The Seahawks Are In The Market For A New Defensive Coordinator

The most pressing move of this offseason – non-player edition – was the fact that the Seahawks needed to fire Ken Norton Jr. and bring in a replacement defensive coordinator who’s actually worth a damn. According to recent reports, it looks like we’re halfway there.

It’s hard to get excited at a time like this, for a couple of reasons. For starters, it’s a little ghoulish to cheer for someone getting fired. But, as a former player and a longtime coach – who should have no trouble finding another job, at the very least, as a linebackers coach (his specialty) – I don’t think Ken Norton is hurting for money. If anything, it’s probably a little embarrassing and disappointing for him to be dismissed – especially when you can argue this is his second time failing as a defensive coordinator, meaning that there probably won’t be a third opportunity in his future, nor any opportunities for promotions to head coach in the NFL one day – but as a football coach, you have to get used to the idea of moving around and changing jobs every few years. That’s just the way it works the vast majority of the time.

Knowing that Ken Norton will be fine and will land on his feet, I would say it’s also hard to get excited right now because the great unknown is: who will be his replacement?

Initial reports are pointing to Ed Donatell – the Broncos’ most recent DC under Vic Fangio – and our very own defensive line coach, Clint Hurtt. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t understand why Hurtt is still employed here. What has he done to bolster the defensive line one iota since being hired in 2017? You’d think you’d have to master one smaller job before being promoted to overseeing the entire big job of defensive coordinator!

As for Donatell, he was infamously the DC at Washington when the Huskies went 0-12 in 2008. He has relatively extensive experience at the position – 11 years, across 4 different stops – and I remember his Denver defenses being pretty good (I’m sure a Broncos fan might tell me something different). If I had to choose between the two, I guess I’d go with Donatell.

But, the Seahawks don’t have to choose between just those two! They could have the pick of the litter if they really wanted! Why are we going after the defensive coordinator under Vic Fangio, when we could go after Vic Fangio himself?! He’s been pretty good-to-great everywhere he’s been as a DC. And he’s also pretty old school in his mindset, which would lead me to believe he and Pete Carroll would get along well enough.

The last two DCs we’ve had are Norton and Kris Richard. Norton with the Seahawks was in his second career stint as a DC (previously with the Raiders), Richard was in his first (after skyrocketing through the organization since Carroll first arrived). I would prefer the Seahawks go away from untested coordinators and bring in a salty veteran who knows what he’s doing.

It’s fair to question the roster at this point, and how much it could conceivably improve over this offseason. If you put great players out there – like we had in the L.O.B. era – you can hire pretty much anyone to be your DC and get great production. But, we’ve largely had mediocre defenses in the years post-Dan Quinn (who is not an option at this point, since he’s already a DC in Dallas). Failing that, you want a coordinator who is going to maximize the talent he does have; Richard and Norton failed to bring anything extra to the table. The fact that the Seahawks’ defenses have declined under their watch has a lot to do with the talent they had to work with, but I would contend they did even less with that talent than someone more qualified might’ve done.

Assuming we don’t immediately find all the weapons we need, then I’m saying we need a proper DC to come in here and coach the hell out of these guys.

The worry, of course, is that it’s really Pete Carroll’s defense, and whoever he hires is a caretaker at best, or a puppet at worst. Not that Pete is calling plays or anything, but he’s a heavy influence in scheme and how plays are called. That didn’t seem to prevent Gus Bradley or Dan Quinn from being wildly successful and getting hired elsewhere to be head coaches. I don’t see why someone like Fangio – or an up-and-coming successful position coach with eyes towards being a head coach one day – would want to avoid Seattle when we have a track record of success on the defensive side of the ball under Carroll.

Hell, even over the last two years – when our defenses fell on their faces to start their respective seasons – we were able to turn things around and become a respectable unit by the ends of those seasons. One would argue Pete Carroll’s experience and expertise is a huge benefit to this team on the defensive side of the ball; any DC would be lucky to work under Carroll!

The right person could make all the difference. The personnel department still needs to do their jobs and fill in where they can, but I would be greatly encouraged by a quality hire. Here’s hoping that DC isn’t among the names I’ve already seen listed on Twitter.

What Happened To The Seahawks’ Pass Rush?!

I’m going to be getting into a lot of this next week, when we do our official week-long post-mortem of the 2021 Seahawks’ season, so you might be reading some of these sentiments again very soon. But, what the hell?!

In 2020, the Seahawks had 46 sacks, which was good for 7th in the NFL. In 2021, through the same number of games, we have 29 sacks, which is good for 28th in the NFL. Now, granted, our 2020 sack leader – Jamal Adams, with 9.5 – had a grand total of 0 sacks in 2021. But, even if you tacked those onto our 29, that still puts us 7.5 sacks short. What gives?

What’s truly baffling, to me at least, is that we pretty much ran back with the same group of guys. We lost K.J. Wright (who accounted for all of 2 sacks in a hybrid linebacker role), but we replaced him with Jordyn Brooks (who has 1 sack, but has otherwise filled in remarkably well in the weak-side linebacker role that Wright manned for so many seasons). We also lost Jarran Reed (he had 6.5 sacks in 2020), but we filled in with Al Woods, who has been a monster in the middle (in spite of only 1.5 sacks this year). Plus, we got to add Darrell Taylor and his 6 sacks, so this all feels like a wash.

Once again, we’re in an unenviable position of having Rasheem Green be our team sack leader. He currently has 6.5 sacks, sharing the lead with Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap, I have to say, gets a lot of the blame from me here. He had 5 sacks in 8 games last year, and only 1.5 more in twice the number of games. Also, all but his half-sack came in the month of December (in three games, no less), meaning he’s been a non-entity for the vast majority of the season, when it mattered most. You can blame usage all you want; there were games where he played in only a handful of snaps. But, if he were truly playing to his abilities, he would’ve forced the team’s hand. Circumstances, and his poor play, dictated his usage early in the season. Even though we brought him back on a relatively team-friendly deal, it still turned out to be a bust considering expectations.

Also, what happened to Benson Mayowa? Well, for one thing, he switched his number from one in the 90’s (which is far more appropriate for a defensive end like him) to the number 10, which looks asinine on him. I blame that 100% for his decline from 6 sacks in 2020 to 1 sack in 2021. Otherwise, how does someone get so bad for no good reason? Holy hell. He’s on another team-friendly deal, costing us significantly less money than Dunlap, and somehow he’s even a bigger bust!

Those are the biggies. Adams, Reed, Mayowa, and Dunlap were our top four sack guys and accounted for 27 of our 46 sacks in 2020. This season, our top guys are Green, Dunlap, and Taylor, who have a combined 19 sacks; the next people on the list are Woods and Mone, tied for 1.5 sacks apiece. Last year, we had 10 guys with two or more sacks; this year it’s just the three through the same number of games.

Alton Robinson is another guy we had higher expectations for; he had 4 sacks as a rookie and only 1 this year. Kerry Hyder was our big free agent acquisition; he had 8.5 sacks with the 49ers last year; he has 0.5 this year. L.J. Collier had 3 sacks last year, and has hardly even played this year. Robert Nkemdiche was an under-the-radar free agent signing who has miraculously stayed on the team all year, but to very little impact.

It’s a horrid mix of high-profile whiffs, a bad scheme, poor drafting, and even worse development. I don’t know who’s in charge of coaching up the D-Line, but he has been a miserable failure (I see the name “Clint Hurtt” on the team’s website, but that means nothing to me; who is that? Some guy, I guess. It might as well be me out there coaching the team’s defensive linemen!).

We all knew relying on a defensive back to get the most sacks on our roster was just asking for trouble, but there was a lot of reason for optimism (aside from Jamal Adams) heading into 2021 that we could parlay a strong finish to the 2020 season into at least as good, if not better things for our pass rush. But, we’ve taken a significant step back, to the point where there’s really only one player worth a damn in our pass rush (Darrell Taylor) and everyone else is depth/fill-in at best.

I don’t even know what the Seahawks can do here. Do you re-sign Rasheem Green and hope he continues to get incrementally better? He has 13.5 sacks in the four years since we drafted him. Do you keep Dunlap, Mayowa, and Hyder even though it would be cheaper to cut them now and try to fill in with hopefully more productive guys on the scrap heap? Is Alton Robinson ever going to explode, or is he just the second coming of Rasheem Green? Do we even bother giving L.J. Collier another shot? What can we expect from Jamal Adams as he enters the teeth of his big-money contract going forward?

What a wasteland. The thing is, the linebackers have been solid (as usual) and the secondary has been much better. But, we’re poised to lose Quandre Diggs (unless we want to have the highest-paid safety tandem in football) and I don’t even know who’s sticking around among our cornerbacks. There’s a shot at a quality defense here; they’ve proven to be effective at limiting points at least. But, they’re never going to be an elite unit without a pass rush.

I don’t have the answers, and I’m not sure the organization does either. I’m sure they’ll try to do something, but the question is: will it work? I guess we’ll see.