Rost: Two Seahawks contradictions, and what they mean for 2023

Jun 3, 2023, 10:52 AM

Seattle Seahawks Darrell Taylor...

Seahawks LB Darrell Taylor strip sacks Jets QB Mike White on Jan. 1, 2023. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Teams are full of contradictions, and that includes the Seattle Seahawks.

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It’s not always a bad thing. For example, most NFL fans would consider the Kansas City Chiefs an offensive team – and they’d be right. This is a unit that led the league in points per game and features the NFL’s best passer in Patrick Mahomes. But their defense was also second in the NFL in sacks, which probably helps to explain how they won a Super Bowl once again, right?

When it comes to the Seahawks, there are two interesting contradictions from last season. Neither is bad, but both can teach us a lesson about how football is played and which measurements Seattle should track for improvement in 2023.

The Seattle Seahawks’ D was bad… but top 10 in sacks

That Seattle badly needs to improve its defense isn’t a secret to fans. The defense had been on a gradual decline for years since its Legion of Boom days, but it started to feel like the Seahawks hit rock bottom with the sheer volume of explosive pass plays allowed in 2020 and 2021.

They were at least solid against the run… until they weren’t. Last season saw an improvement against the pass but also an abysmal 30th-ranked rushing defense. Need a reminder of how bad it got? There were the 223 rushing yards allowed by the Panthers in Week 14, the 235 rushing yards allowed by the Saints in Week 5, and the more than 300 yards of total offense allowed by running back Josh Jacobs in a Week 12 loss to the Saints.

But despite being a defense that, at times, felt so frustrating to watch, this was also a top-10 unit in sacks. Are we not giving the Seahawks enough credit for their ability to get to the quarterback, or is this one a bit misleading?

Seattle’s 45 sacks last season ranked eighth in the NFL, which was tied with the Jets and Buccaneers and one more than the 49ers. But the Seahawks trailed all three in defensive DVOA (Seattle was 21st compared to the 49ers’ first-place ranking, the Jets’ fifth-place rank, and the Bucs’ 13th-place rank), meaning a team like San Francisco was more successful than league average on individual plays, while a team like Seattle performed worse despite recording more sacks. That efficiency (or lack thereof from Seattle) is reflected more obviously in a few other stats. But here, we’re just looking at sacks.

So how about pass-rush win rate? Or something even simpler, like quarterback hits? Both paint a slightly different picture. The Seahawks were 16th in quarterback hits (the Jets and 49ers were first and third, respectively) and were 28th in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate metric. Seattle brought down opposing quarterbacks 45 times but didn’t pressure passers nearly as consistently as the league’s top defenses.

Those metrics can be better measurements for true improvement from the defense and pass rush in 2023. But here’s the good news: Seattle looks primed to take a step forward in 2023 – for real this time.

The Seahawks have made key adjustments to their personnel this offseason. Even with some depth concerns on the interior of the D-line, the Hawks moved on from all three starters last season and replaced them with Dre Jones and Jarran Reed. Also in the mix is rookie Cam Young. The hope is those moves bolster Seattle’s performance against the run, an effort that should be aided in part by the return of linebacker Bobby Wagner, who excelled against the run with LA last season.

Seattle wants to run effectively… but was 22nd in carries

We know Seattle wants to run the ball. Last year they had a 1,000-yard rookie rusher in Kenneth Walker III. But they also didn’t see nearly as many carries as the league’s top rushing teams.

The Seahawks were 22nd in rush attempts per game last year, right next to the Chiefs.

“You know the philosophy of this team,” Michael Bumpus said Wednesday on Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy. “Pete Carroll wants to play great defense, he wants to run the football, but still take his shots. So why aren’t they one of the top rushing teams in the league if that’s who they want to be? I think it’s because once something starts working for you early in the game, you’ve got to go back to the well a few more times.

“Look at the first game of the year against the Broncos — Geno Smith was 23 of 28 (passing). That’s why you keep throwing the ball, because it’s working and you’re getting into favorable down and distances. Here’s an example of one drive: the first play they hand it off to Rashaad Penny. Then you go to DK Metcalf for seven yards, then you go to Tyler Lockett for 17 yards, then you get a false start so you’re first-and-15. What are you gonna do? You’re gonna throw the football. You find Metcalf for 9, then you get a Penny run for 4, then you find Will Dissly for a 38-yard gain. That’s how football games work. You go out with a plan but then you get performances elsewhere so you ride with it. That drive signifies everything that happened for the season, where Geno performed better than they thought.”

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