So what changed the Seahawks defense? Less Barton, or more Irvin?

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Seahawks much-maligned defense came alive with a rush vs the Cardinals. What was the key? I’m not sure if it was less Cody Barton or more Bruce Irvin.

Calm down, 12s. I’m well aware that Bruce Irvin didn’t get a single snap in Seattle’s sweet win over Arizona. He’s still on the practice squad, so it would be pretty difficult for him to pull off one of his two-sack games. Still, there are ways to affect the outcome of a game without ever taking the field. You don’t have to line up across from a lineman to see blocking schemes and advise your teammates on the best line of attack.

As for Cody Barton’s performance this year, I’m as puzzled as the rest of you. I fully expected him to be a solid replacement for Bobby Wagner. As I wrote then, I didn’t expect him to be BWagz. But along with Jordyn Brooks, I thought they would be up to the task. Clearly, that was not the case through the first five weeks of this season. Their dismal performance against the Saints looked like almost every other defensive game this year.

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As a reminder, the Hawks entered this game surrendering 30.8 points per game. To say that the three points allowed vs the Cardinals were a significant turnaround is the understatement of the year. So what was different in week six? It isn’t just that Arizona’s offense isn’t one of the league’s best. I mean, they certainly aren’t, but their offense had scored 99 points in their previous five games. Not great, but that’s almost 17 points more than they scored on Seattle. Their previous low was a dozen against the Rams.

One key difference was the personnel we saw on the field for the Seahawks. Much like Seattle started the season against Denver, they played a ton of nickel coverage with Ryan Neal playing every snap in the place of Jamal Adams. Actually, he stepped in for Josh Jones, who initially took Adams’ role. Jones saw his snaps drop to 32 percent after he averaged 90% of snaps in the Hawks first four games. That can’t be the only answer, as Neal played every snap vs the Saints, and Jones actually played less.

I hate to say it, but it looks like the answer might be less Cody Barton. Jordyn Brooks played every snap, as he has virtually the entire season. Barton played nearly every snap in the first three games but has seen his playing time drop over the last three. His percentage dropped from 100% in week three to 62 percent and 77 percent in the following weeks. Last week, Barton was only in for 39 percent of the Seahawks defensive plays. Barton has truly struggled to cover passes over the middle.

In his place, the Hawks gave rookie linebacker Boye Mafe the most snaps of the season. Cornerback Coby Bryant was in for 75% of the game, too, and forced a fumble for the fourth time this year. Darrel Taylor played much better, recording a sack, a QB hit, a tackle for a loss, and forced a fumble. Overall, the Hawks put a ton of pressure on Kyler Murray. As Michael Bumpus described it for Seattle Sports 710 AM, that pressure was the key to their great performance.

Was it less Cody Barton, or more Bruce Irvin? Maybe it had more to do with Irvin discussing the pass rush with this young Seahawks team. As related by John Boyle for, Irvin was ready to do anything he could to help the team. As Irvin said about his conversation with Pete Carroll when he re-signed with Seattle:

"“(Carroll) told me that (leadership) was very big. In the outside linebacker room, I think Uchenna (Nwosu) is the oldest one, and he’s only like 25. I’m 35, so it’s a different experience, but he said that he definitely needed me in the locker room as well. I’m here for whatever, so if he needs me to give a speech every game, be the rah, rah guy, or carry the speaker out, or 12 flag, I’ll do it. I’m here just to help in any way that I can.”"

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Irvin has 52 sacks in his career, and will hopefully add to that total soon. Coming into this game, the Hawks that dropped Kyler Murray to the ground had a combined 63 sacks. Again, I am well aware that Bruce Irvin did not play in this game. The defensive line came up with three of the Hawks six sacks, too. Look, I know the lion’s share of the credit goes to the players on the field who got it done. Most of the improvement had to do with changes in scheme put in place by DC Clint Hurtt, and that includes personnel changes. Still, it’s interesting that a sack master like Irvin joins the team, and the defense roars back to life.