Seahawks Position Breakdown 2021: Defensive Line

Well, I waited as long as I could possibly wait before getting to the defensive line. I even rearranged my whole posting schedule for the last month to give the team time to make any more moves they were going to make to the D-Line before the regular season started (this post was supposed to happen almost two weeks ago!). I guess we’re keeping Geno Atkins on ice until we get past the first game?

I mean, it makes sense. The defensive line has largely been set since earlier this offseason, when we waived Jarran Reed and re-signed Carlos Dunlap. It’s actually one of the great strengths of this team, at least on paper! Meanwhile, the Seahawks continue to tinker with the cornerback spot until – who is Bless Austin, you ask? I have no idea – we’re all left wondering what the hell is going on. Oh well, better luck for my posting schedule next year!

I’m a big fan of what the Seahawks have going at defensive line. I was really happy with the group in the second half of last year, and that starts with Carlos Dunlap. Oh sure, he’s going into his 12th season, but he’s just a solid, steady dude who gets regular pressure on the quarterback and is able to convert enough of that pressure into sacks.

Dunlap leads a pretty impressive DE group that gets production all the way down to the last man. Benson Mayowa returns; he has 13 sacks over the last two years. As a part-time pass-rush specialist, he’s nails.

Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor are sort of hybrid DEs and SAM linebackers who we’re all excited about. I’m loathe to expect too much of a jump from year one to year two (especially with someone like Taylor, who didn’t even play last year), but we saw Robinson’s baseline last year and 4.0 sacks as a rookie is nothing to sneeze at. If he runs it back, fine. If he does slightly better, great!

The newcomer is Kerry Hyder, who has racked up two seasons of 8+ sacks in his 5-year career. I don’t know his full story, but by all accounts he’s a hard worker and is someone who will fit into our scheme really well.

Then, there are the low men on the totem pole, Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier. Granted, both have been varying degrees of disappointing, but even they bring SOMETHING to the table. I know we all expected more out of Green, who left college early; we kept hearing about how he needed to grow into his body or whatever. Well, it’s been three years and he has a total of 7.0 sacks to show for it. Heading into the last year of his rookie deal, it’s really a make-or-break season for him. He did play pretty exceptionally during the pre-season; I honestly don’t remember him ever showing out like that before. So, maybe things are starting to click; or maybe he’s finally grown into that body. I guess we’ll see.

It was interesting to hear how many people on Twitter were speculating about the Seahawks possibly trading away or cutting L.J. Collier during and after the final roster cut-downs. I mean, I can see why they said those things; he didn’t have a particularly great pre-season. You never hear stories about him in practice or training camp. His rookie year was largely a bust and his 2020 season was improved, but no one’s writing home to mom about 3.0 sacks. I don’t have a lot of positive things to say, other than he’s another guy to throw onto the pile. He did show flashes of making an impact at times last year, and ideally I think that’s all you need. Collier isn’t a starter for this team. He’s in the rotation. He can slide inside to play defensive tackle (as well as Green and Hyder, for that matter), and ultimately I think the team likes him. I also think his value is so low that you’d essentially be throwing him away for nothing. He was a first round pick and he’s probably currently worth a 6th round pick in return. For an able body you can plug and play, that’s not a trade I’m looking to make, especially when there’s at least SOME upside, if you squint your eyes and focus real hard.

My favorite guys on the team are always the defensive tackles, and I think the Seahawks have some good ones!

Poona Ford is our anchor here, with Jarran Reed being waived and signing with the Chiefs. That’s a scary proposition for some Seahawks fans, considering Reed has a semi-proven track record of making an impact in the pass-rush game from the interior; Poona has 2.5 career sacks across three season. But, the Seahawks gave him a raise this offseason for a reason: I think they see great things ahead for this erstwhile undrafted free agent. I do too! He’s got remarkable quickness that I think will translate to running into some more sacks and tackles for loss now that he’s the main guy in the middle.

Al Woods is just a huge plug in the middle of that line. He’s another aging veteran, going into his 11th season, but it doesn’t look like he’s lost anything. As long as he’s healthy, he should provide the run-stuffing we need, at a great value, I might add.

Finally, Bryan Mone rounds out the trio. He’s another undrafted free agent who is providing a lot of value and depth in the middle. He’s heading into his third year and is just an all-around pro already.

So, I can see why Geno Atkins is a target for this team, I just don’t know who you cut to pick him up. All of these guys will contribute, and at Geno’s age it’s fair to wonder what he has left in the tank.

As I’ve noted before, there’s a lot of excitement from the fanbase surrounding the pass rush on this team. This does appear to be as deep as we were in 2013. But, I think you have to take that with the caveat that there isn’t quite the top-tier talent in this group that there was in our Super Bowl-winning year. No one is holding a candle to Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril in their heydays.

I guess I’m happy with this unit, but I’m also a little anxious too. There’s a lot riding on these guys, especially with how poor the cornerback group looks. When you look at the defense as a whole, we’re counting on a lot of production from a lot of unproven guys. So, at least in the early going, it would be nice to see a big impact from the likes of Dunlap, Mayowa, Hyder, and the other studs on this defense.

I’m giving the defensive line a solid B+, with an opportunity to get into the A range if they manage to generate sacks into the 40’s this year. I’m less worried about the run defense, but obviously that needs to be a point of focus, because if teams are in a lot of 3rd & Shorts, they’re definitely going to convert a high percentage of them thanks to this weak secondary.

Trouble Brewing In Cincinnati This Weekend

I’ve got some serious doubts about the Seahawks’ chances against the Bengals on Sunday.  I’m less concerned with it being a “short week”, or a 10am start, and more concerned with this game being on the road, and against a really good team.

The Seahawks’ road schedule this year is NOT doing us any favors.  Outside of the division, we go to Green Bay, Cincy, Dallas, Minnesota, and Baltimore.  And, the only reason why the Dallas game looks easy now is because Romo won’t be playing; otherwise, that’d be yet another shitbird to throw on the pile!  Still, if we’re not careful, knowing that we already lost to the Rams and Packers, I could easily see us going 3-5 on the road this year; MAYBE 2-6 if we blow one of those in-between games against the Cowboys or Vikings.  So, while I know the Bengals are in the AFC, and AFC losses don’t count like the other losses, I’d still say this one is pretty important for getting us to our goal of a first round playoff bye.

So, what do we have to look forward to?  Well, Andy Dalton is playing the best football of his life through these first four weeks.  123.0 passer rating, 9 touchdowns against 1 interception (plus a rushing touchdown for good measure), only 2 sacks all damn year!  I’d say he’s living a charmed life, which is pretty fortunate for him, considering many were predicting this would be the year he’d be supplanted as the Bengals’ starter.  On top of that, all of his receivers are healthy, and all of his non-running back receivers are averaging at least 13 yards per reception.  And, speaking of running backs, they’ve got two really good ones.  When you factor in how good their offensive line is, they might have (quarterback aside) the greatest collection of offensive talent in the entire NFL.

Which is fine, when you consider the Seahawks might have the greatest collection of defensive talent in the entire NFL (or, at least the NFC), but our guys won’t be able to shut down their guys on every single drive like we’ve done for the past two weeks.  Which means, our offense is going to have to try to do something against their defense.

The Bengals aren’t super impressive on defense – they’re 19th in yards per game – but they’re 9th in points per game, giving up only 19.3.  Converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns as opposed to field goals will be the most important factor in determining this game’s outcome.  And, of course, a big part of whether the Seahawks will be successful or not depends on how much time Russell Wilson will have to throw.  Considering the Bengals are 6th in the league in sacks with 11 over four games, I’d say we’re in a wee bit o’ trouble.  Carlos Dunlap, a defensive end, leads the team with 3.5 sacks.  Geno Atkins, one of the best defensive tackles in the league, isn’t far behind with 3.0 sacks.  These are the two guys who are going to cause the bulk of the damage, and as such, will probably make our lives a living hell (remember how Aaron Donald and the other Rams D-linemen destroyed us in week 1).

I’m not giving the Seahawks much hope in this one.  We’re going to need the O-line to take a mammoth step forward, and I just don’t think they have it in them right now.  This game just smacks of being like a lot of our recent AFC road games.  We’ll keep it close, sure.  But, in the end, we won’t have the horses and we’ll fall to 2-3.