Aside from digging into the various news stories, I’ve largely neglected talking about the Seahawks by design: 2017 was a bitter pill to swallow. After such a sustained stretch of brilliance, this team was a slog to cover last year; but, they’ve jettisoned a lot of aging veterans, brought in fresh blood throughout the organization, and I would argue there’s some reasons to be optimistic (even though my default prediction is that this team will win anywhere from 7-9 games; everything would have to go perfectly in our favor to get to 10 wins or more, and when does THAT ever happen?).
So, with precious few weeks remaining until the pre-season games kick things off, I’ve got a quickie series of posts where I’ll look at the 7 areas of this team as they’re set up right now:
- Passing Game (QB / WR / TE / RB)
- Running Game (RB / QB)
- Blocking Game (OL / TE)
- Special Teams (K / P / Coverage Units / Return Game)
- Pass Rush (DE / LB)
- Run Defense (DT / DE / LB)
- Pass Defense (DB / LB)
Without further ado, let’s talk about the Seahawks’ Pass Defense.
Ahh yes, the great unknown. There are certain groups I’m really excited to see this pre-season: the running backs, the wide receivers, the offensive line (weirdly enough), and of course the rookie punter; having a lot of new pieces to work with is something to look forward to. But, as for the cornerbacks, ironically enough I’m just nervous.
Last year, I thought we were pretty solid at cornerback up until Richard Sherman was out for the season (and his Seahawks career, as it turns out). If I was grading this group before the season, I probably would’ve been in the B+ or A- range. Obviously, with Sherm, one side is taken care of. But, we had a lot of questions about the other side, as well as the nickel spot.
This year, Sherm is gone, which is obviously a HUGE blow. But, Shaquill Griffin looked really good for a rookie, holding his own opposite our Hall of Famer. Now, Griffin crosses over, inheriting Sherm’s side of the field, but in spite of his promising first year, there are still more questions. First and foremost: can he take that next step? Can he go from a prospect with a lot of potential to a Pro Bowler? It’s asking too much for him to be Sherm 2.0, but can he approach that sort of greatness? He had just the 1 INT last year, and he WILL be tested in year two; so can we make other teams pay? Passes defended are great, but with this defense’s lack of a pass rush, we’re going to need as many turnovers as we can get. Taking advantage of the league’s overconfidence in throwing on Griffin is our best bet.
Other questions include: will the switching of sides work against Griffin’s development? I wouldn’t think so, and the team doesn’t seem too concerned about it, but you never know. Also, will we run into a worst case scenario situation of a Sophomore Slump? If this team is ever going to get back to its former glories while we’re still in Russell Wilson’s prime, we’re going to need stars blossoming around him. Griffin has the potential to be a star; a regression would be utter disaster.
Until I see different, I can only expect this to be a downgrade from Sherm to Griffin. I think it’s appropriate to move on and get younger, but all the same Griffin is no guarantee. As such, that also points to a downgrade opposite of Griffin, where Byron Maxwell figures to get first crack at the job. We got him back on a 1-year prove-it deal, which again is a move I agree with, but he’s clearly lost a step since the last time he was with the Seahawks (before his big money deal with Philly). Don’t get me wrong, I think Maxwell is fine, but he’s likely not going to be as good as Griffin was last year, and he’s certainly not a long-term solution.
One area where the Seahawks really hit it big was getting Justin Coleman to be the nickel guy. He was terrific last year and I would expect more of the same this year!
Beyond the core three, we’re bound to see a lot of competition for the final spots. Dontae Johnson is a 5th year guy out of San Francisco who I’d expect is nothing more than insurance, in the event our younger guys don’t pan out. Akeem King is in his 3rd year and seems like more of a project who’s getting a final shot to make the NFL. Neiko Thorpe is back, but the team has always had him pegged as a Special Teams ace. It feels like Thorpe will actually have to show something on the defensive side of the ball, or else risk getting the ax for salary cap purposes (as we look a lot better up and down our Special Teams roster). DeAndre Elliott is an interesting name, in his third year with the Seahawks. He’s been bitten by the injury bug, but he knows the system and has showed a lot of promise in past pre-seasons. If anyone is going to beat out Byron Maxwell, I think Elliott has a real shot. Then, we’ve got Mike Tyson, who gets another crack at trying to make the team. Seems like the biggest longshot.
Then, there’s rookie Tre Flowers, selected in the 5th round. He’s listed as a safety, but all signs point to him getting a crack at one of the outside corner spots. He’s got the size, but it’s probably premature to expect him to make an impact right out of the gate.
All in all, this is the toughest position for me to grade. I think there’s real potential for this group to get up to an A-, but there’s also a very real possibility they fall to a C-. The scheme and the coaching staff alone probably prevents this group from being total F’s, but it’s tough because we’ve been so spoiled since 2011. We’ve had A’s in there just about every year, written in pen, before putting in even the slightest amount of thought. So, my grade is a B-, with the hope that I’m REALLY underestimating these guys.
No Kam Chancellor, out injured, never to play again. No Earl Thomas, holding out on the final year of his deal, not likely to return to the Seahawks ever again (unless we hard-line teams trying to trade for him, in which case I’d expect to see him in Week 11, with his heart certainly not in it).
So, yeah, HUGE downgrade from a season ago!
Bradley McDougald was signed before last year as insurance against injuries, and it turned out to be one of the more insightful moves the team has made in free agency. He was brought back, and figures to start at Earl’s spot. I don’t remember a lot about his play last year, but from what I’ve been told he was fine. I don’t remember any glaring weaknesses, but I also don’t sit there and pour through the game tape with a fine-tooth comb. He feels like a Replacement Level player, or maybe a little better. Just an average starting safety; he won’t wow you, but he also won’t look bad very often.
And it gets more dicey from there.
I guess Delano Hill gets his shot – in his second year – to take over for Kam. I don’t remember him playing at all last year, outside of special teams I guess. So, really, anything goes here. He was never going to play significantly as a rookie regardless, because there were 3 guys ahead of him on the depth chart, so maybe he’s secretly great and we just have no idea! I mean, Kam came out of nowhere in his second year – taking over for Lawyer Milloy – and he was an absolute revelation; maybe we’re in for something similar again this year!
Something tells me to not hold my breath.
Beyond that, Maurice Alexander appears to be our veteran insurance, in his fifth season after playing for the Rams. He’s just a guy, but he’s almost guaranteed to make the team based on his experience level alone. Tedric Thompson is obviously someone we all know – taken in the same draft as Hill, in the 4th round – but everything I’ve read has been disappointing. He definitely doesn’t look like he’s going to be Earl 2.0. Beyond that: a whole lotta nothin’.
I’m grading this a D+ and crossing my fingers. McDougald isn’t a long-term solution, Hill might be okay, but nobody is going to be the next Earl. That’ll have a ripple effect on the cornerbacks and everyone else in pass defense.
I’ll wrap it up here with another love-fest for the linebackers. K.J. Wright leads the show here, and he’s remarkable in pass defense. Bobby Wagner isn’t far behind him, as he’s also excellent in everything he does. Shaquem Griffin could be a nice little weapon for us, as he’s got speed for days. I give this group an A.
Overall, while I expect the organization to coach these guys up to respectability, the pass defense isn’t going to be the strength it once was. With the lack of pass rush, as I talked about before, I would expect a lot of long drives and a lot of third downs converted.
To counter-balance that, my hope is we can generate a lot of turnovers. I do expect run defense to be our strength on this side of the ball, which leads me to hope that teams try to throw more. In that scenario, if the Seahawks are going to contend for the playoffs, they’re going to need turnovers. Lots of interceptions, and lots of luck with recovering fumbles. Those are IMPOSSIBLE to predict, of course, so to go into a season expecting this would be insane.
Given the crop of quarterbacks we’re scheduled to face this year, I think we can see Shaquill Griffin take the next step, we can see Justin Coleman to continue to be great in the middle, we can have our linebackers do their thing, we can get competent play out of our other cornerback spot, and we can get competent play out of our safeties and I STILL think teams will have little trouble moving the ball against this pass defense. It’s impossible to cover guys for 8, 9, 10 seconds per play.
We saw the defense as a whole take a little bit of a step back in 2017, as guys got injured and whatnot. I think most fans are expecting maybe even a little more of a step back – maybe towards the middle of the pack, in the NFL rankings – but I’m here to tell you that I think our pass defense is going to be in the bottom third, or even bottom quarter, of the entire league. It’s going to be gross. We’re going to give up A LOT of points, and it’s only going to be those games where the offense is really humming that we’re going to win. Don’t look for those low-scoring, grind-it-out games where the defense keeps us in it until the offense can get going in the 4th quarter, because we won’t be winning games like that this year!
The plus side about the defense as a whole is there’s more chance for variance. If I’m right, then we’ll be terrible. But, if I’m wrong, there’s a chance we could be great. Maybe not in the top 3, but top third of the league isn’t out of the question. If we can be as good as we were last year, as far as giving up yards and points, this team has a chance to win 9-10 games. Failing that, chock 2018 up as a Transition Year.