Will Bobby Wagner’s return fix Seahawks’ run defense issues?

Aug 6, 2023, 9:49 AM

Seattle Seahawks Bobby Wagner Jordyn Brooks...

Bobby Wagner during Seattle Seahawks minicamp in 2023. (Taylor Jacobs/Seattle Sports)

(Taylor Jacobs/Seattle Sports)

If there is one area of improvement for the Seattle Seahawks to focus on this year, it’s shoring up their run defense.

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In 2022, the Seahawks allowed 2,554 yards on the ground, which ranked worse than all but two of the NFL’s 31 other teams. Opposing offenses also ran for 4.9 yards per carry against Seattle, which was 26th in the NFL.

Perhaps not a coincidence is the fact that missing from the middle of the Seahawks’ defense last year was Bobby Wagner, who spent the 2022 campaign with the NFC West rival Los Angeles Rams. While the Rams stumbled to a 5-12 record compared to Seattle’s 9-8 finish, they were considerably better than the Hawks against the run, ranking 13th in the NFL in total run defense and 14th in yards allowed per carry.

Wagner, a six-time All-Pro linebacker, is now back with the Seahawks for 2023. How much could his presence help Seattle’s ability to stop ball carriers out of the backfield?

Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob discussed that, what accounted for the Seahawks’ run D issues and what can be expected of Wagner in 2023 during a recent edition of their show. Let’s take a close look at what they had to say.

• Will Wagner play more like he did with the Rams?

Bob Stelton wonders if Wagner is bringing a new bag of tricks back to Seattle after his one year away.

“I’m hoping we see kind of a version of what we saw last year,” Stelton said. “I know it was a brief sample, we were not watching every single Rams game, but they looked to use him differently.”

Lucky for Stelton, he has a former NFL linebacker as a co-host in Wyman, who played nine seasons combined with the Seahawks and Denver Broncos, and is now color commentator on game broadcasts for the Seahawks Radio Network.

“I’m curious,” Stelton said to Wyman, “if you think (Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll) and the coaching staff were looking at film of (Wagner) last year and going, ‘You know what? I liked what they did there with him. I like that they were having him do that.’ Do you think they scouted him that way, or do they feel like, ‘Man, this guy was here for a decade, we know what he does?'”

Wyman’s response:

I think they probably didn’t see anything that’s too different. I thought the couple of years leading up to his departure to LA, I felt like slowly there was something going on between him and (former Seahawks defensive coordinator) Ken Norton that was like, ‘OK, No. 1, I’m going to be out there all the time. And No. 2, I’m not going to be a battering ram. I’m going to be somebody that is either gonna clean up the pile, make sure nobody gets out, or make a play on the ball,’ which he’s really good at. But yeah, he wasn’t a downhill, ‘I’m gonna take on the fullback and blow him up’ (type of linebacker). … But last year, he was a little bit more that way, and I don’t know what they were calling for in the (Rams’) defense there. The one thing that’s always stood out to me about him, and I’ve mentioned this a number of times, but the snap count for him, it’s always like he doesn’t want to come out of the game and he typically doesn’t. So I’m very curious to see what happens this year when he’s out there.

• Wagner’s role in fixing run D issues

Wagner spoke to the media during Seahawks training camp Monday, and he touched on how Seattle can improve in stopping the run.

“I think it’s just understanding your run fits,” he said. “I think what it means by that is that the team is not just going to line up and let’s say you have an ‘A’ or ‘B’ gap, they are not just going to line up and come right at you. They’re going to move a guy, they’re going to motion a guy, and all of those motions change a gap. So you have to know what your gap is after that and just having an understanding. Sometimes they’ll motion and put the nickel into the fit and now the nickel has the run gap or they’ll move the tight end and make the outside guy have to fold back in. There are different ways that the offense does to mess with your run fits, so just being mindful of that, being able to communicate that with everybody and just be on the same page, I think that’s the biggest emphasis.”

What does Wyman make of that?

There’s lots of times that didn’t get done last year. The game in Germany (in Week 10 last season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers)… that was weird to me, because at that point they were rolling. They were really good in a lot of different categories and really good against the run. That was the thing, Tampa, they figured something out. They were motioning guys into the box, which creates another gap so you have to have a guy slide in with that, and your responsibilities change. And that’s fine, you should be able to account for that. And I’m not saying that that’s easy, but when you put a defense in, and then you come out and you walk through it and show every different possibility of motion, shift, this and that… they stop and go, ‘Where’s your gap? Here, here, here.’ You should have that down, certainly by the time it’s the middle of the season. And Bobby’s very smart like that. I mean, I think he can definitely help coach some of these guys up. But yeah, unbelievably, that wasn’t getting done. … You couldn’t throw a guy out there and go, ‘Oh, tell me where your gap is.’ But after you walk through it, like, 50 times and watch it on film, yeah, you should know that stuff.

That’s the thing where Bobby can help. You see a lot of times, defensive tackles will be in the wrong gap and the linebacker will go up and swat them on the butt. (Former Seahawks defensive coordinator) Tom Catlin used to say, ‘They’re just like cattle, they’ll move.’ So that’s something that I think (Wagner) can really help with. But it just is kind of mystifying to me that that didn’t get done a lot of times last year. … I’ve said it, I think that they have the firepower on defense. The problem last year I didn’t think was the firepower, either. I thought it was just that they weren’t playing together and people didn’t know which gap they had. There was a lot of uncertainty, especially in the run game.

You can listen to the full conversation from Wyman and Bob in the final segment of the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

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