Wyman and Bob: 5 biggest mysteries of 2021 Seahawks season

Jan 17, 2022, 9:58 AM | Updated: 10:19 am
Seahawks Jamal Adams...
Seahawks safety Jamal Adams celebrates an interception against Washington on Nov. 29. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
(Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)

The Seahawks are watching the playoffs from home for the first time since 2017 after losing 10 games this season, something that had not happened since 2009.

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Seattle entered 2021 with high hopes after a 12-win finish in 2020, but the Hawks instead slid to a 7-10 record and a last place finish in the NFC West.

There are a number of things that the Seahawks did in 2021 that left many scratching their heads. Dave Wyman and Bob Stelton of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Wyman and Bob broke down the five biggest mysteries of Seattle’s season during Friday’s show.

Mystery No. 1: Wilson and Carroll’s relationship

The pairing of quarterback Russell Wilson and head coach Pete Carroll has led the Seahawks to the best stretch in franchise history since they joined forces in 2012, but the two men who are always glass half-full didn’t seem to be quite on the same page in 2021.

“It’s not because Russ isn’t getting to throw enough or they’re not getting him the right weapons,” Wyman said. “It’s a mystery to me – why is that relationship not what it always has been?”

Stelton pointed to the two “clashing,” or at least publicly disagreeing with each other, after two separate losses this season, something that never happened in their first nine years together.

During Seattle’s Week 2 loss to the Tennessee Titans in overtime, Carroll said he wished Wilson had checked the ball down instead of trying to force a pass in the end zone. Wilson said he thought what he did was fine and that he was trying to get the ball to a top playmaker in Tyler Lockett, who was having a big game.

Then, after losing late to the Chicago Bears in Week 16, Carroll said that Wilson should have thrown the ball away on a third down play where he was sacked and the kicker then missed a field goal. Wilson told reporters that trying to extend plays like he did is part of his game and he didn’t think he did anything wrong.

“It was interesting to hear that kind of disagreement. (Wilson) did it in a pleasant way, it wasn’t adversarial, but it was pointed, I thought,” Stelton said “… I think everyone was caught off guard because you never hear that. I think they were caught off guard the second Russell voiced any level of displeasure about anything.”

“Very shocking that (after) 2020, the stuff comes out in the offseason,” Wyman said. “… Just a different look for Russ. It’s just been different.”

Mystery #2: Slow start on defense and offense

That the Seahawks started slow on defense for the second year in a row didn’t surprise Stelton, but how bad it was coupled with the offense’s struggles after Week 1 was a bit staggering.

“After (Week 1), you look at Weeks 2-5 and the defense allowed over 450 yards and 21 points in four straight weeks,” he said. “… And then the offense struggled from the second half of Week 2 basically through the entire season.”

Stelton said the offense at least has the excuse of working out the kinks with a first-year offensive coordinator, but the defense has had the same coordinator since 2018 (Ken Norton Jr.) and returned nearly everyone from 2020, most of whom are veteran players.

Wyman, a former NFL linebacker, said the defensive front changed a bit from 2020 to 2021, but that was about it.

“After you come off a year where it took you eight to 10 weeks to get that defense down – just playing Pete’s normal defense – you change it in the offseason and the change ends up not featuring Jamal Adams, not featuring Carlos Dunlap, arguably the two best players on the field. That’s very mysterious,” he said. ” … There’s plenty of really good, experienced, smart guys on that defense that should be stepping up and saying, ‘Hey, we can’t go through what we did last year. We can’t go out here and finally get this thing down in the middle of the season.'”

Regarding the offense, Stelton pointed to receiver DK Metcalf saying late in the year that the offense has a lot of moving parts and looks different than what they ran in 2019 and 2020, and that coordinator Shane Waldron learned how to better utilize Metcalf and other playmakers.

Wyman pointed out that after one game, fellow receiver Tyler Lockett said defenses were playing the Seahawks differently in games than on film, which both Carroll and Wilson refuted.

“How do you fix that?” Stelton asked. “How do you avoid the third straight season of (slow starts and communication issues)? … How do they get some level of consistency to begin the year and keep that going?”

“Offense, I guess, you have very legitimate excuses. You have an offensive coordinator who’s never been an offensive coordinator, and then you have (Wilson’s midseason finger injury),” Wyman replied. “…You’ve got a ton of veteran leadership. And if you don’t make any coaching changes, then what is the answer? Maybe the (lack of organized team activities) hurt them. Maybe playing in the preseason (needs to happen). Maybe early on (in the season) that’s a legitimate reason, but when you’re in Week 9 and 10, you can’t blame the preseason.”

Mystery #3: Jamal Adams’ utilization

The first of three defensive stars whose usage left Wyman and Stelton scratching their heads, safety Jamal Adams had an interesting 2021, to say the least.

The Seahawks traded two first-round picks in the deal to get Adams before the 2020 season, and he had 9.5 sacks in 12 games and routinely disrupted plays at the line of scrimmage in his first year with Seattle. But in 2021 he was utilized more in coverage, had no sacks and just four tackles for loss in 12 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

Stelton said fans are unjustifiably angry with Adams and think he’s a worse player than he is, and that Carroll and general manager John Schneider wouldn’t have invested the picks and money they did in Adams if he was not that good.

“I think what led to people’s disappointment was the lack of production. But if you’re truly watching him and how they used him, it was decidedly different than the previous season for whatever reason,” Stelton said. “… It wasn’t until the last few games before he got hurt that we started to see him make impact plays and he was up on the line a lot more.”

Wyman said Adams didn’t play that poorly in coverage like people said, and that the Seahawks were using him more appropriately shortly before his season ended.

“They started to get back to (playing him near the line of scrimmage) right when he got hurt … Why wasn’t he up on the line of scrimmage a little bit more (earlier)?” Wyman said. ” … I think because of the lack of interceptions – he only had two coming into the year – everybody assumed he had a problem in coverage … The two interceptions are good, but he didn’t do much to dispel that.”

Listen to Wyman and Bob dissect the first three Seahawks mysteries at this link or in the player below.

Mystery #4: Bobby Wagner’s usage

Linebacker Bobby Wagner, the team’s defensive captain, had 170 tackles in 16 games along with a sack and forced fumble, but he had just three tackles for loss and three quarterback hits.

Stelton said that Cody Barton, who played in place of an injured Wagner in the Seahawks’ final two games, and fellow linebacker Jordyn Brooks, attacked the line of scrimmage, which was something he didn’t see Wagner do much of.

“Is that just to allow him to make tackles? Is that what coaches want him to do? Is that a business decision on his part? ‘This is how I don’t get hurt.’ What do you think was going on there?” Stelton asked Wyman. “Is that a guy getting older trying to preserve his body because he is playing 100% of the snaps?”

Wyman said that Wagner’s play was the biggest mystery of the Seahawks’ 2021 season.

“How they’re using him is what the mystery is. And the part you mentioned about 100% of the snaps, that’s what makes it even a bigger mystery,” Wyman said. “If you’re in your 10th year, why are you playing 100% of the snaps? You should be getting breaks here and there, especially when you’ve got younger guys that you’re going to have fill in later, and that’s why Cody Barton never got any snaps at middle linebacker because Bobby was just as reliable as can be.”

Wyman said Wagner played “almost like he was like a safety for the front seven.”

“Like he was going to kind of hang back and make sure nothing cuts back on him and nothing seeps through the pile,” Wyman said. “Because he just wasn’t playing downhill aggressive.”

Wyman believes Wagner’s style of play comes from what the Seahawks’ coaches want of him.

“If you just watch him, he makes a lot of tackles. But where are the tackles? Don’t just watch the game and when he gets a tackle you count it. You have to really just watch him on every play,” Wyman said. “… I’m not saying Bobby had a terrible year or anything like that, but if you just watch him in the way that they’re playing him, that part was very mystifying to me.”

So how should Wagner be used next season?

“I would say I would use him situationally. You can’t have him out there (all the time) if that’s the way you’re using him,” Wyman said. “Again, I’m not blaming Bobby, I’m just saying that the acceptable way to use him last year was like you wouldn’t have him on a short-yardage situation or goal line or anything like that. Maybe use him in certain situations where his best thing is ball hawking. The other thing about Bobby, too, is that my complaint was that they didn’t blitz him enough. They should have blitzed him last year just a ton because he’s so good at it … Just make it simple. I’m not saying do it every play, but I thought they should have done that a little bit more.”

Listen to mystery No. 4 at this link or in the player below.

Mystery #5: Carlos Dunlap’s role

After tallying five sacks in eight games and revitalizing the Seahawks’ pass rush in the second half of 2020, expectations were high for defensive end Carlos Dunlap in 2021.

But Dunlap got off to a slow start, tallying just 0.5 sacks, no tackles for loss and four QB hits in his first 11 games. He also played over 56% of defensive snaps in a game just once in that span, including four games under 40% and one game where he played only four total snaps.

From Week 13 onward, though, even in a limited role while playing on average just 34% of Seattle’s defensive snaps, Dunlap had eight sacks, eight tackles for loss, 10 QB hits and a forced fumble. He finished the year leading the Seahawks in sacks.

Not only was he used in a limited capacity, the veteran defensive end was also dropped into coverage a decent amount.

Dunlap said after playing just seven snaps but recording a sack for a safety and a pass breakup against the San Francisco 49ers that he was frustrated with playing so little and not producing as much, but was glad to be taking advantage of his opportunities.

Dunlap later told reporters he “made my hay” during his hot stretch by doing what he’s done throughout his career, which is rushing the quarterback off the edge.

“Early on I was asked to do some other things and it was a slow start, one of my slowest starts ever,” he said. “I’ve never had that many games without touching the quarterback.”

That Dunlap was tasked with dropping into coverage as much as he did “didn’t make any sense” to Wyman, who said opposing quarterbacks targeted him and other edge rushers when they dropped into coverage.

“It’s about using Carlos to the best of his ability,” he said.

“And he seems just as confused as we were by the whole thing,” Stelton said.

Listen to the fifth and final Seahawks mystery at this link or in the player below.

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