How much blame does Ken Norton deserve for Seahawks’ poor defense?

Jan 31, 2020, 12:43 PM | Updated: 12:43 pm
Seahawks DC Ken Norton Jr...
Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton's 2019 defense was one of the NFL's worst. (Getty)

It’s no secret that the Seahawks need to be better on defense in 2020 than they were in 2019.

Can Seahawks turn defense around like 49ers did from 2018 to 2019?

After years of having dominant defenses that terrorized opposing offenses, the Seahawks had one of the league’s worst. This was on full display in the divisional round of the playoffs against the Green Bay Packers, when the defense couldn’t get off the field.

Due to the defense’s struggles in 2019, how much blame falls on defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr?

Jim Moore of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Dave and Moore thinks Seattle did have enough talent to at least field a solid defense in 2019.

“You sit there and you hear about different players that you think are individually pretty good and we talk about (linebacker Mychal) Kendricks and (defensive end Jadeveon) Clowney, (linebacker) Bobby Wagner, (safety Quandre) Diggs when he came over or (cornerback) Shaquill Griffin having a good year, (defensive end) Quinton Jefferson,” Moore said. “You could just go down the list of players you thought had a pretty good year, and then every time I hear that I’m thinking ‘well, collectively they really didn’t have a good year because they were 26th in total defense, they gave up 6 yards per play and only the Texans and the Bengals had a worse yards per play, giving up 6.1.’ I mean, there’s something wrong there and I thought maybe it’s Ken Norton.”

Norton finished his fifth season as a defensive coordinator, his second with Seattle. During his five seasons running defenses, he hasn’t fielded an above average defense.

During his three years as defensive coordinator of the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders, his defenses ranked 22nd, 26th and 23rd in total defense. With Seattle, Norton-led defenses ranked 16th in 2018 and 26th in 2019 in total defense.

In 2017, the year before Norton came back to Seattle, the Seahawks were 11th in total defense, though that team had cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor for nine games and safety Earl Thomas for 14 games. Those three are future Hall of Famers and played with guys like Wagner and defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.

“The numbers aren’t good for Norton,” Moore said. “And again, it might be personnel-related, but I just wonder about the coaching aspect of it, too.”

While Seattle struggled overall on defense, they did have some bright spots, as pointed out by Dave Wyman.

“They were good at taking the ball away,” Wyman said. “They ended up third in the regular season as far as turnover ratio. They ended up with 28 takeaways … the other thing, too, opponent (passer) rating, they were ninth. Isn’t that weird?”

That also brings up the question of if passer rating is a viable metric to look at, as the Seahawks finished second to last in sacks and gave up the sixth-most passing yards.

“We watched (lower-tier) quarterbacks, (Bengals quarterback) Andy Dalton and the like, pick them apart, so that number feels deceiving,” Bob Stelton said.

The defense was also fairly solid in terms of giving up big plays, allowing just six passes of 40 yards or more. They did, however, give up 53 passes of 20 yards or more. The defense also stabilized for a brief period after the Seahawks traded for Diggs. Then he got hurt, and the defense struggled during the final few games of the regular season.

“They just went long streaks without sacks and without takeaways, and it did seem to correspond with (when) Diggs (played),” Wyman said. “When he played, they had good numbers.”

“Certainly the level of talent is different,” Stelton said. “I don’t think you can undersell that. I’m not trying to make excuses, but at the same time, and we even heard it back then, this is Pete’s defense.”

That Carroll is the man behind the defense has been recognized for a long time, which can make it hard to blame the defensive coordinator for problems with the defense.

“It just depends how much you believe that Ken Norton and Pete Carroll are meeting,” Wyman said. “Like are they doing it every week? Are they putting the game plan together? Are they doing that together, or is (Carroll) just saying ‘look, it’s yours Kenny. Do whatever you want to do’?”

Stelton thinks Norton deserves some blame, but thinks it’s interesting he’s seemingly had less people calling for his exit than former offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell or current offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

“I don’t think Norton is above reproach, certainly, because when Bevell was here, he got blamed for every single thing that did not work offensively,” Stelton said. “It was all ‘Bevell, he’s an idiot, they won in spite of him’ and I feel like we’re kind of getting to that point with Norton.”

Listen to the discussion at this link or in the player below.

Follow Bob, Dave and Moore on Twitter.

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How much blame does Ken Norton deserve for Seahawks’ poor defense?