Is Seahawks’ defense good enough to carry this more conservative offense?

Dec 24, 2020, 10:01 AM
Seahawks Griffin Diggs Dunlap...
The Seahawks' defense allowed two TDs to Washington in the fourth quarter. (Getty)

The Seahawks’ recent stretch of games has been a complete reversal from how they jumped out to a 5-0 start this season.

The Rams have been the Seahawks’ problem, but this time can be different

Seattle’s offense led the way early on, scoring 27 points or more in each of those first five wins – as well as in their following three games, which they won only one of. But at the same time that the offense’s high-scoring streak ended in a 23-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the defense began a new low-scoring one.

That Week 10 defeat saw Seattle’s defense post a season-low in points allowed, and it’s only gotten better since. Opposing teams have managed just 16 points per game in Seattle’s last six contests, with none of the following Seahawks opponents even matching the Rams’ score.

That’s definitely a great turnaround, but the Seahawks have also had an issue with closing games out. Last Sunday, Washington could have taken the lead with a touchdown on its final possession, and it got close enough for a Hail Mary try. And that kind of finish isn’t exactly an outlier in Seattle’s season.

“Seattle’s defense on the one hand has been significantly improved over the last month to month and a half,” said Danny O’Neil of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant. “At the same time, that’s the forth time they’ve let a team come back from a double-digit second half deficit and be in Seattle’s half of the field with a chance to tie or take the lead with a touchdown. You give them credit for holding them out, but they’re also kind of playing with fire and have been for the entirety of the season.”

The Seahawks’ offense didn’t do a whole lot in the fourth quarter, or the second half in general after a long Carlos Hyde touchdown early in the third quarter put Seattle ahead 20-3. Paul Gallant, O’Neil’s co-host, saw that as the main issue that resulted in a nail-biting 20-15 win over Washington instead of something closer to the 17-point advantage Seattle enjoyed going into the fourth quarter.

“I’m not going to fault the defense for these drives when I feel like the offense put them in these situations,” Gallant said of Washington scoring two unanswered touchdowns and having a chance to score another late. “If you’re talking about complementary football, when an offense gets in a rhythm and the Seahawks’ offense just goes three-and-out, you can’t even disrupt it and the defense just has to go right back out on the field. And after a 14-play drive, you’ve got to be feeling a little gassed. You go back out there and the opposing offense is all of the sudden feeling confident.

“There’s gotta be better complementary football on the side of the offense. You need to extend possessions when you have the lead. Even if you aren’t going to be aggressive and continue with this playing style, you still have to find a way to get first downs.”

And that’s where the change the Seahawks went through in the middle of the season needs to come into focus.

Seattle began the year with Russell Wilson and his wide receivers leading the way, but after a rough patch that featured an uncharacteristic amount of turnovers for a Pete Carroll-coached team, the Seahawks have gone back to a more run-heavy offense that has been the calling card of Seattle during Carroll’s tenure.

According to O’Neil, that’s a lower-scoring style that asks more of the defense. And while the Seahawks have been much better at keeping opponents off the scoreboard as of late, he’s skeptical that it will continue going forward, whether that’s in their rematch with the Rams on Sunday that could settle who wins the NFC West or in the playoffs that are just a few short weeks away.

“Asking a defense to not come within a play of losing a double-digit second half lead isn’t asking a whole lot, and I’m not sure if you can play complementary football if you don’t have a defense that’s capable of doing that,” O’Neil said. “If you’ve built your approach and your game plan around being less aggressive and controlling the clock with the run game, I think there’s a little bit of it that you have to sort of say, well, what comes with that is you might go dormant for quarters at a time. This is certainly what Seattle’s offense has done in the past.”

The Seahawks tried something new with their offense this season, and at a certain point they stopped. O’Neil’s point is that because of the switch, even though the defense is playing better now than it was earlier this year, Seattle will probably need it to play even better.

“I don’t know if you can dial back the risk and say be judicious with the ball and live for another down at the same time that you’re feeling that they need to be the ones that push and pull away with it,” he said. “I think this is part of what Pete’s caught in. Pete’s decided he would rather not have the mistakes. Pete’s decided that even if that means that Russell’s playing Bart Starr-like games and he’s throwing for 150 yards like last week, that’s what they’re asking him to do, and he’s cool with that because he thinks the defense will hang.

“To his credit, so far the defense has held up its end of it – barely. It just feels like they are playing with fire.”

You can hear the full discussion in the podcast at this link or in the player below beginning around the 27:20 mark.

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Is Seahawks’ defense good enough to carry this more conservative offense?