Midseason roster report: Can the defense improve?

Midway through the season, the Seahawks are a game better than we expected — despite a horrendous pass defense that might be the thing that keeps them out of the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks are off to one of their best starts under Pete Carroll, 6-2 (or better) for the third time. With the easiest finishing slate in the NFL, they look destined for at least 11 wins. The question, as it has been all season, is whether their defense will improve enough to help them get to the Super Bowl.

They have been 6-2 or better just two other times under Carroll. In 2013, they started 7-1 and finished 13-3 on the way to a Super Bowl title. Last season, they started 6-2 and finished 11-5 (knocked out of the playoffs by Green Bay).

They look good for 11-5 this season, too. The second-half schedule is the easiest in the league. The tough part will be the division games: They play the Rams twice, starting this week, and Arizona in Week 11. But they also face three NFC Least clubs, plus the Jets and the decimated 49ers. The very worst they should do in the final eight is 5-3, which would net 11 wins.

FiveThirtyEight gives the Hawks a 60% chance to win the NFC West, 26% chance to get the NFC bye (assuming there is one), and 8% chance to win the Super Bowl. That Super Bowl chance won’t get any better if the defense doesn’t.

Carroll thinks the unit will improve as the players get healthy and play together more. Injuries have held back the secondary, which has been one of the worst in team history despite all of the resources spent on veteran players over the past year (two first-rounders, a third and two fifths).

Jamal Adams missed four games with a groin injury before returning for Buffalo (and making a couple of coverage mistakes). Shaquill Griffin has missed three games with a hamstring and Quinton Dunbar is playing on a bum knee, which really hampered him in Buffalo.

“We just have to keep coming together and get this thing really cleaned up,” Carroll said. “Unfortunately, the continuity has not been a positive factor for us yet. Hopefully we can find a way to fit together and get our new guys in there and get them playing really well and error-free, to their nature, and utilize their talents and all that, and we’ll see a turn.

“This is the halfway point and this is a marker. I would really like to see us turn it. You’ve seen us already adjust some in how we’re doing calls and stuff. We’re just trying to fit it together to maximize our guys.”

Let’s look at the state of the entire roster at the midway point, with quick thoughts on the future as well:

Quarterback

Grade: A-
Given the reins this season, Wilson leads the NFL in passing yards (317 per game) and TD passes (28) and has the second-highest QB rating (117.1). But he has made a ton of mistakes over the past three weeks, with seven combined turnovers looming huge in losses to Arizona and Buffalo. He needs to play within himself more, and Brian Schottenheimer needs to do a better job of helping him out with the play mix.
The future: Wilson is signed through 2023 but almost certainly will get a third extension in 2022, worth $50 million a year.

Running back

Grade: C
The running game took a backseat to the passing attack this season; the Hawks rank in the middle of the league at 117 yards per game. Chris Carson played through an early knee injury but has missed the past two games with a sprained foot. Carlos Hyde has missed half the games with shoulder and hamstring injuries. Schottenheimer has put more on Wilson’s shoulders without those two, and Carroll lamented being without them in the loss in Buffalo. The Hawks lost that game largely because they forced Wilson to do too much, and he failed. They needed to trust DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer more. Rashaad Penny could be close to a return, which might strengthen this unit.
The future: Carson has failed to stay healthy yet again, so it’s hard to see anyone paying him big money in a cap-strapped NFL year in 2021. That could mean he stays for another year in Seattle, hoping to prove himself once and for all. If Carson leaves, though, a healthy Penny would be the lead back for his final contract year. Hyde likely will not be back after his injury-filled season, so the Hawks would look to add another ballcarrier.

Wide receiver

Grade: A-
With DK Metcalf’s emergence and Tyler Lockett’s continued stardom, the Seahawks have one of the NFL’s elite receiving duos. Metcalf got off to an explosive, yet inconsistent, start (e.g., dropped passes, the goal-line fumble against Dallas). But he really arrived in the Week 5 win over Minnesota, with two huge fourth-down catches to win the game. He has tallied 90 yards or more in all but one game and has scored in six of the eight, ranking second in the NFL with eight TDs and 788 yards (98.5 per game). Lockett had a monster game against Arizona (15 catches, 200 yards, three TDs). His seven TDs are tied for fourth in the league, and his 53 catches are 10th. The star duo is on pace to break a bunch of team records.  Meanwhile, David Moore has had a couple of big games and has become a solid No. 3 receiver as Phillip Dorsett’s season has been derailed by a foot injury.
The future: The Hawks should strongly consider an extension for Lockett next offseason (it also could drop his 2021 cap hit by a good amount). Metcalf will be eligible for a new deal in 2022. Will the Seahawks be willing to pay both over $15 million a year?

Tight end

Grade: A-
Other than the pick-six gaffe by Greg Olsen against New England, the trio of Olsen, Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister has been very reliable – and underused. Hollister was shopped before the trading deadline, but he instead has become a bigger part of the offense over the past few weeks. As he should. The trio has been targeted by Wilson 58 times, and caught 42 balls for 406 yards and three TDs. Dissly and Hollister have been more effective than Olsen overall. Schottenheimer needs to use them more in the second half. Luke Willson was let go after Colby Parkinson came off PUP.
The future: Olsen is expected to retire and Hollister will be a free agent, leaving Dissly and Parkinson as the top guys in 2021 (unless Hollister comes back for less than the $3.3 million he is making this season, which is certainly possible). The Hawks will need to look beyond 2021, though, as Dissly is a free agent in 2022.

Offensive line

Grade: B+
This unit has been lauded as the best Seattle has had in years, thanks to Duane Brown’s stellar play, Ethan Pocic’s surprising performance and the solid work of new right-siders Damien Lewis and Brandon Shell. The unit didn’t play great against Buffalo, but it otherwise has been very good for most of the season. Jordan Simmons, healthy after missing 2019, has filled in well at both guard spots, too. And Jamarco Jones has made some emergency appearances as well. Wilson still has been sacked 24 times, but plenty of those are on him for holding the ball too long – as he has always been wont to do. The Hawks failed in the playoffs last season partly because their line was a battered mess. If these guys can stay healthy, Seattle should continue to outscore most teams.
The future: The top four should be set for another year, assuming Brown does not retire and the Seahawks re-sign Pocic (which seems an easy, if previously unforeseen, task). Left guard would be the one spot to fill, with Simmons, Jones and maybe oft-injured Phil Haynes the candidates to replace breaking-down veteran Mike Iupati. Beyond 2021, Shell should be retained as well.

Defensive line

Grade: C-
Expectations were low for this crew coming in, and they certainly haven’t exceeded them. All you need to know is that blitzers Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams lead the team in QB hits (eight each) and were the top sackers until Jarran Reed had 2.5 at Buffalo. Reed has had some decent games, and you can see how great he could be if he had an outside rusher to pair with – a la Frank Clark in 2018. Maybe Carlos Dunlap will be that guy; he had a nice debut against Buffalo (three tackles for loss, a sack, two QB hits). Otherwise, this unit is totally average across the board. L.J. Collier has made a few nice plays, but he’s only a run stopper. Rasheem Green has been injured for most of the season – what else is new? Benson Mayowa is a rotational end who was playing way too many snaps before too he got hurt. Bruce Irvin was lost to an ACL long ago and Darrell Taylor has been on NFI all season, which makes John Schneider’s offseason pass-rush additions a bust. We have to hope Dunlap spearheads a nice finish, with a little help from blitz packages.
The future: At this point, it depends almost entirely on Dunlap’s play. Schneider won’t spend on anyone in 2021 because he won’t have any money. So hopefully Dunlap plays well and sticks around for the final year of his deal (or gets extended). And maybe Taylor will rise up in 2021. If not, this unit will continue to be subpar until at least 2022.

Linebacker

Grade: B
Wagner and K.J. Wright, the two best linebackers in franchise history, have both played very well this season. They just don’t have much help ahead of or behind them. Wagner is sixth in the NFL with 80 tackles, and he has three sacks, four TFLs and four passes defensed. Wright has 42 tackles, five TFLs, six PDs and two fumble recoveries. Great all-around work by both. First-round pick Jordyn Brooks missed two games with a knee injury, flashed a good game in his return at Arizona and then faded the past two games. We’ll see how he comes along in the final eight.
The future: Unless Wright finds a team willing to pay him in his current market ($7 million), he might have to take a big pay cut to stay in Seattle for his 11th season. Otherwise, it will be Wagner and Brooks leading this crew in 2021 (and beyond).

Secondary

Grade: F
It’s crazy to say about a Carroll secondary, but this unit has been all-around terrible. They are giving up 362 passing yards a game – a pace to set the NFL record. Injuries have been a huge culprit, as mentioned above. But Quandre Diggs has made almost no big plays, Adams is a liability in coverage and there has been no consistency among the corners. Even if they all get healthy, this unit might not be good enough to help the Hawks reach the Super Bowl. Schneider has put a lot of resources into the secondary over the past year — two first-round picks, a third and two fifths on Adams, Dunbar and Diggs, who count $12.2 million this year. The return has been terrible so far.
The future: Griffin and Dunbar are not likely to return in 2021, which makes cornerback the 1A and 1B need. Adams and Diggs have another year left on their deals. Adams is a tough case. Schneider traded a ton for him and obviously has to re-sign him or be classified a total idiot (we don’t discount this possibility). The cap will be tight and it would be nice to get Adams to agree to a deal that lowers his cap hit from $9.86 million (his fifth-year option). Schneider is going to have to be willing to pay him $15 million a year – tops for safeties. That’s the max Seattle should offer though. If Adams wants to go to free agency in 2022 looking for closer to $20 million, Seattle will have to try to trade him in 2021 – and Schneider should be fired if he lets him go for nothing more than a comp pick.

Special teams

Grade: A
Michael Dickson has been a superstar, second in the NFL at 50.5 yards per punt and fourth in net (44.5) and punts inside the 20 (16). Because the Hawks have been so good in the red zone (a league-best 86%), Jason Myers has attempted just seven field goals — but he has made them all. The Hawks, who are fifth in net starting field position, are rated fourth overall in special teams by Football Outsiders.
The future: Dickson has one season left after this, and he certainly merits the $4 million a year that top punters get these days. Schneider way overpaid Myers last year and can save $2.53 million by letting him go next year and finding a cheaper option.

One thought on “Midseason roster report: Can the defense improve?”

  1. If there was any upside to Sunday’s debacle, it’s that Dunlap’s presence turned Reed into a sack machine. Plainly, he’s not going to get 2.5/game, but there was a glimmer there.

    Travis Homer…eh…what we see what we’ll continue to get: A limited back who is best on passing downs. We don’t know what Dallas’ upside is — they should give him a chance to find it.

    Four games into the season, Olsen looked like a great signing: 14 catches, and a real presence on 3rd down. Then, whether because of age or Schottenheimer, he disappeared. Dissly catches everything thrown to him, but hasn’t had much in the way of targets. I wonder if his knee is holding him back?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s