Why Seahawks’ Norton seems to face less scrutiny than Schottenheimer

Jul 4, 2020, 11:43 AM

Seahawks DC Ken Norton JR...

The Seahawks defense struggled mightily in 2019 under DC Ken Norton Jr. (AP)


Complaining about playcalling is a longstanding tradition for NFL fans and here in Seattle, most of the complaints have gone towards the offensive coordinators of the Seahawks.

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Early on in head coach Pete Carroll’s tenure, those complaints were directed at Jeremy Bates, who was fired after just one season. From 2011 to 2017, the hashtag #FireBevell was a regular sight on gameday in reference to the playcalling of Darrell Bevell. And over the last two years, it’s been Brian Schottenheimer.

Part of the reason has been that the Seahawks under Carroll love to run the football. It’s not uncommon, especially early in games, for Seattle to run on first and second downs before passing on third down. The Seahawks have also been a slower-starting offense over the years and many want them to let star quarterback Russell Wilson take over games earlier like he does often in the second half and fourth quarter.

And even though the last two seasons under Schottenheimer has seen the Seahawks rank in the top 10 in scoring offense and last year they were eighth in offensive yards, “Schotty” is still seen as too conservative and not creative by many.

On the flip side, while the Seahawks’ defenses were historically great from 2012 to 2015, that unit has been on a steady decline. The last two years with Ken Norton Jr. as defensive coordinator has seen the defense plummet to among the league’s worst. In 2018, the Seahawks gave up the 11th-fewest points and 16th-fewest yards. In 2019, the defense gave up the 11th-most points and sixth-most yards while running a base three-linebacker defense on more than two-thirds of plays.

So while Schottenheimer gets a lot of scrutiny even coming off orchestrating a top 10 offense last season, why does Norton seemingly get a pass from Seahawks fans, especially when it comes to creativity? Former NFL quarterback Brock Huard shared his thoughts with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant last week.

I don’t think he should,” he said. “I was sitting there thinking about this the other day just how much consternation there is about Schottenheimer and can he develop … And everyone obviously loves to hammer Schotty with that and when you’ve got an elite quarterback, there’s going to be more responsibility.

“But I think Ken, you look at his years in Oakland, you kind of look at the diminishing returns there as a defense and you look at it a season ago and where this thing has gone the last two years with some diminishing returns.”

The main reason Huard thinks Norton isn’t as scrutinized? The head coach.

“I think Ken gets a pass because everyone assumes this is Pete’s defense and only Pete’s defense and Pete’s going to be the puppeteer and he’s going to tell those defensive guys what to call and that’s not the case,” he said. “That wasn’t the case with Gus Bradley (2009-2012) and that’s why he became a head coach. It wasn’t the case with Dan Quinn (2013-2014) and that’s why he became a head coach. It wasn’t the case with Kris Richard (2015-2017) and that’s why he’s been elevated to an assistant D-coordinator and (is) on the precipice of being a head coach in this league.”

Carroll’s background is on defense, especially with the secondary. He likes to have it run, for the most part, his own way. Seattle usually runs a zone defense, like Cover-3, and rushes four. The Seahawks typically don’t blitz often, and the major changes they’ll make are going from zone to man-to-man on the outside. While that’s what Carroll appears to favor, it doesn’t mean that’s all the Seahawks are meant and allowed to run.

“(Carroll) grows and develops his D-coordinators. He gives them autonomy, he gives them a voice and a chance to really own it,” Huard said. “I think this is an awfully big year for Ken Norton to innovate, to get more out of the people and personnel and I think he should be under that same microscope that Brian Schottenheimer is offensively.”

Has Norton shown he can mix things up?

In talking to Huard, Danny and Gallant co-host Paul Gallant wanted to know if there’s any reason to believe that Norton can be more creative in his playcalling after two years in Seattle as defensive coordinator and his three seasons calling plays for the Oakland Raiders.

(The defense) did make a turn … in the second half of the (2019) season after the first half just playing base defense and soft zone defense and giving up like 450 yards a game,” Huard said. “They did start to make a little turn and play a little bit of man and be a little more aggressive.”

But even with that turn, Huard thinks that the defense will ultimately play similarly to how it has since Carroll took over in 2010.

“You’ve got to remember the school of thought, and it’s been a really good school of thought through national championships and a decade of dominance at USC and building one of the great defenses the NFL has ever known and certainly the greatest in Seattle,” Huard said. “And the school of thought is you let your players play … The Seahawks and the USC teams through their years, you’re going to get Cover-3 and it’s going to have a bunch of different (wrinkles) and adaptations to it, but you’re going to get Cover-3 and you’re going to get man (coverage) and you’re going to have to beat it. That has been the very ethos of Ken Norton as a coach obviously at USC and here in Seattle and that’s the Pete Carroll mantra, and it’s been really good.”

The issue may not necessarily be with the playcalling, but the personnel. Seattle’s once dominant defense doesn’t have nearly the talent it used to have. That’s where Norton will need to show his creativity.

“If you don’t have the horses, sometimes you’ve got to be a little more innovative and we’ll see how they use those resources this season,” Huard said.

Listen to Huard’s thoughts at this link or in the player below.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard on Twitter.

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Why Seahawks’ Norton seems to face less scrutiny than Schottenheimer