If defense flipped a permanent switch, Hawks are a playoff contender

Don’t look now, but the Seahawks might be turning into a playoff contender before our very eyes.

After a 19-9 win over Arizona, they are again tied atop the so far middling NFC West — and they suddenly might have figured out how to play defense.

The West has no standout team. With San Francisco and Los Angeles also 3-3, the division is up for grabs. So, if the Hawks have indeed discovered the secret sauce on defense, it could be a fun, competitive ride from here on out.

The 49ers – missing some key defenders — were beaten by Atlanta 28-14 this week. They’ve beaten both the Seahawks and Rams, which gives them the edge in that three-way tie. For now.

The Rams had lost two straight, scoring just 19 total points, before handling a bad Carolina team 24-10 on Sunday. The formerly high-flying defending champs have come back to Earth this season, going over 30 points just once (31-27 win over Atlanta).

Back in Seattle, the Seahawks’ offense got off to a slow start, scoring no points in a 27-7 loss to the 49ers in Week 2. But since then, Geno Smith and company have scored 30.5 per game and were the NFL’s top offense by DVOA entering Week 6.

The defense had been terrible for four weeks, giving up 34.5 points per game as the Hawks lost three of those four. But that unit may have found itself after Clint Hurtt tweaked his 3-4 defense to allow the linemen to be more aggressive.

Arizona’s offense has been very inconsistent, ranking 23rd in DVOA. But New Orleans’ offense had the same issues and still put up 39 points on the Hawks. So holding Kyler Murray & Co. out of the end zone, while sacking Murray six times and making four fourth-down stops, was a huge step for this unit.

Rookies Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant continued to be big-time ballhawks, with Woolen picking off a pass for the fourth straight game and recovering a Murray fumble forced by Bryant.

Woolen is making history: Per the team, he became the first rookie since 1970 to tally an interception and fumble recovery in consecutive games.

Bryant also is the first rookie to force four fumbles in his first six games, a stat that has been tracked only since 2000.

Ryan Neal had a sack and forced fumble, and Seattle also got sacks from front-liners Poona Ford, Shelby Harris, Quinton Jefferson, Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor. Ford played on the edge more and came up with big results: Five tackles, three tackles for loss, the sack and a pass breakup.

In the loss at New Orleans, FOX analyst Matt Millen highlighted how passively the Seattle D-line was playing in this new 3-man front – and thus getting blown off the ball. That had been going on for a month. But it changed against Arizona.

“They (coaches) just cut us loose,” Jefferson said. “And that’s less reading and more getting off. And I feel like the guys we’ve got, it benefits us. We can get off and cause havoc. I’m not really built for reading; I’m built to attack. So it was just fun game.

“There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that,” Jefferson pointed out. “But I think we’ve got the mature guys who can handle that and know when to take their shots — and you saw it today. We were having fun and flying around and knocking stuff back.”

The Hawks had been giving up 170.2 rushing yards a game – most in the NFL. The Saints’ Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara had carved them up for over 100 yards each.

“The last four or five weeks, we’ve had trouble stopping the run,” Nwosu said. “And that’s what the game plan was going into this game: Stop the run so we can have some fun. We did that, and guys were able to fly all over the field and get after Kyler Murray.”

Murray ran for 100 yards, but Arizona’s backs gained just 44 and Arizona was 4 for 16 on third downs and 1 for 5 on fourths as the defense seemed to play a lot faster and more in sync than it had in the first five games.

Carroll made it sound like this was not just a one-game adjustment.

He said, “I think Clint did a great job to take a step back and take a look at some things and fix some things up to suit our players and take advantage of what our guys can do. And it worked out. … It’s going to make a difference as we move ahead.”

Ahead are the Chargers (4-2), then the surprising Giants (5-1) and the Cards (2-4) again before the Hawks head to Munich to face the Bucs (3-3). It’s a challenging run – but, if the Hawks’ defense did indeed suddenly flip the switch on, Seattle should hit the Week 11 bye still in contention for the division.

Other observations

**Kenneth Walker III showed off some nifty feet and vision in his first NFL start, showing all the good reasons the Hawks drafted him in the second round. He had 110 total yards and a TD and looked every bit like he will be the best franchise back since Marshawn Lynch. He has forced 22 missed tackles in 44 rushes – the best rate in the NFL, per PFF.

Carroll thinks he could become the soul of the team the way Kam Chancellor once was. “I think we just need to keep watching this kid because he’s more like Kam than a lot of guys,” the coach said. “He’s quiet, he’s tough and he’s gonna have a lot to say with a few words.”

**In a light-performing day for the receivers, Dee Eskridge had his best game as a Seahawk. He caught all three attempts for 39 yards. The only other time in his 16 career games that he caught three balls was a 30-23 win over the 49ers last December. If the little receiver can stay healthy, he could offer a great complement to stars DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett and Seattle’s solid tight end group.

**Cody Barton played just 39% of the snaps as the Hawks used more impactful players. That’s all Hurtt needs to do: Use guys who make plays and allow them to play fast.

One thought on “If defense flipped a permanent switch, Hawks are a playoff contender”

  1. pretty happy with how things are looking so far. Really don’t care about the record this year. Draft class looks like a grand slam. Russ trade looking good or maybe great is a better description. Geno a revelation (who gets credit? Pete??). Defense disappointing, but let’s see where they are at the end of the year. I want to see a very good D next year, this year just hoping for progress.

    did John and Pete need to dump Russ to get their mojo back? If they repeat their draft magic next year, we can start think of SBs again

    Like

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