MINNEAPOLIS — For the second time in as many years, Pete Carroll has to fix his staggering defense before it derails the Seattle Seahawks‘ season.
The difference now compared to 2020: he doesn’t have until November to do it.
Not with a pair of critical NFC West games up next — at the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox), home vs. the Los Angeles Rams four days later — and not with the prospect of a 1-2 start turning into a 1-4 hole that might be too deep to climb out of in a division as tough as this one.
That turnaround has to happen now. And given how problematic that defense has been for most of the Seahawks’ two straight losses, there’s plenty to fix.
“Frustrated, disappointed,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap II said after their 30-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. “We got outexecuted this game and the second half of last game. Nobody loves to see that happen. We know we have way more ability than we have shown but we have to go do it.”
Through three games, the Seahawks have allowed the most yards (1,321) of any team in the league. And unlike early last year, when offenses were mostly gashing them through the air while trying to erase big deficits, they’ve struggled to stop the run (30th in yards allowed) and the pass (26th). Their pass-rush has been middle of the pack — tied for 12th in sacks (7.0), tied for 15th in win rate (46.2%) — and they’re near the bottom of the league with only two takeaways.
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It’s one thing to have a bad half against Derrick Henry like they did after bottling up the Tennessee Titans‘ All-Pro running back over the first two quarters in Week 2. But those issues continued in Minneapolis against Dalvin Cook‘s backup, Alexander Mattison, who ran for 112 yards and repeatedly beat the Seahawks on screens.
Their cornerback play was even more glaring. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Tre Flowers was the nearest defender on eight Kirk Cousins completions for 95 yards, D.J. Reed on three for 29 yards and two touchdowns.
Some of that was a function of Flowers and Reed being overmatched by an elite wide receiver duo for the second straight week. But it didn’t help that Seattle’s pass defense appeared to be out of sync as a whole — with no adjustment to the repeated underneath success Minnesota was having and not generating enough pressure on Cousins on longer-developing plays.
Seattle finished with only four official QB hits and one sack, though a second was negated by a third-down penalty on nickelback Ugo Amadi that extended a touchdown drive.
The Seahawks have to figure out how to get better at cornerback, whether it’s by giving Sidney Jones IV a shot — it would be a surprise if he doesn’t get at least a few snaps Sunday — or via an outside addition by GM John Schneider.
They have to find more consistency in their pass-rush to take some of the pressure off of whomever is at corner. To that end, Jamal Adams needs to be more involved. He had a team-high 12 tackles against Minnesota but, according to ESPN Stats & Info, has only rushed the passer 11 times this season after averaging 8.25 per game last year.
Based on some of the body language that was visible during the Vikings loss and comments afterwards, they also have to keep their defense from fracturing.
“We had a couple sacks, but we didn’t get home enough,” Dunlap said. “But coverage and the rush collective has to be better in order for those things to happen. I can only control what I can control from my perspective and for my group, we’ve got to try to get our hands on some of those balls, bat them up in the air some more and then when they do hold it, we have to get home.”
When defending his own play through three games, Flowers said “it’s a schematic thing, I feel like,” adding that he has his own questions to ask of the coaching staff to clear up confusion on how he’s supposed to defend certain routes.
“It’s going to be an easy fix once we all get on the same page,” he said.
Reed was more blunt in his assessment.
“S—, they schemed our ass up,” he told Q-13 TV. “It ain’t nothing else to say. We got schemed up. It felt similar to the Bills game last year. We couldn’t get off the field. They were driving from their 25 all the way down the field. At the end of the day, the players, including myself, we’re on the field. We’ve got to get the job done. No matter what’s called, we’ve got to get the job done.”
That 44-34 loss in Buffalo marked rock bottom for Seattle’s defense. It soon turned around in a big way thanks to Dunlap’s arrival via trade, Adams’ return from an injury and a supposedly impactful meeting run by coordinator Ken Norton Jr. that got Seattle’s defense on the same page. After setting or threatening NFL records for futility over the first 10 weeks, they allowed the fewest points in the league over the final seven.
The Seahawks can’t wait until mid-November for another defensive turnaround.
“Stay together,” Carroll said while relaying his message to players as they try to overcome a 1-2 start like they did in 2018. “It’s a long season.”
It’s even longer with a 17th game. But that 2018 team needed a strong finish — wins in six of its last seven — just to go 10-6 and earn a wild-card berth.
And the NFC West wasn’t nearly as good then as it appears to be now. The Rams and Arizona Cardinals are 3-0 while the 49ers are 2-1. They’re third, first and tied for 10th, respectively, in points scored.
“We can’t keep letting [opportunities] like this and the last game slip away when we have an opportunity in front of us,” Dunlap said. “The opportunities don’t come twice, so we have to take advantage of each and every one because they count, they matter.”
Never more so than now.