By Danny O’Neil
The Seahawks are going back to the site where their last season ended.
It’s the Seahawks’ ability to get back to the fundamentals of their defense that will determine how far this season goes.
That’s the reality the Seahawks are trying to stare down after allowing 200 yards rushing in each of the past two games, and now they head to Atlanta to face the Falcons team that ousted Seattle from the playoffs a year ago. It’s enough to inspire some pretty serious soul searching for the defense this week.
“We went all the way back through and put in our mindset of how we really play,” said Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator. “The way we attack the line of scrimmage, the way we get off blocks, the way we finish.
Excluding rushing yardage gained by quarterbacks, the Seahawks allowed an average of 65.6 rushing yards in Weeks 1-7 before allowing an average of 190.5 over their last two games.
|• at Carolina: 96 yards (4.6 average)||• vs. San Francisco: 13 yards (1.2 average)||• vs. Jacksonville: 46 yards (2.1 average)||• at Houston: 146 yards (4.3 average)||• at Indianapolis: 100 yards (4 average)||• vs. Tennessee: 33 yards (2.4 average)||• at Arizona: 25 yards (1.6 average)||• at St. Louis: 189 yards (5.4 average)||• vs. Tampa Bay: 192 yards (5.7 average)||Note: Stats above exclude quarterback runs.|
“Those are the things that we want to come back to reconnect to our core stuff.”
That’s a very eloquent way of saying that Seattle’s defense needs to get back to making the line of scrimmage more of a goal for opposing ball carriers as opposed to the starting point.
And Atlanta comes in with a running game that has been more of an oxymoron so far, the Falcons averaging a league-low 64.4 yards rushing. Then again, the Rams ranked No. 29 in rushing yardage entering Week 8 and then went and rang up 200 yards rushing against Seattle, the most the franchise had gained on the ground in any game since 2009.
The Seahawks yielded 205 yards to the Bucs last week, and Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano went so far as referring to Seattle’s defensive front as “stationary” in his press conference Thursday.
This is a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league last year, one that hadn’t given up a point in the first quarter in the first four games of this year, and now the defense that was the strength of this team during the first month of the season is a little more of a question mark.
“There has been a lot of questions about our run game and us on the back end,” said safety Earl Thomas, “but I think it just goes back to the mentality that we need to have, a mentality that we need to recapture from earlier as far as that want-to.”
710 ESPN Seattle hosts weigh in on Seattle’s Week 10 matchup against Atlanta, finishing the sentence, “The Seahawks will win if… ”
|• Dave Wyman: They run for more than 100 yards and allow fewer than 100 yards rushing.||• Jim Moore: They hold Matt Ryan to fewer than 250 yards passing and Steven Jackson to fewer than 50 yards rushing.||• Dave Grosby: They hold Atlanta to fewer than 60 yards rushing.||• Michael Grey: Marshawn Lynch rushes for more than 110 yards.||• Brock Huard: They force two turnovers.||• Danny O’Neil: They hold Atlanta to fewer than 100 yards rushing and force more turnovers than they commit.|
That resolve showed up in the results. As recently as last month, Seattle allowed a total of 96 yards rushing while playing two games in five days, beating first the Titans and then the Cardinals. Ten days later, the Seahawks gave up 97 yards rushing in the first half alone against the Rams.
The fact that the Falcons have been the NFL’s worst at running the ball this season offers no assurances. Not only does Atlanta have Steven Jackson back from the injury that sidelined him for four games, but a year ago, Atlanta ranked No. 29 in rushing yards during the regular season before gaining 167 yards against Seattle in that playoff game that ended the Seahawks’ season.
Desire and discipline are two things that Seattle will rely upon to make a difference for this defense that isn’t going to get a personnel boost. That’s a difference from the offense, which will be getting receiver Percy Harvin and offensive tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini at some point in the next month.
Red Bryant is the only defensive starter Seattle will be without, which means it’s the performance that needs to improve by getting back to the swarming defense that was played earlier in the season.
“There were like four hats on the ball,” Thomas said. “We looked like piranhas out there. So we need to get back to that same mindset.”
Atlanta is an opportunity for redemption, not just from last year’s playoff loss but the Seahawks’ recent difficulties against the run.