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NFL Draft

Seahawks’ Defensive Identity Mixes Old With New

  • The Draft Network
  • July 20, 2020
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Teams are rooted in their identity. If it’s a historic one, a sense of the glory days is never too far removed from a current NFL season. If it’s a historically bad one, changes are usually made to alter the direction of past mishaps. Teams already have to adapt to more dynamic quarterbacks, the devaluation of running backs, and pass-happy offenses across the league; but some struggle to adapt to changes within their own organization.

The Seattle Seahawks have had problems with both. Their offensive mistakes are heightened by the downward trend the defense has made after sitting atop the league—in yards per game allowed, rushing yards per game allowed, and opposing yards per carry—from 2012-16. But after losing the original, magnetic, forceful members of the Legion of Boom—Brandon Browner following the 2013 season, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor in 2018, and Earl Thomas in 2019—the defense has regressed. 

The 2019 season had some of the marks in the decade-long Pete Carroll era including total yards allowed per game (381.6), passing yards allowed (263.9), and sacks (28). We’ve already seen Carroll stick too much to what has worked in the past nearly to a fault on offense. The same old mentality is seeping into the defense. There’s no replacing talent like Sherman, Chancellor, or Thomas, and no matter who Carroll and general manager John Schneider bring together, it would be anything like that group.

Seattle can’t stray too far away from the L.O.B.; after all, the defense helped the team to its first Super Bowl victory and back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. The Seahawks do, however, need to find a new identity with this defense. It can be inspired by the L.O.B. days that saw Sherman patrolling the sideline, Chancellor as the enforcer, and Thomas literally everywhere; but modeling this defense—even with some remaining and returning pieces of that successful unit—too much in the shape of what has previously been, has its flaws. Players like Shaquill Griffin, whose future in Seattle is contingent on a contract extension, can see a dip in production trying to be too much like Sherman. 

What can the Seahawks’ defensive identity be in 2020? They really just need to improve, and from the moves made this offseason, it looks like Carroll is bringing back to some familiar faces to see if an influx of talent from those glory days will help. It’s a little bit of the old with a whole lot of new.

Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are still at the heart of the defense and two of the longest-tenured Seahawks. Wagner, who’s cementing a Hall of Fame career, led the NFL in total tackles last season (159) and made his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. Wright, who will be playing in a contract year, has quietly asserted himself and is coming off a career-best season in tackles (132), passes defended (11), and interceptions (three). They are more than fine, especially if Wright can build off of last season

The linebacker group got better with the return of Bruce Irvin and first-round draft selection Jordyn Brooks, which was criticized by a lot of people, including myself—however, if Carroll and Schneider are good at one thing, it’s usually having a method to the madness. 

The Seahawks lost Mychal Kendricks, who remains unsigned and rehabbing a torn ACL suffered at the end of the 2019 season. Irvin, who was in Seattle from 2012-16 and part of the Super Bowl-winning team, will be an upgrade to Kendricks. He’s projected to start at strongside linebacker, but Seattle could move Irvin and Wright around with Brooks’ added depth. 

Seattle continued to invest in the defense and brought back defensive end Benson Mayowa, who spent his rookie season in Seattle in 2013 but most recently played for the then-Oakland Raiders. The Seahawks picked up edge rushers Darrell Taylor in the second round and Alton Robinson in the fifth round of this year’s draft. They also signed a slew of undrafted free agents that might not make this group better, but they at least have plenty of players to work with, especially considering the loss of Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney remains unsigned so there’s still a chance Seattle can retain its most disruptive player last season, but this far into the offseason, it remains unlikely. He already turned down a sizable offer from the organization with the hopes of something better, but Clowney has yet to see a better number; if he does remain with the Seahawks, it’ll likely be less than Clowney’s already lowered asking price.

It’s very odd seeing where the Seahawks were compared to what they’re working with now, most notably in the secondary. It’s what wreaked havoc on so many opponents over the seasons. If quarterbacks were able to evade the pass-rush, they would have to throw into the coverage of one of the best secondary units in football. 

Now, well, the Seahawks are far less intimidating, and this secondary is the biggest and most noticeable change in the defensive makeover. Seattle returns a number of players from last season—Bradley McDougald, Quandre Diggs, and Shaquill Griffin among others—and signed Quinton Dunbar via Washington along with Linden Stephens and Jayson Stanley off waivers and a number of UDFAs. The Seahawks pride themselves in finding the star players other overlooked; they often cash in on later round draft picks and have an almost annoying eye for unrecognizable talent. This secondary, pending Dunbar’s legal troubles, could see an improvement and steps toward establishing their own identity.

Seattle doesn’t need to forget about the L.O.B. and move on entirely; it’s wholly entrenched in the team’s past success, but the Seahawks do need to find a way to move forward remembering the impact that once-strong defense made.

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