seriously challenge.

With the division looking pretty dreadful again this year, the Eagles are likely to stick around in the playoff hunt again. Between now and the deadline, however, they have to go to San Francisco and Pittsburgh in back-to-back weeks then host the Ravens.

Even if they beat the Bengals this weekend, they could easily start 1-5.

That would surely trigger some forward planning.

I’d never really considered that Fletcher Cox would be available. For years he’s been a formidable interior presence.

Here are his PFF grades as a pass rusher over the last few years:

2020 — 82.7
2019 — 84.8
2018 — 91.8
2017 — 90.9
2016 — 78.9
2015 — 89.0

He’s consistently delivered pressure from inside and has the athleticism and flexibility to play inside/out too.

Cox turns 30 in December so he’s not too old, even if he’s perhaps not at his exceptional best. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility he could deliver three more seasons of quality play.

What would the compensation be?

Here’s Kempski’s suggestion:

“…nobody is giving you a 1st round pick for an almost 30-year-old DT whose production is in a downturn, but maybe a 2 for a team in need of D-line help?”

The Seahawks only have one significant asset left to play with and that’s their 2021 second rounder.

Is it ideal going into a draft next year with zero picks in the first two days? No, it isn’t.

However — we could be witnessing the best season in Russell Wilson’s career. If he really is going to go on and win the MVP in 2020, surely you want to make the most of that?

Strike while the iron is hot. If you’re going to aggressively trade for Jamal Adams, you should be prepared to be equally aggressive to fix the flaw that could prevent you from a deep playoff run.

What are the salary cap ramifications?

The Eagles would be forced to eat $28m in dead money which would be a new NFL record. Usually you wouldn’t entertain that. This is a unique situation though. Remember — the Eagles need to somehow raise $70m. Not having Cox on the books when the 2021 season starts immediately clears $22.4m.

The Seahawks would be able to carry Cox this year and would inherit his base salary and roster bonus for the remainder of his contract. That would mean a cap hit of $16m next year and $17m in 2022.

On paper that doesn’t look too bad. The problem the Seahawks have is that while they have about $25m to play with in 2021, they also don’t have many players contracted beyond the end of this season. Neither do they have much draft stock to fill holes. If you want to retain Chris Carson, Shaquill Griffin or Quinton Dunbar — that’s going to cost you. Then you need to retain or replace the assortment of players on short-term deals.

Jamal Adams shouldn’t be a major problem because his salary is already on the books for next year. You can structure his inevitable extension to kick in from 2022 and it’d be smart to backload it, with the hope the NFL economy stabilises in a few years time.

As we saw with Calais Campbell in Baltimore, you can always re-work a contract to make the numbers fit if needed. So a $16m cap hit in 2021 isn’t obscene and might be workable.

Acquiring Cox would undoubtedly improve Seattle’s D-line and give them the interior specialist they’ve never really had in the Carroll era. It’s not the biggest need — that remains speed off the edge and an ability to win 1v1. The Seahawks are not getting any consistent pressure from their defensive ends and the loss of Bruce Irvin didn’t help the situation.

The phrase ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ applies here though. If Cox ends up being available and there’s nobody out there who can rush from the edge, you probably have to accept the situation and make the move.

When Pete Carroll talked about ‘surprise options’ potentially becoming available on cut-down day, I suspect he had the 2021 salary cap in mind. He and John Schneider will know the problems many teams face — and the relative wealth the Seahawks have in comparison.

That never materialised. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they’re holding out hope of opportunities coming to the fore in the coming weeks.

They need to do something though. As noted yesterday, the number of snaps taken by Benson Mayowa and Jarran Reed is totally unsustainable. Pete Carroll has revealed today that Mayowa could miss the Dallas game on Sunday.

It’s quite incredible that Alton Robinson wasn’t active against New England to share some of Mayowa’s workload. Instead, Luke Willson was active as the fourth tight end on the roster.

Willson played exactly zero snaps against the Patriots.

Would it not have been wise to give Robinson 10-15 snaps? To give him a taste of things and help Mayowa? To see if he can provide a spark?

How on earth was he inactive and Willson dressed? It’d be understandable if they used their fourth tight end even once but they didn’t. They didn’t even use their top three tight ends much in the game plan.

The decision to pick Willson over Robinson is, frankly, incomprehensible.

It’s also been announced today that Rasheem Green has been placed on injured reserve. He’ll be eligible to return in three weeks but we’re all well aware how serious a ‘stinger’ injury can be by now.

Plus, as we also discussed this week, Seattle’s current defensive performance statistically is seriously threatening to undermine all the positives on offense.

Carroll understands better than anyone that a third of your defensive snaps cannot result in an explosive play and something needs to be done about this.

Check out our new podcast below where I make a (compelling) case for making a trade for Ryan Kerrigan. We also preview the Dallas game and discuss the terrifying advanced stats from weeks one and two.

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Snacks Harrison & the Seahawks snap count problem

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

The news of a visit for Snacks Harrison next week is welcome. He’ll need to pass a physical and prove he’s in some element of shape. The Seahawks have to do something though — for several reasons.

Seattle started the season with three defensive tackles on the roster, before adding Anthony Rush this week.

They also started the season without Darrell Taylor at defensive end. Since then, Rasheem Green has picked up a stinger and Bruce Irvin (a situational rusher) has torn his ACL.

Their depth on the defensive line wasn’t great to start with. Now it’s being severely tested.

Benson Mayowa and Jarran Reed didn’t practise on Wednesday. The injury report cited groin and back injuries respectively.

Both players were probably just getting some rest. The Seahawks need to be very careful over the next few weeks. Otherwise they could end up joining the likes of Green and Irvin among Seattle’s casualties.

Mayowa has played 90% of the defensive snaps so far. Let’s put this into perspective:

Frank Clark snap counts
2018 — 73%
2017 — 68%

Cliff Avril snap counts
2016 — 77%
2015 — 79%
2014 — 73%

Michael Bennett snap counts
2017 — 85%
2016 — 52%
2015 — 82%
2014 — 85%

Bennett played a higher percentage of snaps because he started at defensive end and kicked inside for passing downs. History tells us a starting Seahawks defensive end is supposed to play 75-80% of the defensive snaps — even if they are a key player like Cliff Avril.

It’s simply not sustainable for Mayowa to play 90% every week.

This is unfamiliar territory for him. In Oakland last year he only played 28% of the snaps. In 2018, with the Cardinals, he played 49% of the snaps. In 2016 and 2017 in Dallas, he tallied 36% of the snaps in each season.

Last year he played 302 snaps in 15 games for the Raiders. He’s already played 136 snaps for Seattle in two games.

Suddenly a rotational player is being thrust into a role he’s never had to contemplate.

Even Chris Clemons, who was something of a one-man pass rush in 2012, didn’t play 90% of the snaps (86%). Everyone recognised at the time that he needed help, too.

However raw or unprepared Alton Robinson might be — they’ve got to take some of the burden off Mayowa. Otherwise there’s an increasing chance he’ll get injured and suddenly Robinson will be the one playing 90% of the time.

Reed also can’t be playing 85-90% of the snaps if you want him for a full, impactful season. You need a rotation at defensive tackle. The Seahawks know that better than anyone as it was a major strength of the 2013 roster.

If he picked up an injury — what then? He might’ve had a fairly quiet start to the season but there’s no doubting he’s Seattle’s most proven and respected defensive lineman.

In 2018 when Reed had his most productive season, he played 78% of the snaps.

Snacks Harrison can ease the burden. He can handle some of the early down duties in the running game and Reed can save some of his energy for pass rushing opportunities.

If he’s anything close to the player who performed so well in New York (we’ll need to see) he should also help keep the second level defenders clean. The Seahawks can’t afford to have their linebackers getting washed out. They need protecting.

There’s no guarantee that Harrison will be up to the job, of course. Having contemplated retiring and sitting out the season, who knows what kind of motivation or physical condition he has?

He’s often listed at 350lbs. Who knows where he’s at currently?

There’s no harm in finding out though — especially with contracts no longer being guaranteed since the start of the season.

They still need another edge though — unless Alton Robinson can play beyond the expectations of the team, considering they made him inactive for the first two games.

Check out our new podcast below where I make a (compelling) case for making a trade for Ryan Kerrigan. We also preview the Dallas game and discuss the terrifying advanced stats from weeks one and two.

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A podcast, Seattle’s advanced stats & a trade suggestion

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

Before we get into today’s piece, check out the latest podcast below as Robbie and I preview the Dallas game, discuss the advanced stats and talk about my trade pitch for Ryan Kerrigan.

Stats don’t tell the whole story but they can give you a better idea of what’s going on.

So here we go. We’ll start with the defense and end with the offense. The defensive numbers are, unsurprisingly, very concerning. However, I do offer a silver lining.

— The Seahawks are blitzing 36% of the time, sixth most in the league after two games. That’s more than Gregg Williams and Todd Bowles in New York and Tampa Bay respectively. This isn’t a minor tweak. This is a sea change. They are being more aggressive than they’ve ever been under Pete Carroll to make up for the struggling pass rush.

— In comparison, they blitzed 26.9% of the time last season and 18.4% in 2018. Basically they’re blitzing twice as much as they previously did in this scheme.

— This increase has resulted in just three sacks, two of which are credited to Jamal Adams (and one was in pursuit of Cam Newton on a scramble and should probably be considered a TFL).

— Seattle’s pressure percentage is 22.3% which is middle of the pack and they are credited with 23 pressures which is among the NFL’s top-10. However — this is manufactured pressure as we can see from the blitz percentage. For example, Jamal Adams leads the team in pressures.

— It sounds positive — top-10 for pressures — but if you’re getting those numbers by rushing six or seven against five blockers, you should expect this. Pressure percentage is a useful statistic for individual defensive linemen as it indicates how often they win. For teams, you probably have to contextualise it with the frequency of blitzing and who is creating the pressure.

— Adams has blitzed 21 times so far, the third most by any player. The only two players who have blitzed more are Pittsburgh duo T.J. Watt (25) and Bud Dupree (24) and they are rush linebackers. Maybe this is linked — Adams is giving up 20.8 yards per reception allowed, that’s the eighth highest among players after two games. His yards per target is at 15.6. He’s also missed three tackles and his yards conceded is 187 — second most in the league behind only Quinton Dunbar (212).

— If the Seahawks continue to blitz at this pace we’ll probably see decent numbers in terms of pressure percentage for the rest of the season and I suspect some people in the media will present this as evidence that the pass rush isn’t that bad after all. However, this is a red herring. As I said, when you blitz a lot you will manufacture pressure. It’s a pure numbers game. The key is getting home. If you don’t get home, you expose your secondary. You can be credited with a ‘pressure’ and still get torched on a blitz. You can send Jamal Adams off the edge and have Bobby Wagner attack up the middle. They could get close to the QB and gain a pressure. If the quarterback gets that throw off to, say, Julian Edelman on a hot route, the pressure doesn’t mean anything. If you sack the quarterback in that scenario, it means everything. This is why, in the context of the Seahawks, 23 pressures is not the important statistic to focus on. It’s the three sacks (two from a safety), the 3% sack percentage (among the leagues lowest) and the 36% blitz percentage (among the leagues highest) working to create a perfect storm of a struggling four-man rush, the compensatory risk involved with increased blitzing and the low number of sacks per play.

– If you need further evidence of this being an issue, just look at the passing yards and explosive plays conceded by the Seahawks. They’ve given up 831 cumulative passing yards. Their 8.2 net yards conceded per pass attempt is the third highest in the league behind only the Falcons and Dolphins. They’ve given up 45 passing first downs, the most in the NFL and nine more than second placed Cleveland (36). You can make a case that Atlanta and New England were both chasing deficits in the second half and that could’ve inflated the numbers. It’s also worth noting that both teams moved the ball with ease in those situations. The Patriots nearly won the game in week two, so you can’t put this down to garbage time. Contrary to popular opinion, the Falcons actually had the ball at midfield with seven minutes to go driving to make it a one-score game in week one.

– When Seattle had the best defense in the NFL in 2013, they gave up a league low 2752 yards for the season. That was 350 fewer than the second best team. After two games this season, they’ve already given up 970 yards — a third of their entire 2013 total. Nobody expects the 2020 defense to perform anything like the LOB but it helps illustrate how poorly Seattle’s pass defense is performing currently.

– The most striking statistic involves explosive plays. The Seahawks have allowed a league-high 47 plays of +10 yards. Considering they’ve only defended 147 plays in total, that means 31.9% of Seattle’s defensive snaps so far have resulted in them giving up an explosive play. That is an incredible stat. The Seahawks are 2-0 but how sustainable is it when a third of your defensive snaps result in an explosive play for the opposition?

– For what it’s worth, the Dallas Cowboys lead the NFL with 41 offensive plays of +10 yards. They visit Seattle on Sunday.

What’s the answer?

I want to offer a silver lining and some hope for the future moving forward. I genuinely believe they just need one player who can win 1v1 to be able to get through this.

Just look at the way, in 2018, they were able to blitz half as much as they currently are because they had a player in Frank Clark who recorded 13 sacks (36% blitzing in 2020 vs 18.4% in 2018).

The Seahawks were league average for yards conceded in the passing game (#16) in 2018. Their sack percentage was 7.3% — more than twice as much as it is now and just outside the NFL’s top-10 (#11). They had the fourth highest pressure percentage (28.5%) despite having the fifth lowest blitz percentage.

Nobody would’ve called Seattle’s 2018 D-line a top unit. Yet because they had one player capable of producing sacks off the edge and threatening opponents in 1v1 situations, they were able to create pressure without blitzing.

The Seahawks badly miss a player like Clark.

However, what it tells us is they really only need one player to rectify this problem. If they can acquire someone who can deliver pressure off the edge — just as Clark did — they can reduce how often they blitz, they can increase their sack percentage and the chances are they will drastically lower how many yards they’re giving up and how many explosive plays they are conceding.

One new player won’t create a top performing defense. They might have a league average unit though — capable of not undermining the efforts of Russell Wilson and the offense.

Benson Mayowa is not good enough to be the premier rusher. Losing Bruce Irvin, who they were counting on to contribute 6-8 sacks, is another big loss.

It really is as simple as this. The Seahawks can still salvage their defensive output by adding a dynamic edge rusher. Fail to do so and the numbers above will have a consequence eventually. It’s just not sustainable to be this bad in the passing game, while being this aggressive. As good as Wilson has played in the first two weeks, it’s unrealistic to expect him to deliver 16 perfect games to compensate for this glaring weakness.

The Seahawks only really have one asset left as a bargaining chip — their 2021 second rounder. Somehow, they’ve got to find someone who can come in and provide a spark. They should be prepared to give up that high pick.

If there’s a pass rush equivalent of Quandre Diggs or Quinton Dunbar out there for a day three selection — great. It’s hard to imagine who that could be, though.

For me it’s worth being aggressive. The Seahawks need a solution to this. It’s the one thing holding them back from being a legitimate, serious Super Bowl contender.

I noted yesterday that Ryan Kerrigan might be the best bet. He has two sacks already this season, so he’s started well. He wanted to return to Washington this season to break the franchise sacks record and he’s done that now. Ron Rivera is rebuilding that team and they have two first round picks (Chase Young & Montez Sweat) at defensive end and two others at defensive tackle (Jonathan Allen & Daron Payne).

Kerrigan is a free agent at the end of the season and could be departing anyway in a matter of months.

He could be the 2020 answer to Duane Brown. When they saw a massive glaring weakness in 2017 (Rees Odhiambo starting at left tackle) they aggressively solved that problem with a big trade. Kerrigan, like Brown, isn’t a long term fix. However — if he comes in and gets you 10 sacks between now and the end of the season, that could be a game changer for the Seahawks.

That, for me, is worth a second round pick. Especially because you can negotiate an extension with him at any point to make sure you secure him for an extra year or two. Like Brown, Kerrigan is a solid pro with a good attitude.

Ultimately what’s more important? Giving yourself the best chance to win this year in what could easily be the best season of Russell Wilson’s career? Or having a late second round pick next April and hoping the current pass rush isn’t going to waste a season of prime Wilson?

Reviewing the offensive advanced stats

— The drop percentage is only 1.6%, the fifth best overall. Two teams (Baltimore, Las Vegas) are yet to drop a pass. At the other end of the scale, Detroit has an 11% drop percentage after two games.

— Russell Wilson ranks joint first for the least number of ‘bad’ or ‘poor’ throws with five (level with Ryan Tannehill). His bad throw percentage is 8.2%, marginally higher than Tannehill’s (8.1%).

— Wilson’s percentage of ‘on-target’ throws is #1 in the NFL at 88.5%. Garden Minshew is second (85.9%) and Tannehill is third (85.5%).

— Seattle ranks ninth in the league for yards after the catch (247) with an average of 4.8 yards after completion.

— The offensive line has given up 24 pressures, the third most. They’re also conceding the highest pressure percentage in the NFL (32.9%). Wilson has been hit 11 times, second most in the league. It’s hard to say how much of this was down to a pretty horrible first half in Atlanta but the numbers could do with improving in the coming weeks.

— The Seahawks have only run one RPO so far which is surprising. Arizona, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Buffalo lead the league with 13. Dallas are second with 12.

— Seattle has 170 rushing yards before contact, seventh most. Yet they only have 68 yards after contact which is surprising. That’s the third lowest number and they only average 1.4 yards after contact so far. Seahawks running backs are only credited with one broken tackle in the first two games.

— Wilson’s passer rating when targeting D.K. Metcalf is 141.4 — 15th highest in the league. It’s a perfect 158.3 when targeting David Moore (admittedly it’s early). It’s 128.9 when targeting Tyler Lockett and 143.7 when looking for Chris Carson.

— Metcalf ranks second in the league for yards before catch per reception (17.3). The player leading the NFL is Dallas’ Michael Gallup (17.6).

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Breaking down the grades: New concerns but some positives

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

Damien Lewis has had a good start as a run blocker

In looking through the PFF grades for week two, the difference compared to the Atlanta game is quite stark.

Bobby Wagner (87.3) and Jamal Adams (85.8) both graded superbly against the Falcons. Against New England? It was the total opposite.

Adams in particular faired poorly, scoring only a 41.2. That was the second worst grade on the entire defense ahead of only Lano Hill (who was forced into a new role due to injuries and the ejection of Quandre Diggs).

As NFL Next Gen Stats revealed on Sunday, the Patriots were 6/6 for 157 yards when Adams was the nearest defender to the targeted receiver.

A lot of the focus after the game was essentially what would this defense be without Adams — mainly because of his blitzing ability. However it’s possible we saw on Sunday what can happen if you ask too much of him. It’s plausible that either he felt like he had to do too much on Sunday, that the Seahawks asked too much of him or his play suffered because he was forced into two extremes — being the last line of defense and also Seattle’s only creator of pressure.

Either way that’s an ugly grade for Adams and warrants some reflection. The Seahawks need to put him in a position to impact games and play to his brilliant strengths — not create a liability by putting too much on his shoulders.

Wagner also graded poorly with a 59.9. This is something that should alarm fans. Personally, I don’t think he’s any less of a player. In 2018 he had basically a perfect season for a middle linebacker. I suspect the complete lack of talent on the D-line is impacting him.

Is he being properly protected so that he can play with freedom and speed? Is he having to do too much to compensate for issues up front?

Seattle has two big stars on its defense and they need both players to be at the top of their game most weeks. One of the concerns raised prior to the season was the state of the D-line potentially having a negative impact on Adams and Wagner. They need to be kept clean to play fast and loose.

Are they currently able to play within the framework of the scheme? Was week two an example of the pre-season concern?

The defensive line, unsurprisingly, graded badly again with one big exception. Pete Carroll said on Monday that Bryan Mone had his best game for the Seahawks. According to PFF, he was Seattle’s third best performer on defense behind only Quinton Dunbar and Tre Flowers. Mone scored a highly respectable 74.8.

Anthony Rush, recently moved onto the active roster, was given a 66.7 grade which is also reasonable. Carroll seemed to suggest during his interviews yesterday that he is content with their defensive tackle rotation following this performance.

It’s encouraging but it’s also worth noting the scenario involved. Mone only played 26 snaps (36%) and Rush 15 (21%). The Patriots could do what they want in the passing game and basically abandoned a traditional ground attack.

In the first two weeks of the season, neither Atlanta or New England operated with a balanced offense. The Falcons abandoned the run to chase the game. The Patriots only ran their running backs 14 times because Cam Newton was untroubled in the pocket and was moving the ball with ease. We won’t know how the grades might’ve been affected had both opponents given their backs a heavier workload. Presumably Dallas and Zeke Elliott will deliver a serious test in week three.

Here are the grades for Seattle’s starting D-line against the Patriots:

Poona Ford — 61.9
Jarran Reed — 61.7
Benson Mayowa — 54.3
L.J. Collier — 51.1

The results, especially for the two defensive ends, speak volumes. I’ll simply repeat the call of yesterday’s article. They need to act now. Alton Robinson is set to replace Bruce Irvin in the pass rush rotation but it’s too much for a fifth round rookie to come in and save the day. Even if they bring in Clay Matthews or Cam Wake purely for third down passing situations, they need to do something.

I fear, based on Carroll’s comments yesterday, that nothing is forthcoming. Matthews reportedly had a clause in his contract with the Rams to pay him a certain amount this year if cut and not employed by another team. Any prospective suitor will need to make it worth his while to play. Wake is nearly 39-years-old and likewise might need coaxing back onto the field with a generous salary.

It seems like the Seahawks are stuck with what they’ve got, which is a concern given the loss of Irvin for the rest of the season and the increasing likelihood that Darrell Taylor will not play in 2020. Rasheem Green is also currently injured.

It’s extremely positive to see Quinton Dunbar graded with a 79.4. Last week he was Seattle’s lowest graded defender with a 40.6. He’s gone from worst to first. We all know PFF are big fans of Dunbar after grading him the #2 cornerback in the league last year. However, the Seahawks are banking on him having an impact. With an interception in the bag and now a strong overall performance, this is a big step forward.

The same can’t be said for Shaquill Griffin. He was given a 52.1 grade against Atlanta and this week he only faired marginally better (57.2). This isn’t a good start to his contract year. It’s also worth noting that Dunbar, with his interception on Sunday, now has 33% of Griffin’s career turnover production in two games.

There’s been talk of a potential contract extension down the line. For me, if this continues, the Seahawks would be better off waiting this out. If Dunbar outperforms Griffin, he’s the one you want to prioritise. Griffin has always looked ‘decent’ rather than ‘great’. Letting him test the market might not be the worst thing to do but there’s still plenty of time for improvement this season.

There’s one other concern and that’s the loss of Marquise Blair. The Seahawks had big hopes for Blair and he was regularly talked up as a positive from training camp. He was replaced by Ugo Amadi, who took over as the slot corner midway through last season. Personally, I didn’t think he played well in the role. I don’t think he’s naturally suited to it.

Perhaps he deserves the benefit of the doubt coming into a game in progress but he only received a 54.3 grade for his performance against New England. Rather than revert back to base defense or try to fit Amadi into the position, they might be better off trying to add a more natural slot corner. It’s one of the positions where they’ve often been able to find a diamond in the rough. Is there someone out there on a practise squad who might be able to come in and compete for a job?

On offense there weren’t any surprises. Russell Wilson was given a fantastic 88.8 grade. David Moore, Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf and Chris Carson all scored highly. Duane Brown received an 80.8 and Damien Lewis an 81.2 (Lewis received an elite run blocking grade of 90.6 but a horrendous pass blocking grade of 30.8).

Last week Mike Iupati scored poorly against the Falcons with a 37.9. Against the Patriots he was among Seattle’s top performers with a 71.8. His main competition for the left guard spot, Jordan Simmons, only received a 55.9 grade for his eight snaps.

Ethan Pocic was given a 65.8 grade which isn’t problematic. Brandon Shell’s 61.2, however, is right on the borderline of concern. Generally speaking though, the line did a good job against the Patriots. That’s encouraging, given the lack of pre-season games to build chemistry.

The tight ends were a mixed bag too. Will Dissly (69.0) received a decent grade but Jacob Hollister (55.1) was viewed less favourably. Neither compare to Greg Olsen though who was given a miserable 39.2 grade. His most notable contribution in the game was the pick six. The Seahawks need more from Olsen in the coming weeks.

Seattle’s special teams unit is ranked #1 in the league by DVOA after two weeks. Nick Bellore graded very well in this area against New England (75.7) closely followed by David Moore (73.7), Jacob Hollister (71.4), Lano Hill (71.4) and Tre Flowers (71.0). Never underestimate the importance of ST’s when considering roster decisions.

The Seahawks should call the Washington Football Team

Here’s a final thought for today. Yesterday I suggested the Seahawks had to do something to improve their pass rush. I think, in all likelihood, they’ll be forced to continue as they are. However, one name consistently comes up who might be a realistic target.

Ryan Kerrigan was desperate to return to the Washington Football Team this year because he was one sack away from equalling the franchise record of 91. With his two sacks already this season, he’s not only equalled the record — he’s broken it.

His contract expires at the end of the season and with Washington having spent first round picks on Chase Young and Montez Sweat, they are well stocked at defensive end. They’re in the early stages of a re-tool and re-shape on and off the field.

Franchise hero or not, it might be worth seeing what they can get for Kerrigan. Improve their draft stock and roll with Young and Sweat.

It’d be similar to the Duane Brown trade. Acquire a veteran who can deliver some instant impact and fill a crucial need.

It might cost a similar price. The Seahawks are already without their 2021 and 2022 first round picks and their 2021 third rounder. It might cost a second rounder for a player you aren’t guaranteed to retain, so it wouldn’t be cheap.

However, there’s also no reason why they couldn’t extend Kerrigan’s contract fairly quickly. He isn’t restricted from negotiating like Jadeveon Clowney was a year ago. You could argue the juice would be worth the squeeze if he can deliver the legit edge pressure the Seahawks are badly lacking.

With the sacks record in Washington now secure, would Kerrigan welcome an opportunity to try and help the Seahawks make a Super Bowl run?

And like Brown, could he provide 2-4 seasons of veteran quality at a position of serious need?

It’d be worth a call to Ron Rivera.

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Why the Seahawks have to act now

Monday, September 21st, 2020

Russell Wilson deserves better.

Seattle’s quarterback, somehow, continues to reach new levels. We’re witnessing a Hall of Fame career play out.

Wilson is capable of taking the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. He’s also well complimented by weapons and while the offensive line is far from perfect, there are at least some encouraging signs that the unit is progressing.

All of this is going to be undermined by the pass rush.

The Seahawks have given up 970 yards in two games — more than any other team in the league. Their average so far of 415.5 yards per game conceded is by far the most in the NFL. Atlanta’s horrible defense is second (372 YPG) and the third worst is Jacksonville on 294 YPG.

Think about that for a second. The Seahawks are giving up 121 yards per game more than the third worst team for the statistic in the entire league.

Their four man rush is atrocious. There’s no speed off the edge. There’s no interior push.

Opponents understand this too. Atlanta and New England attempted a combined 98 pass attempts against Seattle’s defense. That’s 11 higher than any other team in the league has faced so far. And before anyone pins it on the two opponents faced — remember that Dan Quinn spent the off-season talking about re-committing to the running game and the Patriots ran all over the Dolphins in week one.

The Seahawks rely totally on a blitzing safety to generate pressure. That has consequences because according to NFL Next Gen Stats the Patriots were 6/6 for 157 yards when Jamal Adams was the nearest defender to the targeted receiver.

According to Pro Football Reference they are currently blitzing at a rate of 18% — ninth most in the league. That might not sound overly dramatic but they are blitzing to try and prop up the flaws up front. This isn’t a blitzing scheme.

Despite this, Seattle’s hurry percentage is just 4% after two games. Their pressure percentage is 11.9%. Their sack percentage is 3%. All are in the bottom third for the league.

I can’t separate these stats to show the splits between an Adams blitz and pressure created by the front four. My suspicion is a lot of Seattle’s successful rushes were delivered by Adams. He is a very good blitzer.

It’s unrealistic and unreasonable, however, to expect him to play well in coverage while needing to do the job of the pass rush.

With the news today that Bruce Irvin has suffered a torn ACL, the Seahawks’ pass rush is even weaker. It couldn’t afford to take a hit like this. They needed to add — not replace.

They have no choice but to be the pro-active front office we’ve seen in the past.

This is the team that traded for Sheldon Richardson when they needed an interior rusher. They traded for Duane Brown when they needed a left tackle. They moved to add Jadeveon Clowney a year ago when the pass rush threatened to consist of Cassius Marsh, Barkevious Mingo and Jacob Martin. They made a blockbuster deal for Jamal Adams a matter of weeks ago.

Now is the time to be aggressive again. Otherwise we’ll be sat here in January talking about how this pass rush wasted another season of prime Russell Wilson.

You can’t keep skipping near the cliff edge. You can’t keep asking Wilson to pull off miracles. You have to support him. You have to give him a defense that is capable of doing enough to complement his cooking.

That means a defense that puts up some resistance and can at the very least finish a game when you’re leading by 12 with mere minutes remaining.

It’s not about going out there and remaking the LOB two weeks into the season. It’s about doing something to improve the situation.

Benson Mayowa and L.J. Collier are not good enough to be your starting defensive ends. Mayowa played 90% of the snaps against New England and was ineffective. He’s never been in this role before. He’s not a 60-70 snap premier rusher.

Is 34-year-old Clay Matthews a cure-all solution? No. Is he better than Mayowa and Collier at rushing the passer? Yes.

The same goes for Cameron Wake. He’ll be 39 in January. Is he a better player to have rushing the edge on third down than Mayowa or Collier? Probably.

Is it time to get Marcell Dareus or Snacks Harrison on a plane for a try-out? If they don’t want to play football — fair enough. If they want to play — get them in for a look.

Are there players out there who might be available via trade? Possibly. It’s time to get on the phone and find out. I’m sure they probably already are. And if it takes giving up your 2021 second rounder to find a solution — so be it.

They might need to indulge in Sammy Watkins/Dante Fowler/Leonard Williams style rentals. That’s simply the situation they’re in now.

I’m not naive enough to think this team isn’t already working overtime to find solutions. Carroll and Schneider aren’t daft. They know this line isn’t good enough.

However — they knew that in March all the way through to August. They didn’t act when better options were available. They can’t continue to be inactive now that they’re seeing the fruits of their attempt to fix the pass rush this year.

If Bruce Irvin is simply replaced by Alton Robinson — a player already deemed not ready enough to even be active — and/or a return for Rasheem Green, the results are unlikely to change.

They can’t keep wasting seasons. They’ve got to 2-0 and now is the time to be bold.

How it came to this will and should be talked about throughout the season. Serious questions still need to be asked of Carroll as to how they ended up with this D-line despite identifying it as the top priority.

It’s also disheartening that once again their early draft picks are nowhere to be seen. In 2017 it was Malik McDowell and Ethan Pocic. In 2018 it was Rashaad Penny and Rasheem Green. In 2019 it was L.J. Collier and Marquise Blair. Now it’s Jordyn Brooks and Darrell Taylor.

It’s remarkable that their last eight high picks have been so unable to contribute early. D.K. Metcalf is a great success story so far but it doesn’t account for this kind of run early in the draft. There’s too much of a trend.

Brooks had just eight snaps yesterday — only three more than Cody Barton.

It’s not too late to give yourself a fighting chance of getting just enough to support the man who can lead you to a Super Bowl though.

Look at DVOA so far. The Seahawks have the #2 ranked offense, the #1 ranked special teams (!!!) and the #23 ranked defense. Let’s be right — they’re as high as #23 because of Jamal Adams.

If you can get a better big bodied defensive tackle to support your linebackers and keep them clean and a better pass rusher off the edge, that #23 ranking could be closer to #16-18 and then you at least have a fighting chance.

The Seahawks should never have a near perfect game from Wilson combined with a 154 rushing day and a handsome 35-23 fourth quarter lead and nearly lose the game.

That cannot happen again. Now is the time for action.

It basically comes down to this — do you want to win a Super Bowl or not?

I want to win a Super Bowl. Russell Wilson wants to win a Super Bowl.

How about you?

If the answer is yes, they need to make additions.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks nearly blow it (but don’t)

Sunday, September 20th, 2020

Just when you think you’ve seen it all.

The Pete Carroll era has delivered some incredible moments. Improbable games with ridiculous endings.

This was another.

On a night when Russell Wilson somehow elevated to yet another level, the hero at the end was a crashing Lano Hill, blowing up a run by Cam Newton (tidied up violently by L.J. Collier) to save the day.

The Seahawks have found every way to win a game over the last 10 years. This was simply the latest example.

And while the win was great, it should never have been this close. Had Seattle lost in the end, it would’ve been a disgrace. To lead 35-23 in the fourth quarter and nearly lose is unacceptable.

Everything we’ve talked about for months is playing out in front of us.

This defensive line and pass rush is going to cost the Seahawks. It nearly did tonight. It will do in the future. They’re 2-0 but how long until they drop a game because of this massive glaring issue?

They started the off-season stating it was a priority. Somehow they’ve made the pass rush even worse.

Nobody pushed the pocket from the interior. There was no speed off the edge. Nobody got into the backfield. The four man rush is absolutely abysmal.

It seems the defense is totally reliant on Jamal Adams for any semblance of pressure. Either he blitzes and gets home, or you face the consequences.

Third down after third down was converted. The Patriots passed for 22 first downs compared to only five running. They totalled 464 yards of offense. They were 7/12 on third down and 1/1 on fourth down.

Everyone blamed ‘garbage time’ for Matt Ryan’s 450 yards last week. This time, Cam Newton had 397.

In two games they’ve conceded 55 points and given up 970 yards.

970 yards!

It’s stunning, even after months of talking about it, that this is the situation. How did they handle their top priority this badly?

For all the hand-wringing about how often we’ve talked about this — don’t you see why? You need something from your pass rush. They are getting nothing.

Russell Wilson is playing his heart out and looks like a legit MVP candidate. The offense is rocking and rolling.

They are getting nothing from the defense.

Everything we said — that this pass rush will seriously risk wasting another season of prime Wilson — is coming true.

They have to do something. Even if it’s just Cam Wake and/or Clay Matthews. This can’t continue. Whether it’s Dak Prescott next week, one (or all) of the NFC West quarterbacks or someone else down the line, this will cost them. It will undermine the major positives on this team.

This offense can win a Super Bowl.

This defense will stop them doing so.

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