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Gallant: The lowered expectations Seahawks’ defense needs to meet going forward

There are good and bad numbers to consider for the Seahawks' pass rush. (AP)

In these challenging, unprecedented, uncertain times, the NFL’s seen a new normal: defenses getting destroyed.

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Why? No preseason. An incredible amount of injuries. Referees aren’t calling offensive holding (fun fact: the Seahawks were called for zero penalties Sunday). And it’s resulted in an NFL record 3,233 points scored through the first four weeks of the season, 203 more points than 2018’s previous record.

The Seahawks sure helped to pad those numbers. They’ve allowed the most passing yards in the NFL, including the most over three weeks in NFL history. They’ve been inconsistent rushing the passer, unable to get off the field on third down, and until Sunday gave up a lot of big plays. That’s all added up to a jarring 27.3 points allowed per game.

Sounds terrible, right? Well in 2020, that’s not THAT bad. It ranks 21st among scoring defenses. The Hawks have issues but they’re not Dallas or Atlanta bad.

Sunday in Miami, they took a step forward against the rebuilding Dolphins. They held Miami to five field goals and one late touchdown, deflected 12 passes and intercepted two of them (it could have been more if K.J. Wright could have caught his three), and hit Ryan Fitzpatrick six times.

It wasn’t a difficult task. Miami stinks. But after those first three games, and with Jamal Adams, Quinton Dunbar, and Lano Hill (not to mention course Marquise Blair and Bruce Irvin) injured? The Hawks deserve credit for that step, even it was of the baby variant.

We know the Seahawks will win games in 2020 with their offense, not their defense. And while the defense should improve by the end of the year, we know it ain’t going to be a Legion of Boom. And since we’ve had that, we’re settling on D “Lowered Expectations” style.

Still, we’ve got to have SOME demands, right? So here are mine:

1. Stay. On. Top.

Yards don’t matter, so I can tolerate prolific passing days from opposing quarterbacks. Seeing random wide receivers I’d never heard of – like Russell Gage and Damiere Byrd – rack up ridiculous amounts of receiving yards is frustrating too, but not the end of the world.

But to witness the Seahawks transform Julian Edelman into a Randy Moss-esque deep threat? And someone named Cedric Wilson scoring TWO 40-yard touchdowns in the same game? Inexcusable.

The first rule of secondary club? Stay. On. Top. The second rule of secondary club? Don’t. Get. Beat. And after rock bottom against Dallas, Seattle at least managed that against Miami.

2. Third Down Decency

Yes, the Seahawks forced five Miami field goals, but they also let the ‘Phins convert 7 of 13 third downs Sunday, and they’ve allowed opponents to covert 52% of those situations in ‘20, the third worst mark in the league. That’s concerning.

More troubling? Miami folded to kick a field goal in each of the following scenarios:

• Fourth-and-3 at the Seattle 11
• Fourth-and-4 at the Seattle 27
• Fourth-and-5 at the Seattle 25
• Fourth-and-5 at the Seattle 11

Seattle was fortunate, because there’s no way that a real team with a plus QB – say Green Bay, Kansas City, or… Buffalo? – would choose to kick every single time they faced a fourth-and-manageable.

I wish there was a fix as simple as the one above (Stay. On. Top.) to turn things around for the Hawks on third down. Ironically, staying on top and giving receivers a little cushion underneath may be counter-intuitive to getting third down stops the demand above – which may create a bit of cushion – might make.

But would it really be so hard for Seattle to trim this number by 10, 15% by season’s end? Or at least take the percentage under 50%? Smarter minds than me, figure it out.

3. … Keep doing what you’ve been doing to pressure the QB?

Based on the eye test and the sack numbers, the Seahawks’ pass rush is struggling again in 2020. After just one takedown of  Fitzpatrick on Sunday, Seattle has just six QB takedowns on the year, putting them in the bottom quarter of the league.

Based on advanced statistics, however, the Hawks haven’t been bad getting after the passer. They LEAD the NFL in QB knockdowns (per Pro Football Reference) with 20. And when you combine that figure with their hurries and sacks, you’d see that Seattle’s pressured quarterbacks 44 times this year, good for seventh most in the NFL.

Those stats are a little misleading. When teams know they can throw all over you, they’re going to chuck it. And if you drop back to pass a lot while trailing, you’re going to leave your quarterback open for shots.

4. VIOLENCE

On Sunday, we saw Ryan Neal impersonate Kam Chancellor whilst hit-sticking some poor endangered Dolphin. Later, we saw K.J. Wright light up load of a running back Jordan Howard in the flat. If your defense struggles to get stops and after the passer, you need some sort of edge, and big hits give you that. We know Neal, Wright, Bobby Wagner, Quandre Diggs, and a healthy Jamal Adams know how to smash the opposition. If they do it more, maybe those cushion happy wide receivers will drop a ball or two.

Follow Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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