Lefko: The unexpected boost to Seahawks’ path to NFC contender
Sep 26, 2023, 9:47 AM
(Christopher Mast/Getty Images)
When you boil it down, football is a simple sport: move the ball, or stop the other team from moving the ball (this works for other sports too…baseball: hit the ball or stop the other team from hitting the ball). The Seattle Seahawks’ porous run defense last year led to natural uncertainty about the defensive line, while early injuries to both offensive tackles, stalwarts at the position, generated concern about whether the line would bog down a promising offense.
Yet after back-to-back wins, the questions have so far been erased due to the strong showing from both of Seattle’s lines. The offensive line in particular deserves a few extra turns at the dessert buffet after a gameday scratch to Phil Haynes left that unit down three starters. Enter fourth-round pick Anthony Bradford, who proceeded to play all 75 snaps on offense in Sunday’s 37-27 win over Carolina.
As you can imagine, that got the attention of the Hawks’ head coach, who had a glowing review during Monday morning’s Pete Carroll Show on Seattle Sports.
“We see him as a talent. He is a brute,” Carroll said. “You watch the film now, there’s four or five plays in there like he’s done every time he’s been in the game – he mauls guys.”
Bradford, along with Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan filling in as starters at the respective tackle spots, did allow two sacks in the first half, but the line paved the way for the Seahawks to rush for 146 yards on the day and stoutly negated the Panthers’ pass rush in the second half, opening the door for quarterback Geno Smith to go 12 for 13 with 143 yards and a touchdown in the final two quarters.
Despite the early injury attrition, the O-line has held up remarkably well. It’s not a stat wholly indicative of O-line success, but through three games the Seahawks have a sack percentage of 4.6%, the 11th best mark in the league – and better than the presumptive favorites in the NFC, the 49ers and Eagles. Not too shabby for a handful of backups who have been thrust into a heavy amount of early season action.
The offensive line hasn’t wavered in its stability, but the overwhelming surprise and unexpected boost to the Seahawks season has been up front on the other side of the ball.
Last season, the Panthers ran all over the Seahawks – 46 carries for 223 yards in a 30-24 Carolina win in Week 13. Less than a year later, the same field saw them jammed and gummed up for just 44 yards on 14 carries. Seattle’s concerted effort to overhaul the interior of the defensive line has paid off with players who disrupt and unseat game plans to run the ball. A 30th-ranked run defense a year ago is now sixth-best (79.3 yards per game), and the Seahawks are allowing just 2.9 yards per rush attempt – third-best in the league.
Nose tackle Jarran Reed’s return to the Seahawks has been the key. Pete Carroll was effusive in his praise for Reed on Monday morning, and Reed’s 1.5 sacks in Sunday’s win are even more impressive after hearing the extent of the groin strain that he is playing through. This was the big (literally) void to fill in replacing Al Woods, and the most critical position on that line with the way the Seahawks had structured their base defense.
There is depth, as well. ESPN’s Brady Henderson noted that Mario Edwards Jr. was the most effective interior lineman at pressuring the quarterback in Week 3. This was a goal defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt and the Seahawks coaches mentioned before this season: sustaining pressure in waves. It’s hard not to envision such a scenario when the Seahawks are able to rotate bodies and roll in Derick Hall, Cam Young, and Darrell Taylor to complement the starters, and the tone that has been set up front.
The unmentioned, massive elephant in the room is the pass defense. It has regressed to the second-worst in the NFL for passing yards allowed. However, it feels too early and with too much still unsettled to pass significant judgment on that just yet. Like all problems you don’t want to address, we’re just going to procrastinate analyzing it until a later date.
There’s also reason for optimism because the secondary has not had a game where it has been fully healthy, but that could change on Monday against the New York Giants with the expected return of strong safety Jamal Adams. The Seahawks have also only had their two starting cornerbacks intact for 11 plays this season after Riq Woolen left early in the Detroit game. So, at this point – but only for now – we can overlook that potential issue and instead relish in the fact that the Seahawks are owning the point of attack on offense and defense this season.