Clayton: Nickel secondary emerges as strength for Seahawks’ stingy defense
Sunday’s victory over the New York Giants may not have been pretty, but it set up an encouraging stretch for the Seahawks’ playoff chances.
It ended a start of the season in which the Seahawks had four road games in the first six. In the final nine, they have six home games, and they will get breaks in some of those games. The Arizona Cardinals won’t have Carson Palmer in the Thursday night game in the first week of November. The Houston Texans will come to Seattle without top players J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing, and the same goes for the Philadelphia Eagles with Whitney Mercilus, Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks.
The closing schedule includes teams that have combined record of .500. Oddsmakers have the Seahawks as favorites in most of the games until around Christmas.
With Green Bay not having Aaron Rodgers and the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons struggling, the Seahawks’ main competition for seeding in the playoffs focuses on the Eagles, who come to Seattle on Dec. 3 for a Sunday night game.
Let’s look back on Sunday and see what shone through in the 24-7 victory over the Giants.
• The defense continues to trend upwards. Worries about the defense ranking in the mid-teens a couple of weeks ago are starting to vanish. The Seahawks rank first in fewest points allowed at 15.3 and have jumped to eighth in fewest yards allowed at 304.5. Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and the rest of the defense are doing a remarkable job tackling, preventing short plays from turning into first downs. Coming up are games against great young quarterbacks such as Houston’s DeShaun Watson and Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, but historically Pete Carroll’s defenses rarely let young quarterbacks throw for more than 230 yards, and plenty of times they hold them to under 200.
• Shaquill Griffin and Justin Coleman have created a great nickel secondary. Even though DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane are coming off injuries, the nickel defense has been playing at a million dollar level. The Seahawks remain the fourth-best nickel defense in the league, giving up only 4.7 yards a play. That trails only the Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars. If a tweet by Lane is indeed an indication that he’s lost future playing time, Coleman has apparently won the nickel job. And with Shead expected to be back reasonably soon, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Lane gets traded. The trade deadline is next Tuesday.
• Sometimes it’s hard to figure out stats. The Seahawks’ defense totally shut down Eli Manning’s passing offense. Manning completed 19 passes for only 134 yards, was sacked once, and only five of his completed passes went to wide receivers – totaling just 45 yards. That’s the football equivalent of throwing a one-hitter in baseball for a secondary and pass defense. Still, the Seahawks didn’t register many quarterback pressures. For the season, believe it or not, they are tied for third-to-last in percentage of quarterback pressures at 21.7 percent. That’s why it’s misleading. Despite having seven Pro Bowlers on the defense – before they added Dwight Freeney on Tuesday night – the Seahawks aren’t getting pressure or sacks. Still, the defense is working.
• Ethan Pocic looks like the real deal. Pocic rotated with Mark Glowinski at left guard and had five plays at center filling in for an injured Justin Britt. According to Pro Football Focus, Pocic graded out at 73.5 in run blocking, topping Britt’s 68.8. The more you watched the game, the more you saw an improved pocket for Russell Wilson. Britt suffered an ankle injury that will prevent him from practicing until Friday. As tough as Britt is, you’d expect him to play. And with Luke Joeckel out for a month, Pocic is the next best guy along the line and will probably get more than the 34 snaps he had in the Giants game. The Seahawks’ coaches respect Pocic for his versatility. His strong start is an encouraging sign for the struggling offensive line.
• The running game is still in the walking stage. Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy combined for 22 rushes for 70 yards. That’s still not good enough. What was encouraging, though, was the way offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell mixed up the runs. He created more motion and mixed in more packages than he has in the past. He used more two-tight end sets that included Luke Willson and Nick Vannett and called three jet sweeps with Tyler Lockett. Rawls showed signs of getting better, but for now the Seahawks will have to scheme a running game until a back gets hot.
Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive”segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out the latest episode of his “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.