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Gallant: Seahawks’ defense that never clicked ultimately doomed them

Aaron Jones ran for a pair of touchdowns as the Packers beat the Seahawks 28-23 Sunday. (Getty)

I never thought that air could taste so… bland. But here I am, panting in this mediocre oxygen after holding my breath for a four-month roller-coaster ride. The 2019 Seahawks season – a fun, often frustrating, never un-entertaining, incredibly resilient season – is finally over after the Hawks fell 28-23 to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Packers 28, Seahawks 23 | Glaring need | Instant reaction | 3 key moments

There’s a lot of good to take out of this year:

• The Seahawks have the NFL’s best quarterback. Did anyone think that the Seahawks were done down 21-3 to the Packers at halftime with Russell Wilson under center?

• There aren’t many receiving corps with a better one-two punch than Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.

• Seattle powered through season-ending injuries to their starting center (Justin Britt), No. 1 tight end (Will Dissly) and entire running back corps (Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise), not to mention a laundry list of nagging injuries to others (Duane Brown, Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah just to name a few) throughout the year.

• They were the fourth-youngest team in the NFL going into the year and came oh so close to winning two playoff road games.

• They were inches away from an NFC West title.

• And inches away from giving Russell Wilson one last shot to knock off the Packers.

But in a league where the average player is lucky to carve out a three-year career, it’s tough to accept “good job, good effort” as a season-ending blessing. Especially with all the Seahawks’ missed opportunities and miscalculations at Lambeau Field:

• The heavily hinted at “Feed Marshawn Lynch” plan netted just 26 yards on 12 carries.

• The Seahawks kept forgetting where Davante Adams was. Green Bay’s only receiver of consequence racked up 160 yards and two TDs on eight catches.

• They also had issues covering Jimmy Graham in crunch time. Yes, that Jimmy Graham.

• Wide receiver Malik Turner, who had a fine rookie year, had a massive drop that would have given the Hawks a first down on Seattle’s last drive of the game.

That said, they’re going to need one of those Home & Garden fixer upper shows to fix up the team’s Achilles heel: the defense.

On Sunday, they needed to get stops. Unfortunately, they failed to do so in all of these favorable situations:

• Q1: Third-and-8 at Seattle’s 36: Aaron Rodgers to Jimmy Graham for 13 yards.

• Q1: Third-and-7 at Seattle’s 20: Rodgers to Davante Adams for a 20-yard TD.

• Q3: Third-and-6 at Green Bay’s 29: Rodgers to Graham for 29 yards.

• Q4: Third-and-10 at Green Bay’s 27: Rodgers to Geronimo Allison for 11 yards.

• Q4: Third-and-8 at Green Bay’s 22: Rodgers to Adams for 32 yards.

• Q4: Third-and-9 at Seattle’s 45: Rodgers to Graham for ~9 yards (maybe).

Add in a Rodgers QB sneak and a pair of Aaron Jones touchdown dives, and the Packers converted 9 of 14 third down attempts .

All season long, we saw signs that the Seahawks’ defense would eventually do them in. They struggled to consistently get stops in just about every game. Outside of their blowout victory in Arizona against an extremely green Kyler Murray and two wins over the Philadelphia Injured Reserve, it was an incredibly frustrating unit. The Seahawks’ pass rush was sporadic, their secondary was playing musical chairs at both nickelback and safety (until Quandre Diggs fell into their lap), and their coaching staff had an infatuation with a defensive scheme – the base 4-3 – that kept getting shredded by crossing routes and passes over the middle.

I’m surprised things went down this way. On paper, Clowney, Ansah (who isn’t the same player he used to be) and Jarran Reed (who never returned to the form of his breakout 2018 season after coming back from a suspension) should have given Seattle quite the pass rush. Instead, Clowney saw double and triple teams that Ansah and Reed never took advantage of.

It’s not all bad defensively. The secondary has a solid foundation with Diggs, fellow safety Bradley McDougald and cornerback Shaquill Griffin, plus some intriguing prospects in Marquise Blair and Ugo Amadi. Down the stretch, Cody Barton showed he’s a smart, athletic linebacker prospect, which theoretically makes it easier to let Mychal Kendricks walk in free agency. And while Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are both very expensive, we know what kind of leadership they bring to the table.

Unfortunately for Seattle, the defensive line – the team’s biggest problem area – is entering a world of unknown. Clowney, Reed, Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods are all free agents, leaving Rasheem Green, Poona Ford and a first-round pick that couldn’t find his way on the field in L.J. Collier as the only guys left on the roster.

We know that Russell Wilson is at the top of his game. We know that Pete Carroll’s program works, even if his game management drives us nuts from time to time. And as far as general managers go, John Schneider is one of the league’s best. What they put together this season made for an incredibly entertaining and competitive product.

That’s what makes the end so frustrating. Through all the injuries, defensive deficiencies and pass-protection issues, this patched-together-by-duct-tape-and-rubber-bands Seahawks squad fought tooth and nail towards a noble death in the second round. Did they overachieve for a somewhat miraculous run? Or is the first step towards another dominant Seattle run?

We’ll have to wait a year to find out.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Paul Gallant on Twitter.

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