Seahawks defense is swirling down in an ugly death spiral

The Seahawks defense played their worst game of the season against the Buccaneers. Sadly, I see no reason to expect anything different the rest of the year.

The Seahawks defense seems to be in a tailspin this season. After their performance against the Bucs Sunday, I’m inclined to say it’s a death spiral. I believe it’s safe to say we’ve all seen enough of this terrible Seahawks defense. And terrible is the right word for it.

I could use other words, I suppose. Awful, heinous, and miserable come to mind, and that’s without resorting to Roget’s. Ineffectual, ineffective, and indecent also spring forth, much like Bucs receiver Mike Evans with no defender within ten yards of him. How exactly did we reach this sorry state?

It started in 2017. The Hawks had made the playoffs for five straight years. The defense had slipped a bit, but was still ranked third in points and fifth in yards allowed. You know you’re good when you’ve slipped and are still one of the league’s best. But that year saw a lot of changes in Seattle.

Marshawn Lynch was gone, and the running game suffered. Despite that the offense jumped from 18th in the league in 2016 to 11th in points scored. While the offense improved by 12 points, the defense allowed 40 more points in 2017. They dropped from third in the NFL all the way to 13th. Pete Carroll believed the team needed something new, and replaced defensive coordinator Kris Richard with Ken Norton Jr., who’d earlier coached the Seahawks linebackers for five seasons.

Seahawks made a major mistake after 2017

There was a major development in 2017 that had a pretty big impact on the team’s performance. Make that two developments. Both Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman were lost for the season in game nine versus the Cardinals. The Hawks were 6-3 at that point. Without their star strong safety and cornerback, they went just 3-4 the rest of the way. Through the first nine games the Seahawks allowed 18.3 points per game. In the final seven games, Seattle gave up an average of 23.9 points.

The drop in performance continued under Norton in 2018. While the Seahawks rank in points allowed improved a bit, from 13th to 11th, they actually surrendered 15 more points in all. They also gave up considerably more yards. Typically that doesn’t bother me to much. They put the points on the scoreboard, not the yards. But when you allow 30 more yards per game, there’s a problem. It sure doesn’t look like Kris Richard’s defense was at fault, either.

So far, 2019 looks like a disaster. I gave the Seahawks defense generous grades at midseason, far too generous considering their performance against Mike Evans and the rest of the Buccaneers. The defensive line got a C-, mainly because Jadeveon Clowney and Quinton Jefferson have been a standouts on the unit. The linebackers got a B-, and that went right in the trash Sunday as well. And speaking of Mike Evans, how on earth did the secondary repeatedly lose him? He’s 6’5″, not 5’6″. Unbelievable.

Seahawks defense keeps getting worse

As of now, Seattle ranks 22nd in points and 25th in yards allowed. The fact they rank third in the league in turnover ratio has been the saving grace of the defense. That, and Russell Wilson has bailed them out in six of their seven wins. It certainly doesn’t help matters that Norton insists on staying in their 4-3 base defense far too often.

The Tampa Bay game provides a perfect case in point. The Bucs ran the ball 26 times while calling 46 pass plays. They rank sixth in the NFL in pass attempts and 14th in rushing attempts. Yet the Seahawks stubbornly stayed in their base defense again. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks was in for 54 snaps, 68 percent of the Hawks defensive plays. Jamar Taylor, Seattle’s main nickel corner, played 34 snaps, or 43 percent of the plays. This is despite the fact that Tampa Bay passes 61 percent of the time. This is despite the fact that Kendricks has a passer rating against of 95.7 and Taylor’s is 81.5.

That’s basically the difference between facing a solid passer in Lamar Jackson and the wildly inconsistent Ryan Fitzpatrick. Why would you make that choice? Yet Norton consistently makes that decision every game. He chooses to have his linebackers cover wide receivers, despite the fact he has the players available who are far more capable at the task.

I’m with Lee Vowell, who already wisely asked that the Seahawks part ways with Norton. Things have gotten so bad that Bobby Wagner has publicly acknowledged the defense has to get better. That’s the guy who last year was the unquestioned, unassailable best defender in the league. And now he has to talk about discipline because the team has a bad pass rush and an even worse scheme. That’s not fair to Wagner, his teammates, or the 12s. The sooner Ken Norton realizes it’s not 1995 any more, the sooner the Hawks might turn this defense around.