Will the 2015 Seahawks Defense Be Better Than Their 2014 Counterparts?

Our trusty neighborhood Hawkblogger has been writing a lot recently about the Seahawks’ defense; mostly about how it’s been truly great – maybe even the G.O.A.T. – the last few years, while occasionally commenting on how the 2015 version might be even better than it was last year.

It all boils down to a couple key factors:  health, and how the younger players progress in their development.

For the record, I don’t think anything will top the 2013 version of this defense.  That’s a Once in a Generation lineup; maybe even Once in a Lifetime.  Pete Carroll and John Schneider could stick with this team for the next 20 years and exclusively focus on that side of the ball and I don’t think they manage to surpass what we were able to do in that championship season.

But, I do think we can approach where this defense was in 2012 and 2014, as I feel those two units were pretty much on par with one another.

For funsies, let’s compare the 2014 unit with what we’re looking at in 2015.

Secondary

The biggest difference – and the biggest dropoff – will be at starting cornerback opposite Richard Sherman.  Byron Maxwell has been a stud since he took over for Brandon Browner in 2013.  Obviously, he didn’t get the credit he deserved, what with playing next to the rest of the L.O.B., but he CERTAINLY got the money he deserved from Philly in this offseason.  He’s getting paid like a starter and a superstar starter at that; his replacement has huge shoes to fill.

It’s probably not fair to pin the role of “Maxwell Replacement” all on one guy, but Cary Williams just signed a 3-year, $18 million deal, with $7 million fully guaranteed.  The Seahawks can probably get out of this after a year, so it’s not like we’re stuck with him, but you have to figure he’s going to be the guy on the inside track to start for this team.  It’s either him or Tharold Simon, as those are pretty much the two guys capable of playing on the outside on an every-down basis.

Will the Seahawks see Simon improve from year 2-3 the way we saw Maxwell make the leap from year 2-3?  I hope so.  I think Williams is an okay corner, but I also think there was a reason why we were able to get him at such a reasonable pricetag.  Unless Simon seriously impresses, I think we’ve got a significant dropoff on our hands in this secondary (a unit increasingly more troublesome if nagging injuries start to take it down piece by piece).

And that’s not even mentioning the fact that Jeremy Lane might miss half the season or more thanks to his injuries from the Super Bowl.  You noticed that Burley’s reps went down significantly once guys started getting healthy.  The Seahawks brought back Will Blackmon, but he feels more like depth than a serious player dominating the reps inside.  Hopefully, rookie Tye Smith is the real deal, the way I’ve seen some people write about him.

Linebackers

The starters remain the same.  Bobby Wagner is an All Pro talent.  K.J. Wright is the glue that holds it all together.  And Bruce Irvin is going into a contract year, looking to get paid.  That reason alone leads me to believe we’ll not only not see a dropoff in production, but we might actually see IMPROVED production out of an already-elite unit.  From a depth perspective, KPL looks to be a clear upgrade over Malcolm Smith, which makes this group even scarier.

Defensive Line

This is where we’ll find out if 2015 is better than 2014 or not.  If the Seahawks are going to remain the best defense in football, they’re going to need this unit to pick up the slack for our step back in the secondary – especially in the pass rush department.

Michael Bennett threatening to hold out muddles things quite a bit.  I don’t think he’ll actually skip practices – the fine system in place makes it nearly impossible, not to mention his contract status (being in the 2nd year of a 4-year deal) – but as a fan you have to question whether his heart is going to be in it this year.  If he feels like he’s being underpaid, what’s his incentive to try to out-play his contract?  Especially when he has two more years to ramp it back up again.

For the most part, I think he’ll be okay.  At some point, pride and competitiveness will kick in.  But, I can’t help it if it’s a nagging concern, made all the more annoying as it will be a constant storyline throughout the year in the media.

Looking at things from a Players-On-The-Field perspective, we’ve got Bennett and Avril back again.  We’ve got a healthy Mebane and a healthy Jordan Hill.  We’ve got Tony McDaniel and newcomer Ahtyba Rubin as a couple more widebodies.  Our run defense should be rock solid, assuming the guys stay healthy for the most part.

On the outside, supplementing Bennett and Avril, we’ve got the aforementioned Irvin.  Want to know the quickest way to earn a big-money deal?  Start racking up those sacks!  But, those are all guys we had last year, and while the pass rush was fine, it wasn’t quite what it was in 2013.

A lot of how fierce we are as a pass rushing unit will come down to 2nd year pro Cassius Marsh and rookie Frank Clark.  Those two have to step up.  On clear pass-rushing downs, we need to be able to play Avril and Bennett on one side (with Bennett sliding in to play tackle), with some combination of Hill, Marsh, and Clark on the other side (leaving Irvin free to rush off the edge if the situation calls for it).  That means one of Marsh or Clark needs to be our 2013 version of Chris Clemons.  Ideally, that means a guy who’s just as good against the rush as he is against the pass, but I’d settle for a guy who can hold his own, apply pressure, and let the rest of our studs clean up the quarterback.

It would seem to me to be asking a lot of this defense to be better than it was in 2014.  I happen to think there’s no way in Hell it’s going to happen, as you’re asking for too many variables to go your way.  I do think there’s an outside chance that the Seahawks continue to be the best defense in football, but it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see us fall into the 5-10 range in the rankings.  Serious injuries may even cause us to fall out of the top 10 entirely.

Believe you me, I’m not trying to be as negative as possible.  I hope I’m wrong, I really do!  I hope our young linemen produce beyond our wildest dreams and I hope Cary Williams – utilized properly in a cornerback-friendly system – allows us to keep chugging along accordingly.  But, I dunno.

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