STACY ROST

The Next Day: Seahawks’ investment in defense still not paying off

Dec 1, 2023, 9:40 AM

Seattle Seahawks...

Brandin Cooks of the Dallas Cowboys carries the ball against the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 30. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

(Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Well, the Seattle Seahawks aren’t out of it. That’s the first thing we need to cover here.

Good, Bad and Ugly: Seattle Seahawks sunk by flags, defense in loss

But it doesn’t feel right now like they’re really in it, either.

And that’s a frustrating place to be as a fan.

Here’s what’s sticking with me after Seattle’s close loss to the Cowboys on Thursday night:

See ya, third-down woes!

Who knows what’ll stick after this one, but the offense deserves credit after their second-highest scoring game of the year.

It wasn’t just the best day offensively for the Seahawks this year; according to The Ringer’s Sheil Kapadia, this was the ninth-best offensive performance by any team in any game this year, by EPA.

Seattle, who entered the week ranked 30th on third down, converted 64% of attempts. They didn’t punt once. Geno Smith completed 23-of-41 pass attempts for 334 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, and another touchdown on the ground.

No one expects an offense to be this efficient every time – it’s an unreal level of production ndash; but it’s a significant upgrade from the version of this offense we’ve seen all year, and that version isn’t nearly as efficient as critics expected it could be to start the season. Offensive line injuries are a big part of that, but an offense that had been searching for an identity badly needed a day like this. If only it would’ve come with a win.

It wasn’t a perfect day, though, and in a game this close that can be the difference between a win and a loss. Seattle had a turnover on downs on their last three possessions. A bad drop by Tyler Lockett on one of those drives potentially changes the day for Seattle. But they had more opportunities after that and didn’t take advantage.

Their final opportunity was a head-scratcher…

Why leave Micah Parsons unblocked?

That was by design.

Fourth-and-two, game on the line at midfield. Dallas rushed six. On the right side of the line Abe Lucas takes on DeMarcus Lawrence, with Micah Parsons unblocked.

Let me get this straight. The league’s best pass rusher in terms of pass-rush win rate, with 25 pressures this year, who runs a 4.3 40, was free to rush the quarterback?

“It is the design,” Geno Smith told the Tacoma News Tribune’s Gregg Bell postgame when asked why Parsons was unblocked. “Right tackle had to squeeze right there if it was a zero (blitz). So, he did the right thing. Micah came free. We knew that would possibly happen. Tried to get the ball around him, just wasn’t able to.”

Translation (courtesy of Michael Bumpus): The Seahawks had more than they could block to the right side, so they left Parsons unblocked. They were expecting him to peel with the running back, or widen out with him, but if he didn’t do that, Dallas was supposed to slip through underneath Parsons as he passed him and slip into the flat (which is why he’s Smith’s primary read there). But if you look at Dallas, he hesitates, and that hesitation messes the timing of that play up. It doesn’t help that Lawrence, the player Lucas is blocking, gets into the backfield to get in Dallas’ way.

The playcall itself isn’t as horrendous as it sounds. But should it be done against Parsons in particular, and with your third-string running back? Probably not. And I’d guess it’s one of the first questions reporters ask OC Shane Waldron later this week.

A defensive problem

It sure seems like these two phases of the ball can never get going at the same time. Despite that final play, and despite those final three failed fourth-down attempts, this one is on the defense.

Seattle has plenty invested into the defense. No, they haven’t used a top-three pick on an elite Myles Garrett or Nick Bosa-esque edge rusher. But they’ve used a top-five pick on a corner, traded two first-rounders for a No. 6 overall safety, made both safeties two of the highest-paid players on the team, drafted a linebacker in the first round, and spent more free agency money than ever on a defensive lineman this year. They’ve gone through defensive coordinators and done everything they can to fix last year’s struggling run defense, including a complete facelift along the defensive line.

There’s plenty of talent on that side of the ball. But for whatever reason, it’s not been coming together (and that’s an issue that’s been recurring over the past few years). Because while the Seahawks had the ninth-best performance in terms of EPA, the Cowboys had the eighth-best this year. Their 33 first downs were more than any other team in 2023, and their 41 points were the most allowed by Seattle all season.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

• Seattle Seahawks Instant Reaction: What went wrong in loss to Cowboys?
• The Big Plays: Seahawks lose 41-35 to Cowboys, fall to 6-6
• Recap: Prescott throws 3 TDs, Cowboys beat Seahawks 41-35

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The Next Day: Seahawks’ investment in defense still not paying off