Rost: The 2 missing pieces Seahawks need to find this offseason
Russell Wilson’s Monday night appearance on ESPN’s Manning Cast didn’t provide a half hour of insight into his relationship with the Seahawks’ brass – apologies to those who waited through the first half of a Wild Card blowout – but there was some interesting commentary on the Rams’ defense and Penny Hart’s role as the Seahawks’ scout-team Kyler Murray.
The five biggest mysteries of the Seahawks’ season
A relatively uneventful interview was followed by significantly more impactful news, though. That was the Seahawks’ decision to part ways with defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and defensive passing game coordinator Andre Curtis, according to a report by The Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta and Adam Jude.
This was going to be a quick post-Wild Card weekend look at two of the big missing pieces for the Seahawks if they want to be a true Super Bowl contender. Now, add “find a defensive coordinator” to the top of the list of offseason priorities for Seattle (though that eventual hire might already be in the building).
Huard: What’s next as Seahawks move on from DC Ken Norton Jr.
Even before the Seahawks developed a question mark overnight in their coaching ranks, the results of Wild Card weekend made it clear Seattle has two big pieces to find this offseason.
An elite edge rusher
The Seahawks registered 34 sacks in 2021. That’s up from the 28 they had in 2019, which was abysmal, but down from the 46 sacks they finished with in 2020 after a resurgent second half.
Carlos Dunlap led the team with 8.5 sacks in 2021, but despite being the team’s best pass rusher, he saw limited snaps beginning in Week 10 (from 41% to 20%) and then again in Weeks 11 and 12 (just four snaps and seven snaps, respectively). The reasoning wasn’t immediately clear; it might’ve been to preserve the 32-year-old Dunlap’s health as the season progressed or may have been to get more defensive tackles on the field to stop the run.
The latter seems more likely, given Seattle’s 3-5 record entering Week 10, and to their credit the effort paid off. The Seahawks finished the year in the top 10 in team run-stop win rate (32%) while defensive tackle Al Woods finished fifth overall in run-stop win rate (42%). But the tradeoff to stop the run might have meant limiting a few pass rushing opportunities, and Seattle must find those opportunities again in 2022.
There was still production from younger edge rushers. Darrell Taylor, a second-year pro but essential playing his rookie season, and Rasheem Green each had 6.5 sacks. Taylor is under contract through 2023, and that kind of production after spending all of 2020 recovering from surgery bodes well for the 2020 second-round pick. Green, though, will become an unrestricted free agent in March and at just 24 years old could find a competitive offer elsewhere.
Should Seattle replace Green, they’d do well to continue adding. Gone were the sack totals from safety Jamal Adams, who didn’t make any sacks after setting an NFL record for the most sacks in a single season by a defensive back last year, and Jarran Reed, who is no longer with Seattle but was second on the team in sacks in 2020. The Seahawks also didn’t see the same production from Benson Mayowa (six sacks in 2020, one in 2021) and got just 1.5 sacks from free agent signing Kerry Hyder Jr., who recorded 8.5 for San Francisco in 2020.
• Where you’re seeing it in action this postseason: Los Angeles Rams.
They have been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, with a first-ranked team pass rush win rate of 53% (a pass rush win would mean beating your block in 2.5 seconds or less). Seven of the top 10 teams in this area made the postseason. Seattle, at 39%, ranked 20th.
Having a pass rush like this is easier said than done since the Rams have the benefit of having one of the best defensive players in NFL history. Aaron Donald led all defensive tackles in pass rush win rate at 26% (for context, that’s almost twice the total of the fourth-ranked player on this list, Quinnen Williams, and is also more than Jadeveon Clowney, T.J. Watt, and Nick Bosa).
The bad news is the Seahawks aren’t going to find Aaron Donald – not that teams haven’t been trying for years – but there will be a few free agents that can boost production there, including Chandler Jones, Jadeveon Clowney and Haason Reddick.
A bolstered offensive line
Seattle saw improvement up front in the last several weeks of the season, but the offensive line still finished the season ranked 25th according to Pro Football Focus. Left tackle Duane Brown earned his lowest PFF grade since his rookie season – and he still finished as Seattle’s highest-graded starter.
Go figure that great offensive line play is also correlated with winning football. Seven of the top-graded offensive lines belonged to playoff teams. Seattle doesn’t just have to figure out how to improve with the players it has, but also must figure out how to take a step forward while potentially replacing key starters from 2021. Brown, center Ethan Pocic, and right tackle Brandon Shell will all become unrestricted free agents in March.
• Where you’re seeing it in action this postseason: Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs finished with the second-highest graded O-line in 2021 and allowed the lowest pressure rate in the league (19%). For comparison, Russell Wilson was pressured on 37% of dropbacks. Improving the offensive line alone won’t bring that down to a league-best total. Wilson’s style of play puts a bit more pressure on the line to hold defenders (don’t forget a pass block win rate would mean blocking a defender for 2.5 seconds or more), and Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady has a quicker release. But improvements on both fronts – blocking and quarterback play – would mean a huge step forward in 2022.
Clayton: No news from Hawks’ Jody Allen meeting is good news