Defense wins championships, a phrase common in sports and especially in football. Year by year this seems to become more true. 2021: Bucs pass rush overwhelms Mahomes to help Brady secure his 7th ring. 2019: Patriots defense holds the Rams offense to 3 points winning them that game. 2014: Seattle‘s defense (best defense in the league) obliterates the Broncos (best offense in the league).
Ever since those back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, Seattle’s defense has been taking a downfall. Much of their success with their defense was thanks to the Legion of Boom. That legendary squared consisted of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner, and Byron Maxwell. Oh, they also had 3 of the best LB’s in Bobby Wagner, K.J Wright, and Malcolm Smith.
This defense was tearing apart teams left and right, establishing itself as one of the all-time greats. Over time players started to retire, depart to other teams, or become washed up. Their defense soon went from the highlight of the team to the lowlight of the team. They often let the offense down and were holding the team back. So what exactly happened? Was it a change in coaching, not drafting well, or simply the league moving along?
Is the issue with the coaching?
To start, Pete Carroll has remained as the head coach of the Seahawks since 2010, so I don’t believe the problem is with him. His philosophy with coaching has not changed since then, and he doesn’t call the shots with the defense. So then we move on to the defensive coordinators.
For the 2 legendary seasons of 2013 and 2014, Dan Quinn was calling the plays for the defense. He is known for being from the better defensive minds in the NFL. He was able to make all the parts of those defenses work together so well.
Then from 2015-2017, Kris Richard was promoted to the defensive coordinator (he previously worked as the DB’s coach for Seattle). Considering he coached the Legion of Boom, it is fair to say that he is more than capable. He also kept Seattle as one of the top-ranked defenses in 2015, but after the talent started to wear of the team it started to take a decline.
To prove this point even further Ken Norton took over in 2018. and he is also one of the top defensive minds. Yet the defense struggled, leading us to the conclusion that the problem wasn’t really to do with coaching.
Is the issue with the player’s talent?
A player’s talent is obviously a huge part of how good a team is, although it isn’t everything. It is also clear that the Legion of Boom had plenty of talent. The question is due to poor drafting: is the talent on Seattle’s defense not as great as it used to be? This simple answer would be yes, but we have to dig a little deeper.
To start their main star players are Bobby Wagner, Jamal Adams, K.J Wright (now a free agent), and Quandre Diggs. They might not seem anywhere close to as good as the previous defensive squads but all 4 of these players are on the Top 100 NFL list, cementing themselves as stars. However, it’s the rest of the defense that really needs work.
They have many players with a high ceiling, but they aren’t quite there yet. Like Poona Ford, he’s shown from time to time that he can overpower a defensive line, but he isn’t able to do it consistently like Aaron Donald. Or someone like Carlos Dunlap, who’s had a great impact on the defense-making plays, but he’s shown before with the Bengals that he can be a top-tier DE.
So I wouldn’t necessarily call it a talent issue, it’s more of an issue with player development. As I mentioned before, it’s not an issue with the coaching staff. It’s more of the personal development for the players and getting better themselves. What I am trying to say is the talent is there, the players just need to work on improving themselves and reaching their ceiling.
Was the league’s playstyle changing?
I think the other main reason that Seattle’s defense isn’t that great any more is because of the change in playstyles. Over time, the NFL has become more and more pass-heavy, with fewer teams focusing on the run. Seattle has failed to move on from this as an organization, trying to make their defense balanced for the run and pass.
That isn’t really a bad thing but with teams evolving every year, Seattle’s defense needs to evolve along with that. For example, a player like Richard Sherman, someone who has an incredible football IQ but isn’t very athletic. The reason he isn’t doing so well now is due to his lack of athleticism and age; he isn’t able to keep up with most WR these days.
Bobby Wagner is an incredible LB but he isn’t great when dropping into coverage. Seattle doesn’t have a clear-cut CB1, and their safeties are meh in coverage. Don’t even get me started on Jamal Adams, he’s a safety that doesn’t even DROP into coverage. See what I’m getting at here? Seattle’s coaching staff, organizations, and players need to understand that the league has moved to be more pass-heavy and they need to move along with it.
So can the defense step up this year? Well, it’s up to them, they need to figure out if they are ready to change their playstyle and step into their roles. Players need to step up and really work hard to take the full potential of their talent. I do think that their defense will take a big jump this year, but I think it’s going to take this unit 2-3 years to really start hitting their stride.
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