Jake and Stacy: Is the Seahawks’ defense currently better than in 2020?
The Seahawks had an interesting 2020 when it came to their offense and defense.
Over the first half of the season, the offense was among the league’s best while the defense was arguably the worst in the NFL. But over the second half of 2020, the roles flipped in a way as Seattle’s defense played exceptionally well while the offense was far less dynamic and explosive.
As far as the defense is concerned, that unit finished the season 22nd in the NFL in yards allowed, 15th in points allowed and seventh in sacks. The Seahawks are also returning a majority of starters from last season.
So as things currently stand, is Seattle’s defense currently better or worse than the 2020 team? 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy shared their thoughts on Tuesday.
Pass rush/defensive line
The Seahawks entered the last two seasons with big question marks on the defensive line. That’s not the case this year.
Seattle re-signed defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Benson Mayowa, signed defensive end Kerry Hyder Jr., and extended defensive tackle Poona Ford. The Seahawks also have young guys like L.J. Collier, Rasheem Green, Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor on the roster.
Jake Heaps said that Dunlap, Hyder and Mayowa are especially important for this defense
“We know how important he was (last year when he was traded) to Seattle,” Heaps said of Dunlap. ” … (And thanks in part to Mayowa and Hyder), they finally have solidified, in March heading into April, the pass rush. So pass rush is not going to be a need at this point of the offseason.”
Stacy Rost said it’s easy to see that the Seahawks’ defensive line can be a strength in 2021.
“I liked Carlos Dunlap on the defensive line last year, but don’t forget that he was only there for half the season … and you’re now going to get not just a full season with him, but he finally gets a full offseason with his new team. That’s a big deal,” she said. “Kerry Hyder had a great year filling in for (Nick) Bosa down in San Francisco … I like what they’ve done with the defensive line.”
She did point to one big loss, though, which was Seattle releasing defensive tackle Jarran Reed to save roughly $8 million, which helped the Seahawks re-sign Dunlap.
Rost did say, though, that the Seahawks made the right call choosing between a defensive tackle and a defensive end in terms of who they were going to pay.
“I don’t know – and this isn’t a slight towards Jarran Reed, but it’s towards that position is a whole – unless it’s Aaron Donald … it’s tough to have that really highly-paid defensive tackle be a key difference maker on your team,” she said. “It’s not impossible … but I think if they are going to invest, I’d rather see them do it with an edge rusher. I’d rather see them do it by bringing back Carlos Dunlap, by retaining Benson Mayowa, by hoping that you get development from Alton Robinson, and we haven’t even seen Darrell Taylor so hoping you get development from him.”
The Seahawks had a fantastic linebacker trio last year between All-Pro Bobby Wagner, veteran K.J. Wright and 2020 first-round pick Jordyn Brooks, but Wright is now a free agent and his future in Seattle remains unclear.
Wright leaving the Seahawks would be a big blow to the defense, Rost said.
“If K.J. Wright doesn’t come back, I see a step back for the linebacker group,” she said. “I like the development we saw from Jordyn Brooks, Bobby Wagner is Bobby Wagner, but again, this isn’t to slight (third-year linebacker) Cody Barton, but there’s a big difference between a 10-year veteran and someone who’s in their third year in the league.”
Heaps agreed that Barton is an obvious step down from Wright, but he thinks linebacker is a position where the Seahawks can still be OK going forward with Brooks and Wagner in the fold.
“The question marks you have right now is that outside linebacker position, but Stacy, is that going to be the difference between a Super Bowl win and a Super Bowl loss? I don’t think so,” he said.
And if Wagner and Brooks are on the roster, that could impact how Seattle’s defense operates personnel-wise.
The Seahawks played less nickel defense in 2019 than any other team in the NFL, but they played a fair amount in 2020. Even if the Seahawks lost Wright, Heaps thinks the Seahawks have enough talent in the secondary where they can be OK going forward by playing with three cornerbacks rather than three linebackers.
“You’ve got a really unique secondary and you’re trying to find ways to get your high-second-round (2019) pick Marquise Blair on the field more often,” Heaps said. “And Ugo Amadi has stepped up as well during the absence of Marquise Blair (at nickel cornerback), so now you’ve got two really good secondary players that are very versatile, can be used in a lot of different ways, so maybe you try and get them out on the field more and allow Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks to just be the two linebackers who are on the field at all times on all three downs. That could be a situation you may see if K.J. Wright doesn’t return.”
While Heaps is confident in the players the Seahawks have at the nickel corner position and that Seattle boasts two Pro Bowl safeties, both he and Rost have some concerns with the outside cornerbacks.
“What I’m more nervous about than that outside linebacker position … is your cornerback position,” Rost said. “… I think Quandre Diggs and (Jamal Adams) have been a nice (safety) duo … but I’m really nervous about cornerback. I think that it was the right move not to pay Shaquill Griffin, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t worse without him.”
Griffin, the Seahawks’ No. 1 cornerback the last three years, left Seattle in free agency for a lucrative three-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now, the Seahawks return D.J. Reed and Tre Flowers at outside cornerback, but they also signed former San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
Heaps believes Witherspoon fits the mold in terms of what the Seahawks like size-wise from their cornerbacks, but he wants Seattle to add more competition to that spot.
“You have to adequately address that position,” Heaps said. “I think Ahkello Witherspoon is a nice piece to bring in here, but I want to add competition. The reason why is I want to know that if Akhello Witherspoon is starting from day one, it’s because he’s earned it with his play and that he’s ready to take that next step and he’s ready to be even better than the year he just had in 2020.”
One way the Seahawks could add to the cornerback room is the draft, but Heaps thinks a veteran who was on Seattle’s 2020 roster could return to push Witherspoon as well.
“Bringing in someone like Quinton Dunbar, I think, would be positive,” he said. ” … That position still needs to be addressed.”
And the verdict?
So all that being said, is the Seahawks’ defense currently better than it was in 2020?
“I believe that they are better for the simple fact that they will be more cohesive heading into this season than they were a year ago,” Heaps said. “Everybody is together, Jamal Adams will now have a full offseason with you, your defensive line and pass rush is solidified heading into the year and you have the main pieces in place defensively to go out and be better and improve and play at the level that they were playing in the second half of the season.”
Rost still has concerns about Seattle’s pass defense, which already wasn’t great last year and now is without its best cornerback.
“Maybe it’s because they struggled with it so mightily in the first half of the year,” she said. “It was wonderful to see them bounce back with Jamal Adams and Carlos Dunlap being the catalysts for that turnaround.”
And if the pass rush, which she believes can be a strength, struggles to generate pressure against an opponent?
“Then you’ve got to worry about your secondary,” Rost said.
Listen to the full discussion at this link or in the player below.