Huard: Why Seahawks’ 3rd-down defense numbers ‘can’t happen’

Dec 28, 2023, 8:52 AM

Seattle Seahawks...

Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans runs the ball against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 24, 2023. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Seattle Seahawks have put together maybe their best back-to-back weeks on defense over their last two wins, both of which were 20-17 final scores.

Seattle Seahawks have playoff destiny back in their control

Seattle upset the playoff-bound Eagles on Monday Night Football two weeks ago with Drew Lock under center and then knocked off the Tennessee Titans on the road in Geno Smith’s return to action.

The quarterbacks got a lot of attention with both Lock and Smith orchestrating game-winning drives, but the Seahawks’ defense has played well each of the last two weeks.

The Seahawks have some good trends to point to defensively, such as ranking No. 5 in the NFL – and first in the NFC  – in sacks for the season and, as head coach Pete Carroll pointed out on Tuesday, Seattle has allowed far fewer explosive plays over the last two weeks.

But one stat remains worrisome, former NFL Brock Huard said on Thursday.

“They have to fix third-down defense,” Huard said during Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk. “If you look at these numbers on third down, they’re 31st in the league in third-down defense. Only the Arizona Cardinals are worse than you on third down. For the entire season, you’re sitting there at 47% against.”

What makes those third-down numbers especially concerning, Huard said, is they’re not all short-yardage situations. The Seahawks, in part because of their ability to sack opposing quarterbacks, have shown they can get opponents into difficult situations on third down.

“They kick teams to third-and-7, third-and-9 and third-and-11. These aren’t all third-and-1,” he said. “To be at the bottom there, you’ve got to really be struggling in every component of it. Over the last three weeks they’re dead last in the NFL at 48%.”

The Seahawks are also dead-last at 32nd in the NFL in third-down defense at home.

“When you can rush the passer and you don’t give up (explosive) plays and if you put teams in those positions and you’re dead last in the league third-down defense at home, that can’t happen at home with the extra voice at home with the 12s at home in that environment,” Huard said.

Mike Salk questioned how the Seahawks can be so bad on third down when they’re one of the best in the league in sacks.

“How does that stat fit with the sacks?” Salk asked.

Replied Huard, “Corrrect. It doesn’t. It shouldn’t. If you’re the best team in the NFC at getting sacks – and you are, you’re tied for fifth overall in the NFL … And it isn’t just like cheap little sacks or flimsy little sacks. You see it. You’re getting it from Jarran (Reed) and you’re getting it from Boye (Mafe_ and you’re getting it from Leonard (Williams) and you’re getting four and a half from Dre (Jones) and you’re getting in some from Bobby (Wagner). You’re getting them from a lot of different spots. It’s not like (Pittsburgh’s) T.J. Watt with 18 of your 45. They’ve come from some different varieties and different positions. The problem is just third-and-7, third-and-8 and third-and-11 (and not getting off the field).”

Huard said if the Seahawks are even close to average on third down defensively, they will beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals to finish the season at 10-7.

“They’re not giving up explosives, they’re getting sacks,” Huard said. “… If you keep Pittsburgh and Arizona in the 30th percentile on third down, you are going to win both of those and who knows what happens with the Rams and Niners, you may be the sixth seed and not the seventh seed in these playoffs.”

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