Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks have turned defensive woes around
Nov 4, 2022, 10:00 AM
(Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
Behind Enemy Lines brings you the key storylines and latest news for the Arizona Cardinals’ opponents each week this season.
Seahawks believe successful shift on defense is permanent
By The Associated Press
RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Shelby Harris was in a footrace, which usually is not what the Seattle Seahawks want one of their burly defensive linemen to be doing.
In this case, though, that moment of Harris chasing down New York Giants QB Daniel Jones and stopping him from reaching the first down was a perfect example of the effort that’s led an drastic turnaround for the Seahawks defense.
“It’s just selling out for the man next to you, a willingness to do anything that is asked of you,” Harris said. “I think that is the epitome of the whole team, everybody is willing to sell out for the person next to him, to buy in, and do what is needed to come home with a win.”
There’s a lot of good stories developing in Seattle with a team that’s among the biggest surprises nearing the midpoint of the regular season.
And near the top of that list is a defense that couldn’t stop anyone early in the season becoming one of the better units in the league over the past three weeks.
“We were all thinking that we had to get this rolling,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We all just kind of put our heads together, stayed together, stayed connected, and now we are on the end of it, and we are trying to really build something big.”
Less than a month ago, the Seahawks were among the worst defenses in the NFL as they struggled with an offseason change to a 3-4 alignment. They had allowed 84 points in a two-game span against Detroit and New Orleans and had just watched the Saints rush for 235 yards in a deflating loss.
Seattle found itself near the bottom of most major statistically categories on defense.
Frustrating? Maybe infuriating was a better word.
“I was obviously frustrated and pissed off to say the least, but on the other side of it, I’ve been through a lot harder things in my personal life,” Seattle defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said.
“Going through some tough issues in football, we just have to keep coaching our way through it, keep on battling, and continue to show the support of the players of, ‘Hey, I’m with you, we are all in this thing together, and collectively, we will get this thing done.’”
It appears the Seahawks have gotten it done, at least for the past three weeks. Seattle has allowed just 45 total points in the past three games combined, and have managed to shut down the Cardinals, Chargers and Giants in different ways.
Last week against the Giants was potentially the most impressive of the three performances as New York entered with the second-best rushing offense in the league and was held to 78 yards rushing. The Giants only touchdown came following a Seattle turnover inside its 5-yard-line.
“New Orleans had a lot to do with it because for us up front, we feel like that was a game that got away from us. It was a game that all of us should have played better,” Harris said. “It was a matter of enough is enough.”
So what changed?
Well, the Seahawks did, specifically on the defensive line. Seattle adjusted after the New Orleans debacle and allowed its defensive linemen to be more aggressive, especially against the run. Rather than trying to read the play and occupy offensive linemen, the job has now become to be as disruptive as possible.
Seattle has also played more nickel of late with an extra defensive back — rookie Coby Bryant — on the field. That seems to have helped as well. The arrival of veteran Bruce Irvin and the continued strong play of Seattle’s secondary has contributed as well.
By some advanced metrics, the Seahawks are near the top of the league during this three-game stretch. Football Outsiders DVOA rating has Seattle’s defense first over the past three weeks after being 30th in the league the first five weeks of the season.
The Seahawks get another chance to test the validity of the changes they’ve made facing the Cardinals again on Sunday.
“I’ve been telling guys before, we had the same situation back in 2020, 2021 and started off kind of sloppy, but we ended up getting stuff together,” safety Ryan Neal said. “We came back to work, understood the importance of what we got to do.”
NOTES: QB Geno Smith was the NFC offensive player of the month, while rookie RB Kenneth Walker III and CB Tariq Woolen were NFL offensive and defensive rookies of the month all for the month of October. It’s the first time since the league started awarding rookie of the month in 1996 that players from the same team were honored in the same month.
Schlereth: How Seahawks are setting Geno Smith up to sustain this success – Thursday
The Seahawks are feeling really good heading into a Week 9 clash with the Arizona Cardinals as they’ve won three games in a row, are in first place in the NFC West and have one of the best and hottest quarterbacks in football under center in Geno Smith.
Smith has been one of the top storylines in the NFL this season as he was a longtime backup before winning the Seahawks’ starting quarterback job this offseason. Many thought Smith and the Hawks would struggle and that the team may even be tanking for a high draft pick.
But instead, Smith leads all quarterbacks in completion percentage and is in the top 10 in passing yards and touchdowns.
So is this who Smith really is? Can he keep up this level of play? Former NFL offensive lineman and current NFL commentator Mark Schlereth thinks so.
“Listen, there’s no reason based upon the way they’re playing and the way he’s playing that he can’t sustain it,” Schlereth told Seattle Sports 710 AM’s Wyman and Bob on Tuesday.
And it goes beyond Smith’s play – which Schlereth thinks has been great. He thinks head coach Pete Carroll is setting Smith up to succeed in a big way.
“One thing I know about Pete, you’re gonna run the ball, you’re gonna set up your play-action you’re gonna get predictable defenses,” he said. “… When you run the ball exceptionally well, you’re gonna play some type of post-safety defense, right? Meaning you’re gonna play a single-high safety because you’ve gotta get eight guys in the box and you’ve got to stop that run – you’ve got to be committed to that. Well, you get predictable looks. Like anything vertical on outside in that look you’re gonna get man coverage … So now we’re creating pre-snap predictability for our quarterback because we’re so good at something.”
That means the Seahawks have a true identity on offense, Schlereth said, and he thinks Carroll has done as good of a job as any coach in the NFL this year.
As far as Smith is concerned, Schlereth said the Seahawks QB is playing great football, and that people need to realize that.
“I think that the thing that we tend to forget – and I’m guilty of this, too – you see what he was with the Jets in a dysfunctional organization and situation, and you stamp them and say, ‘There he is.’ Well, he has been a student, he has been preparing, he has been working,” he said. “He throws the ball exceptionally well. I mean, the dude just unleashes. He uncorks it, he spins it tight, so you can even be late with a few throws and it still cuts through and gets there.”
Very rarely do you see a player have such a late-career turnaround, especially at quarterback. Schlereth played with someone who wound up doing that in Rich Gannon, an NFL journeyman who wound up winning NFL MVP at 37 years old while with the Raiders.
“He stuck with it, learned the game and got some opportunities and then became MVP. So it can be done,” Schlereth said. “And there’s no reason for me to think that Geno Smith can’t continue to play at this level.”
Listen to the full second hour of Tuesday’s Wyman and Bob at this link or in the player below.
Pete Carroll knows haters gonna hate – Tuesday
By The Associated Press
RENTON, Wash. (AP) — At what point does the conversation start to get serious about what’s happening with the Seattle Seahawks?
At first, it seemed a novelty that the team many considered before the season to be among the worst in the NFC was finding some success in the post-Russell Wilson era. Starting off 2-2 for a team pegged by oddsmakers not to win six games this season was kind of quaint.
But it seems past time for the tone about the Seahawks to change, especially after their thorough 27-13 win over the New York Giants on Sunday.
Seattle is 5-3, winners of three straight and leading the NFC West. They’re playing a complementary style during this win streak that other teams should be envying, especially those that were supposed to be the elite of the NFC and are currently scuffling.
There’s no guarantee this is going to continue for Seattle. But maybe, just maybe, Pete Carroll knew what he was doing all along.
Pete heard you. pic.twitter.com/HXfeQxtO4I
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) October 31, 2022
“I hate that we were crappy early in the year and we weren’t doing stuff right, but we held on to it and we knew — we felt like we knew where we could go, and we’re getting going,” Carroll said after Sunday’s win. “All the people that doubt — we run the ball too much, you don’t understand football and he can’t stay up with the new game and all that kind of stuff — that’s a bunch of crap, I’m telling you.
“We’re doing fine. We’re all right. I don’t mind proving it day in and day out.”
Seattle’s next two games are on the road at Arizona and against Tampa Bay in Germany before the bye week. But both games seem winnable and 7-3 can’t be out of the question for Seattle.
Less than a month ago, Seattle’s run defense was in shambles after giving up 235 yards on the ground against New Orleans. Only three times in the past 11 seasons had the Seahawks allowed more yards on the ground to an opponent.
And while there were noted improvements in the wins over Arizona and the Chargers, the real test came Sunday against the Giants’ Saquon Barkley and the No. 2 rush offense in the NFL.
Clearly, the Seahawks passed the test. Barkley was held to a season-low 53 yards and averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. Quarterback Daniel Jones was unable to add the running element to his game and managed only 20 yards rushing a week after running for 107 against Jacksonville.
“A lot of things that the Giants do is that they throw a lot of plays at you and see what works. If they find one, they are going to run it over and over and over again,” Seattle defensive lineman Shelby Harris said. “I feel like they were doing a lot of testers and there wasn’t much working. The front seven, the whole defense did well.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
It’s nit-picking coming off such a complete performance, but Seattle’s run game was fairly mundane until Kenneth Walker III broke free for a 16-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Take away that run, and Walker averaged 2.1 yards per carry on his other 17 attempts, and Seattle had just 87 yards total on the ground as a team.