Pete Carroll’s defense is sitting in a very unfamiliar place after one game, ranked 28th overall and 29th against the pass. So, how worried should we be?
In the short term (this month), maybe a little. In the long term, not very.
There were a lot of variables at play in Denver that surely won’t be such big issues a month from now. The heat and altitude were factors; the Hawks were playing with five new starters, including two rookies; Earl Thomas had just returned; and K.J. Wright was not playing.
Carroll’s Seahawks are now 0-2 in Denver’s Mile High and 2-7 in games played in 80-degree weather. Well, they don’t have to worry about either of those issues the rest of the way.
Denver scored two touchdowns on mistakes by rookies. Shaquem Griffin, starting for Wright, failed to cover Phillip Lindsay out of the backfield on his 29-yard score off a swing pass, and Tre Flowers, thrust into the starting lineup as he converts from college safety, lost Emmanuel Sanders on his 43-yard score.
“We gave up a couple big plays in this game on defense that were just terrible for us, that really were just mistakes,” Carroll said. “That’s easily cleaned up.”
Wright is expected to remain out another week, so Austin Calitro might end up starting for Griffin — they rotated after Griffin made too many mistakes early on against the Broncos.
“Griff had some problems on some stuff,” Carroll said. “There were some things that happened to him that wasn’t quite as clean as we would like. Got fooled on a couple things. … It’s just his first game trying to figure it out. Even through preseason, he had a lot of reps but stuff happened to him for the first time in this game that hadn’t happened before, and he didn’t always see it the way he needed to. It’s a difficult transition that he’s making.
“We’ll find out during the week how the guys play and how they do and how practice goes, and we’ll see what we’re going to do about play time.” (UPDATE: The Hawks also added Mychal Kendricks, who could step right in at weak side.)
As for Flowers, he is learning on the job. One analysis graded him the worst starting corner in the NFL in Week 1 (Sanders caught 10 balls for 135 yards and the big score).
Flowers responded to the criticism with a tweet: “‘He’s not ready. He looks bad. He was a third option.’ … I’ve heard it all. I just keep working!”
No one on the team is down on him.
“He held up and was tough and consistent,” Carroll said. “He seemed very comfortable with it and was ready for the action and responded well during the game. … He competed really well, and it’s a good sign.”
Bradley McDougald, one of Seattle’s few standouts in the opener, said of Flowers: “Once he gets his confidence level up there and once he gets to feeling himself back there and gets in a natural groove, he’s going to be elite.”
That could be true. Due to a lack of better options after Byron Maxwell and Dontae Johnson both were injured, Flowers is going to get to grow on the job.
Aside from the rookies, Seattle’s defenders missed a bunch of tackles and didn’t find their fits in the running game either; Seattle gave up 146 rushing yards (4.6 per carry). That was a surprise considering how strong the run defense looked in preseason, with a very deep D-line.
“Whenever we give up as many yards as we did by the end of the game on the ground, it’s not good enough for us,” Carroll said. “We don’t expect that to happen. We gave up 50 yards or something in the fourth quarter. That didn’t help us finish the game. It was one of the issues of the game.”
It didn’t help that the Hawks deactivated both Nazair Jones and Poona Ford, limiting the rotation.
And then there was the pass rush. Seattle did nothing to assuage the concerns of many, generating the least pressure in the league in Week 1.
“We didn’t rush the passer very well,” Carroll admitted. “They had a lot of play (action) passes in the game that we got stuck on the line of scrimmage. I know (D-line coach) Clint Hurtt was talking to the fellas about it, that we have to make that transition from the run game to the passing game.”
It won’t be surprising if Jones is active over Shamar Stephen this week; Jones seems to be a more complete tackle and really should be in the rotation.
Dion Jordan, fresh off the PUP, also will play more snaps in Chicago after getting his feet wet with 15 in Denver. “He came out of the game really well,” Carroll said. “He will definitely be able to play more than that the second time out.”
And, if Jacob Martin is going to be active, he should be more involved in the pass rush. He was in for just six plays on defense (11 on special teams).
The Seahawks also need to get more out of Bobby Wagner, who has been blocked a lot this summer (Minnesota game stood out, too). He had just five tackles in Denver; on this inexperienced unit, he should be rolling up 10-12 a game.
As for Thomas, he stepped right in and played much more than Carroll expected (64 of Seattle’s 74 defensive snaps). Not surprisingly, the defense played much better when he was in the back end (Lindsay scored when Thomas was off the field) — and he obviously had the big interception early.
“We’re trying to take care of him while he’s rounding into shape,” Carroll said. “I mean, he’s had three days of practice, you know? … He’s just got to get his feet on the ground. He’s got to bounce back this week, he’s got to come back from the stress of that game physically and all of that.”
That goes not only for Thomas, but for the rest of the defense.
The Hawks got off to a horrible start in Denver, but this unit should be much better by the end of the month. Thomas will be in full-time shape by then, Wright will be back, Flowers will be more experienced, the line rotation should be figured out and, yes, even their pass rush should improve.
And they certainly won’t be ranked 28th in the NFL.