What change made Ken Norton Jr.’s Seahawks defense dominant?
Bring up the name Ken Norton Jr. around Seahawks fans now, and it will almost assuredly render a much more positive response than, say, seven weeks ago.
At that time, the third-year Seahawks defensive coordinator seemed destined to be looking for a new job once the season concluded. Seattle’s defense had struggled to an absolute historic level, so much so it was on pace to give up the most yards in a season ever by an NFL team.
Well, after Seattle’s NFC West-clinching 20-9 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in which LA was kept completely out the end zone, it’s now been seven straight games where the Hawks have held opponents to 23 points or less, including five in a row of 17 or less.
How on earth has the Seahawks’ defense pulled off such a dramatic turnaround?
That’s a big topic of discussion on this week’s episode of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk Podcast, and Brock Huard and Mike Salk each have an interesting point to make about what they think has been the most positive change.
For Salk, he gives a lot of credit to Norton for the Seahawks getting players where they should be, whether that’s been moving veteran K.J. Wright to strongside linebacker with the emergence of rookie Jordyn Brooks or teaching guys up to their roles in the defense.
“I’m going to keep going back to Ken Norton. The biggest problem at the beginning of the year was that the guys weren’t in the right places,” Salk said, noting that it was something Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams brought up in postgame comments Sunday night. “Of all the various reasons (for the Seahawks’ defensive turnaround), and there’s a lot of them, Ken Norton’s probably going to be right at the top of my list because now the guys are in the right place. That’s his job as defensive coordinator. Get the guys in the right place, put them in a position to succeed, and that’s been the case for the better part of a month.”
For Huard, who spends his Sundays doing color commentary for NFL games on FOX, the most important thing is the continuity the defense has had over the last third of the regular season, something it wasn’t afforded earlier on due to injuries and a number of new players still adjusting to the Seahawks’ system.
“Remember the first few weeks of this season, you would hear the explosions on the field and see how fast they were playing, and then what happened? Jamal got hurt,” Huard pointed out, referring to Seattle’s biggest offseason addition. “Jamal went out and obviously some areas got exposed. You lose (pass rusher) Bruce Irvin, you gotta move K.J. around, Jordyn Brooks is also out, (cornerback) D.J. Reed’s not even in the picture, (Quinton) Dunbar with his broken knee is trying to play and can’t cover space. So there’s all of those things that contributed, and communication happens when you start working together.”
Huard then brought up a term he said he’s started to hear a lot from talking to defensive coordinators throughout the league during preparation for his weekly game assignments.
“They call it time on task. ‘How much time on task do we have?’ (Meaning) the same people repping the same things, all out there together on the practice field working through it. Having Ugo Amadi, he’s going to be our nickel (cornerback), and we’re going to play more nickel (defense). And D.J. Reed, you’re going to be the other corner. And Jamal and (fellow safety Quandre) Diggs, you two are going to go the Pro Bowl and you’re going to communicate together. You just had time on task, and you’re starting to I think really reap the benefits of that.
“You can’t communicate when it’s all sorts of different people doing different things and different schemes. And when you start to dial in and figure out who and what you are, you have a chance to be pretty good.”
When it comes to divvying up praise, Huard agrees with Salk that Norton and head coach Pete Carroll deserve a lot of it, but he also noted that you can’t overstate the impact of Adams, whose team-high 9.5 sacks is a new NFL record for sacks in a single season by a defensive back.
“Jamal’s a major one, let’s be very, very clear,” he said. “Pete (Carroll) and Ken deserve a ton of credit. Carlos Dunlap and L.J. Collier and that defensive line deserve a ton of credit. But the juice that Jamal Adams is playing with, what that is doing is invigorating everybody on that entire defense and truly elevating them.”
To hear this discussion, check out the full Brock and Salk episode at this link, in the player below, or wherever you listen to podcasts.