Pass rush: How did Hawks turn strength into weakness?

Next to the offense’s total faceplant, the lackluster pass rush has been the biggest surprise of the Seahawks’ season.

Although the defense has improved markedly in key areas since Week 4, it has been somewhat stunning that Carlos Dunlap, Kerry Hyder and the rest have not been able to get to quarterbacks. This unit was easily the strength of the defense entering the season – yet has underperformed expectations.

But it is not simply a matter of those guys suddenly stinking. A lot of the blame lies with Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. They have eschewed the pass rush at times and simply have not created any chemistry because they keep mixing and matching rotations.

The Seahawks clearly have tried to replicate what they did in 2013, when they started Red Bryant as a big end and rotated Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in on passing downs. Carroll and Norton have decided often to go with three tackles as a base defense – e.g., Bryan Mone, Poona Ford and Al Woods all were over 60% play time at Green Bay, while none of the pass rushers were over 45%.

For the season, Ford, Woods and Rasheem Green are all over 50% play time. Hyder is at 47%, Dunlap at 43%, Benson Mayowa (mostly at SAM) at 40%, Darrell Taylor at 37%, Mone at 36% (though playing more lately), Alton Robinson at 29%.

The Seahawks also are not blitzing as much as they did last season – Jamal Adams can tell you that (25% vs. 33%). As we pointed out earlier this season, the Hawks have faced a lot of quick-trigger passers and thus have used a lot of dime defense and not really used their top pass rushers together as much as they probably should.

“There’s a lot of different things that go into it,” Norton saaid. “When you look at the numbers, there’s a lot of things we’re doing really good, and there’s a lot of things we need to improve on. And, obviously, sacks is one of them.”

The Seahawks are 30th in sacks (17) and 24th in pressure rate (22.6%), according to Pro Football Reference. Dunlap, who had five sacks in eight games with Seattle last season, has half a sack in 10 games this year. He has played 33 snaps a game after averaging 40 last season.

“This is a very low year for me in my career and to my standard,” Dunlap recently told 710 ESPN. “I’m looking forward to these next few opportunities to turn around and do what I’ve done in my career. I’ve been very consistent in my career, but obviously it’s the first year in this role, so just trying to adjust to it and maximize the opportunities when I get them.”

One problem with that: Carroll wants to see Robinson instead. “We’re going to continue to tweak some stuff, and part of that is Alton’s opportunities. He’s alive for us, and we need him to be a factor. … We want to see him in passing situations. … He’s going to get more turns.”

Carroll this week expressed disappointment in both Dunlap and Hyder (also with just half a sack). “We need their numbers to go (up), and we need to help them get that done.”

Carroll and Norton need to find a rotation that gets more pressure. They have not let these guys find any chemistry because they mix and match so often (Carroll has always been slow to figure out his line rotations). They need to pair ends and set specific pass rush units, and allow them to build chemistry playing off one another.

Norton implied that recognition has been an issue at times.

“Offenses are attacking defenses differently,” he said. “There’s a lot of screens, there’s a lot of perimeter plays. The ball’s out a lot faster. There’s a lot of things going on. We have to be able to understand when it’s a run down, when it’s pass down. The few opportunities you have, you have to go get it. … Understand the type of team that you’re playing against.”

If that is a big problem, Norton definitely should play his experienced guys more. Get Dunlap and Hyder on the field together more often.

For now, as long as the Seahawks can get off the field on third down and hold offenses out of the end zone, the pass rush is not an Achilles’ heel. But it certainly has been disappointing that a perceived strength has turned into a weakness.

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