Salk: Why this Seahawks defense is different than we’ve seen in years

Oct 12, 2023, 6:25 PM | Updated: 6:27 pm

Seattle Seahawks...

Gary Brightwell of the New York Giants is tackled by Jordyn Brooks of the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 2, 2023. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

For the better part of the last decade, we’ve all watched the Seattle Seahawks and wondered why they didn’t look right.

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We’ve tried to tell ourselves that they have “it,” that they are “back,” or that it feels like it did when they were attending back to back Super Bowls. But we knew deep down in places we wouldn’t talk about at parties that their defense wasn’t like it had been.

Many tried to blame the offense. When they lost to Dallas in the playoffs in 2018, they blamed conservative play-calling rather than the defense that let Dak Prescott walk in for the winning touchdown. They tried it again after the loss to the Rams in 2020, though I remained convinced that a defense that couldn’t force even a single turnover against backups and injured quarterbacks was more responsible.

There are many ways to win in the NFL, nearly all of which have had proven success at some time or another. But to win, you must have success at that part of the game at which you are attempting to excel! And Pete Carroll needs a defense in order for his philosophy to shine.

Does he have it this year?

As of today, no. The team is giving up more than 22 points per game, sits in the bottom half of the league in yards against and is third-worst in passing yards given up. Those are not the markings of an elite defense, let alone a solid one.

But they are also sixth-best against the run, with mostly elite defenses (Philly, San Francisco, etc.) ahead of them. And they are second in the league in sacks per game – not bad considering they barely breathed on Matt Stafford in the opener!

It would be hard to argue that what we’ve seen so far constitutes truly elite defense. But unlike previous years, I feel more and more confident as I watch them progress.

In 2019-22, they started off terribly and eventually figured it out well enough to survive. If what we’ve seen so far this season is a baseline on which they improve, elite won’t be much more than a shout away.

There are more reasons for hope.

Devon Witherspoon has shown in three games that he has game-changing potential. That he can make not only the routine play, but also the splash plays that impact outcomes.

The trio of second-round picks (Darrell Taylor, Boye Mafe and Derick Hall) are getting to the quarterback and forcing the action rather than sitting back and catching blockers or drifting off into the flat.

Bobby Wagner’s return has changed the entirety of the linebacking corps, not just by turning them into tackling machines, but by making those tackles near the line of scrimmage.

And the defensive line, the biggest question mark heading into this season, has been more than adequate. They may not dominate like their truly elite brethren in San Francisco or Philadelphia, but they are quietly allowing the linebackers and safeties behind them to operate cleanly and make plays.

And that’s before we see the expected contributions of Jamal Adams and Riq Woolen, two of the most talented players on this roster.

I don’t know if the 2023 Seahawks are going to remind anyone of the Legion of Boom. Heck, if that’s the standard, we may be disappointed by every Seahawks defense from now until eternity! But they have shown a few glimpses of being better than anything we have witnessed since the heyday. They are fast and physical, two qualities that have been missing for a while. And they have a few players that are capable of making the big time plays that win games, another thing that’s been missing.

As they enter the second quarter of this season, I’ll be watching that defense to see if they can build on this start. I’ll be watching those game-changers to see if they’ll be changing games. I’ll be watching those young guys to see if they keep growing into the solid base every team needs.

And I’ll be watching John Schneider to see if there is a deal to be made before the Oct. 31 deadline. As teams like the Giants and Vikings drop out of contention, there are some real studs that could become available. And while I think this defense has some potential, let’s be clear: they could sure use more elite talent. And if there’s a chance to add it, I hope they jump at the opportunity.

I don’t think this is the same Seahawks defense we’ve watched for the last few years. Now let’s see them prove that they can be closer to the defenses that made this franchise great.

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