Rost: Is Seahawks’ biggest concern offense or defense right now?

Sep 13, 2023, 10:26 AM

Seattle Seahawks...

Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams attempts a pass against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 10, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Seahawks were already heading into the 2023 season with some doubt.

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Will Geno Smith be able to repeat his Pro Bowl season, or was his first full year as a starter since 2014 an aberration? Would the Seahawks be able to hit the ground running in a weaker NFC, or would their late-season issues — two wins and eight turnovers in their final six games — follow them into a new year? Could the run defense stop anyone, or would this one again be on of the league’s more porous units?

Last year, there was only doubt. But while questions lingered, this time around there was real optimism heading into Week 1.

No Russell? No problem. What was dubbed the worst quarterback situation in football last season instead became a conversation about opportunity. Smith was the most accurate passer in football and the only NFC quarterback to throw for 30 or more touchdowns, and this year he has another weapon: Ohio State standout and first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who impressed plenty at camp.

That defense that improved from 31st to 17th in passing yards allowed? It was also given another weapon: fifth overall pick Devon Witherspoon, the best cornerback in the draft and one who would complement Riq Woolen, the 2022 fifth-rounder who turned in a stellar rookie campaign to make the Pro Bowl, to round out a group that would presumably see the return of a healthy Jamal Adams.

This season brought excitement and expectations, and it’s why a devastating Week 1 loss to a rebuilding Rams roster felt like such a punch in the gut.

There are 16 more games to play and plenty of opportunity to right the ship, but before we look ahead to Detroit in Week 2, let’s figure out what’s worth worrying about (and watching closely) heading into Week 2.

So, after an ugly game that saw 334 passing yards and 30 points surrendered and just 12 yards gained in the second half, what’s more concerning: a putrid performance from the pass defense, or a shockingly poor performance from the offense?

Let’s start on defense.

Michael Bumpus watched the game closely with the rest of the Seahawks Radio Network pregame/postgame crew, a cast that includes several former Seahawks players like Bump. The group noticed moments of confusion from the secondary and mistakes with basic concepts.

“We’re looking at this (defense) and we go, ‘There are some simple things that just aren’t being figured out,’” he said during Monday’s Bump and Stacy on Seattle Sports. “Like when (the Rams) go in a bunch formation — a bunch formation is when you have a receiver at the point, one receiver to the right, one by one, we’re talking about the yards and separation, one by one to the other side — and we’re like, OK, you press the point. One defensive back gets wide, and then the outside linebacker keeps his eyes inside, you look for the switch. We’re looking at that and we all go, ‘Dang, they’re confused.’

“So there’s two ways you can look at it: Either they’re not being coached up or they’re not taking the coaching, because that’s simple football. And we know the minds on that (defensive staff). There’s no way they told them to play that situation like that. There’s some growing that needs to happen.”

The defense allowed the Rams to convert on 11 of 17 third down attempts, a stat Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was clearly disappointed in postgame and during a separate press conference Monday, stressing that his disappointment was also because third down situations were a huge offseason focus (Seattle finished 20th there last season at 38.3%).

The performance itself was concerning, but so too was a wretched day on offense.

For as poorly as the defense played — allowing a large number of consistent completions over the middle — it was the offense that felt more baffling.

As I mentioned on Monday’s Bump and Stacy, this was a team that a lot of analysts I listen to had as a dark horse to win the NFC West. And that’s in no small part because of the weapons they have on offense and the production you saw last year.

The offense I was more surprised by. For right now I’m attributing those second half failures to, yes, lack of execution, but also lack of opportunity. The Seahawks possessed the ball for about 2 1/2 minutes in the third and fourth quarter.

Perhaps for that reason — and a better resume in 2022 from the offense — Bump is also more concerned about the defense.

“There was a series in the second half (that I keep thinking about),” Bumpus said. “(The Rams) were 5 for 5 on third down and converted on fourth down. That’s just disrespectful. There was third-and-long, third-and-medium, third-and-short. (The Seahawks) got every opportunity to stop these guys on third down and just weren’t able to do it. And then the way the Rams attacked the same part of the field over and over and over.

“What I can say is there aren’t enough re-routes. What that means if you are in a zone, which the Hawks predominantly play, when the slot receivers and tight ends fire off the line of scrimmage, you put hands on them and you slow them down. It messes up the timing of the quarterback, it allows the defensive linemen to get after the quarterback, and it makes the receiver have to adjust. Didn’t see enough of that. It just looked like on the back end they just didn’t trust each other. People weren’t where they’re supposed to be and if one guy messes up, it’s a chain reaction.”

Growth may come over the course of a season, and that’s a good thing. But the Seahawks have significantly less time to make adjustments. They’ll head to Detroit to face a hot Lions team on Sunday that won seven of their final nine games in 2022 and are fresh off a win over the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

Bumpus: What should Seahawks do to fix issues on defense?
Video: Wyman’s Football 101 – Where Seahawks’ pass D went wrong
• Seattle Seahawks sign 9-time Pro Bowl OT Jason Peters
• Injury Updates: ‘Really good chance’ Witherspoon could debut in Week 2
• Carroll on rough opener: ‘We gotta get our act together’
• Rost: What went wrong in Seattle Seahawks’ shocking Week 1 loss?

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