After a great start to the season in Indianapolis, the Seahawks have been a mess the past two games. And, if they don’t fix it ASAP, they will quickly find themselves in a hole too deep to climb out of.
A week after the offense played deep ball too much and kept the defense on the field all game in an overtime loss to Tennessee, the defense returned the favor by not stopping Kirk Cousins and the Vikings in a demoralizing 30-17 defeat.
It has been a full team failure the past two weeks, and Seattle has to figure out how to fix the NFL’s worst defense while also getting the offense to do something in the second half. There is no break in the schedule, so Pete Carroll and his staff have to figure it out on the fly as they head to San Francisco this week, then host the Rams next Thursday and travel to Pittsburgh in Week 6.
So, what are the problems?
The defense is being picked apart by savvy veteran quarterbacks. This is nothing new. It happened during the Legion of Boom days, too. The difference then was the Hawks usually got a turnover or otherwise minimized the damage. They have not done that enough the past two weeks.
We had hoped and expected the pass rush would offset Seattle’s weakness at corner, but Ryan Tannehill and Kirk Cousins have gotten rid of the ball quickly and accurately, combining to hit 57 of 78 (73%) for 670 yards. The Hawks also have not been able to stop the run well enough (they rank 30th at 155 yards per game), and Tennessee and Minnesota thus have been able to mix plays and keep Seattle off balance. The pass rush has had few real tee-off chances.
Seattle’s subpar corners have been left exposed and have lost to good receivers, especially Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson (9-118) and Adam Thielen (6-50). Tre Flowers seems totally lost in Carroll’s scheme. He has always played too loose, but he has given up some easy big plays to the Titans and Vikings. It’s time to try another guy on that side.
Carroll explained to 710 ESPN what the scheme was: “We’re playing deep zone concepts with the corners; and, if the ball gets thrown underneath, it looks like they’re not playing aggressively enough. Well, that has to do with (underneath) coverage and a lot of stuff. … We were trying to stay on top of these guys and not let them get any big plays, which we did that part of it for the most part. It gets frustrating when they continue to get (completions).”
The middle of the field always seems wide open for backs and tight ends. Alexander Mattison and Tyler Conklin combined for 13 catches, 129 yards and a TD for Minnesota. The Seahawks really missed K.J. Wright in that game. He was often the tight end stopper for Seattle. They don’t have one now.
Where are Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams?
Adams has made no big plays the past two games, and he gave up a big pass to Conklin in the fourth quarter as the Vikings sealed the win. Diggs also has forced no turnovers yet. The Hawks need some from those guys, pronto.
“It felt like they threw the ball underneath us quite a bit,” Carroll said. “We didn’t do much to disrupt that. … We could’ve used a couple (big plays) here and there. Unfortunately, we didn’t get anything from any of the guys on that side of the ball.”
Flowers questioned Seattle’s schemes, so clearly Carroll needs to change something.
A lot of people want DC Ken Norton Jr. fired, but Carroll said Norton is running the defense the way they always have. “We’re no different than we’ve ever been conceptually and all that,” Carroll said.
So how do they fix this unit as they get ready to face veteran QBs Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford and Ben Roethlisberger – guys who will dump off the ball and use their tight ends against Seattle?
Bench Flowers for Sidney Jones (or anyone else who will actually cover guys). Tighten up the middle of the field so backs and tight ends are not running free on every play. Keep Adams in the box to help against checkdowns and the running game. Do a better job on zone drops by linemen (Alton Robinson got turned around on Conklin’s touchdown in the first quarter). Mix up coverages so offenses aren’t sure where defenders are going to be; stop playing so much deep zone. Focus on forcing turnovers.
As for bringing in a corner via trade, Carroll said the search for upgrades is always “ongoing” but “it takes two to tango.” If the struggles continue in the back end, John Schneider might get more aggressive about it. But he already has traded for two corners – Jones and John Reid (on the practice squad).
Carroll said he and Norton are going to make some changes: “We’re working on it. We have plans. I can answer that effectively and clearly that we have plans.”
On offense, the Hawks’ plans have fizzled in the second half after strong starts. They lead the NFL at 20.7 points per game in the first half but score a league-worst 4.3 points in the final two quarters.
Against Tennessee, Shane Waldron had a very vanilla plan and Russell Wilson simply looked to air it out on almost every play. It worked in the first half, not the second.
In Minnesota, the Hawks started fast with a better approach. Chris Carson and DK Metcalf led the way to a 17-7 lead. Waldron and Wilson mixed plays well, used good pace, had some fun plays (Duane Brown pulled to the right side twice and they also ran a good screen to Tyler Lockett that used linemen as blockers).
But then they lost their rhythm. Wilson went back to deep balls on third-and-short, they killed two drives when they could not execute screen plays (Wilson might be the worst screen-play QB in the NFL across his career) and they ended up running just 15 plays in the second half when the game was still within reach (the last four-play possession was pointless).
“Really it’s just unfortunate. We had five plays one drive, five plays the next drive and we get the ball back with 4:30 left. That’s it,” Carroll told 710. “It just amplifies the execution. It has to be there to get the drive going. We didn’t get it done and then the ball goes back to the other team and they’re holding it. It’s happened both (losses) that way and really in frustrating fashion for us. Because really, each play is so crucial.”
Waldron’s second-half playcalling has left a lot to be desired as he learns on the job. He called three straight screen passes on one of those fourth-quarter dud drives in Minnesota. The key about him was always going to be how he adjusted in game; so far, he is 1 for 3, and that is not good enough.
The Hawks really needed to begin 2-1 to avoid a big hole early in the season. Losing at home to Tennessee was a real killer, and they now need to win two of these next three against the 49ers, Rams and Steelers to stay in the hunt for the division title.
Per FiveThirtyEight, the Hawks have just a 7% chance to win the division now (the rest of the NFC West has one combined loss), and their playoff chances are at 34%.
They could overcome even a 2-4 start to make a wild card. But losing the next three is not an option for a team that fancies itself a playoff squad.
Wilson has never lost three straight, but he also had never lost a home opener until Week 2 and had never lost to the Vikings. So his streaks are getting busted this year, and there are no guarantees.
Carroll’s defensive changes had better be good, and Waldron and Wilson had better figure out how to score in the second half – starting this week at San Francisco.