Why defensive line is going to be a big Seahawks priority in 2022

Dec 28, 2021, 1:16 PM
Seahawks Dunlap Woods...
Bears QB Nick Foles is sacked by Carlos Dunlap, with help from Al Woods, on Sunday. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seahawks have a lot of directions they can point fingers when it comes to why they’ve lost 10 games for the first time in coach Pete Carroll’s 12 seasons with the team.

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Lately, the talk has mostly been focused on the offense, usually regarding quarterback Russell Wilson’s struggles since his return from a midseason finger injury or the fact that he and 2020 Pro Bowl receiver DK Metcalf haven’t been connecting much in games.

If the defense comes up as an issue, it’s probably because Seattle’s opponents have continually dominated time of possession, meaning that the offense’s lack of sustained drives is compounded by the defense having trouble getting off the field.

In the most important stat on defense, the Seahawks look good – they’re tied for seventh in the NFL in points allowed per game (20.5). So it was perhaps a surprise that when asked Monday by Mike Salk on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Pete Carroll Show where the Seahawks need to improve, Carroll focused in on that side of the ball.

“The pass rush is a big issue. It’s a big, big issue for us and it’s been something that hasn’t been a formidable part (of our defense),” Carroll said.

While Seattle has done better in recent weeks at rushing the quarterback, it still is tied for 25th in the league with 28 sacks this year, and the Hawks’ QB pressure rate of 21.6% is even closer to the bottom (27th). Carroll, who has always stressed the importance of taking the ball away on defense and protecting it on offense, pointed to the lack of consistent pressure for Seattle sitting 27th in takeaways with 14.

“What that means is we’re not getting to the quarterback enough to cause the problems that (causes quarterbacks to) give us the football, and we’ve not turned the ball over (enough),” he said. “It starts there with the rush, and you can see that needs to continue to be improved. I think that’s really obvious, so we’ve got to work hard at it.”

So just how important will be improving the defensive line before next season? Salk and former NFL quarterback Brock Huard discussed that Tuesday morning during their daily 7:45 a.m. conversation on The Mike Salk Show, and they certainly can understand what Carroll was getting at. Here’s a look at what they had to say.

Brock & Salk on the Seahawks’ defensive line

Mike Salk: “When asked about the future of the franchise, (Carroll) specifically talked about the need for the pass rush to improve, that everything kind of builds off of that. It’s something that I’m still surprised that that they haven’t done a better job of in the post-Cliff Avril/Michael Bennett era of building a pass rush that can affect the quarterback more often.”

Brock Huard: “Those are probably the most difficult human beings to find on Earth – the elite defensive linemen. You could find receivers and running backs, you could find tight ends. Yes, you can even find quarterbacks – Dak Prescott was a fourth-rounder, Russell Wilson was a third-rounder, Tom Brady was a sixth-rounder. And I know a huge majority of the (elite quarterbacks) since have been first-round guys. You could find (All-Pro linebacker) Bobby Wagner at Utah State, you can find a corner in the fifth round at Stanford (Richard Sherman) and then a safety in the fifth round at Virginia Tech (Kam Chancellor). You can find those players. To find the elite defensive linemen is I think the the biggest challenge in the NFL and college football.

“I’m down here in San Diego this morning and (will commentate) UCLA and and NC State tonight in the Holiday Bowl, and if you look frankly at the Pac-12 the last decade and want to point to a position or an area where (the conference is) the furthest from their peers at the elite level, it is going to be that group on the defensive line. It’s what Pete did for 10 years at USC. He brought those monsters there, he developed them into first-round picks in the front seven and in the defensive line. There was a run with Vita Vea and Greg Gaines and Elijah Qualls that got UW to a national semifinal. Since then, you’ve not had a Pac-12 team in it, and I think you would point in many ways to the people up front, the big body difference-makers on that defensive line.”

Salk: “I see what you’re saying that it’s hard to find. It’s still surprising to me that they haven’t found it and struggled with it as much as they have. And when they have found it, they’ve kind of let it go. We all kind of talked through the Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson and Frank Clark season, and now looking back on it you could make an argument that they should have gone with Frank Clark over Bobby Wagner because of the position.”

Huard: “Look at how perplexing it is. Look at Carlos Dunlap this year. Where was he for 12 games? And the last three, he’s been an absolute nightmare and a monster and a difference-maker (Note: Six of Dunlap’s 6.5 sacks this season have come in December). Was that health? Was that psychology? What is it? So even when you have some elite guys, having them incentivized, having them motivated… Avril and Bennett alongside (Chris) Clemons, that was a dream scenario.

“Of all of the talent that the Seahawks had (during their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances)… the Legion of Boom was so special, and you and I debated the Legion of Boom or the front four, what was more important in that? And I think you hear from Pete over and over that without that pass rush, this is just a very, very difficult game.”

You can hear the full conversation in the final segment of the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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Brock and Salk podcast

Brock and Salk podcast

Brock and Salk

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Why defensive line is going to be a big Seahawks priority in 2022