Photo by David Berding/Getty Images
As tempting as it is to spend the entire week just lambasting Ken Norton Jr’s lackluster performance as Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, it is still ultimately unfair to pin all of the blame on him.
It’s time the front office, Pete Carroll included given he’s got the dual role, gets its criticism for the poor handling of this offseason’s obvious weakness yet again.
With Shaquill Griffin leaving the Seahawks for the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, it left Seattle without an obvious #1 cornerback. Tre Flowers couldn’t possibly be the answer to that and D.J. Reed was supposed to be a nickel corner last season before taking over Flowers’ CB2 role.
What did the Seahawks do? Almost nothing substantive.
Ahkello Witherspoon was the team’s most notable offseason signing at outside cornerback. An underwhelming preseason saw him traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers where he has since played a grand total of 4 defensive snaps and been a healthy scratch twice. Here’s one of those four snaps.
Carr did a great job of holding Minkah, who was too concerned about helping out with Waller. Minkah cheats this C1 to the boundary side away from the strong bunch. Nice slight nod by Ruggs to outside to widen Witherspoon. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/hLWJKlzjjE
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) September 20, 2021
With one of their three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Seahawks selected Tre Brown in the fourth round. He’s been on injured reserve with a knee injury and there weren’t any inklings that he’d play his way into the starting lineup.
Pierre Desir, Damarious Randall, Gavin Heslop, Will Sunderland, Bryan Mills, and Jordan Miller all had their opportunities to do something in camp and in preseason to justify a roster spot. None of them made the team and only Heslop is even on the practice squad. Seattle traded for Sidney Jones and John Reid, signed Bless Austin and claimed Nigel Warrior — combined they have a single defensive snap (Reid) in a Seahawks uniform. Jones’ ceiling seemed pretty high before his pre-draft injury, and now staying healthy is a consistent enough problem for him that meeting his potential seems unlikely.
So after an entire offseason of signing fringe players and adding a Day 3 pick, the Seahawks settled on moving Reed to the left side and Flowers at his familiar right spot. In effect, Reed got a job promotion and Flowers got his old job back.
Keeping in mind that DVOA doesn’t really become more dependable until deeper into the season, the Seahawks pass defense is 27th. The secondary has no interceptions and only one pass defensed, which is absolutely jarring to think about knowing what the Seahawks defense used to be.
Reed was beaten for two touchdowns last week and PFF says Flowers gave up 7/7 for 78 yards and four first downs against Minnesota in what has to be one of the worst collective defensive efforts of the entire Pete Carroll era. I like D.J. Reed but he’s arguably being played out of position and at 5’9” he is one of the shortest starting outside cornerbacks in the league. Flowers is who he is at this point and I honestly feel bad for him reading this quote.
Minimal investment at a position of weakness yields predictable outcomes. Does this not sound familiar to anyone?
This is a Field Gulls headline from just before the start of the 2020 regular season.
You may recall that a major issue last season before the midseason trade for Carlos Dunlap was the lack of a pass rush without excess blitzing. It was a known problem in the 2019 season even with the big trade for Jadeveon Clowney. The team didn’t re-sign Clowney in 2020 and went with the “pass rush by committee” angle of Benson Mayowa, Bruce Irvin, and a whole lot of hope that L.J. Collier, Rasheem Green, Shaquem Griffin, and Alton Robinson would be young impact players. Darrell Taylor would’ve been among that pack of young players but he ended up missing the entire season.
Lo and behold, the Seahawks’ pass rush was woeful through the first half of the season even when you added in their blitzes.
When the Seahawks haven’t blitzed, their 18.7% pressure rate with a standard four-man rush is third-lowest in the league, according to ESPN charting.
Before the San Francisco game, the Seahawks were generating pressure on only 23.1% of opposing quarterbacks’ overall dropbacks. That was the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL and nearly identical to what the Seahawks produced last season, when their lack of a consistent pass rush was also an Achilles’ heel.
Here we are a year later and John Schneider and Pete Carroll have effectively done the same thing but at cornerback. You could say there’s a double backfiring because the pass rush has been ho-hum through three weeks of this season.
I believe both of these things to be simultaneously true:
This defensive roster is not among the upper echelon in the NFL in terms of overall talent.
Ken Norton Jr is not getting the best out of his players.
But we’re here to talk about the front office and really just Schneider and Carroll. I have to couple them together because it seems as if Schneider tends to escape a fair bit of scrutiny, almost as if to suggest Carroll is some energetic gum-chewing dictator surrounded by yes men. Longtime Field Gulls readers may recall the “Q/PM” connotation this pairing received at the start of the era but I suspect some have ridden with this bit a little bit too long.
Last year the Seahawks got away with terrible defense and were 6-2 at the halfway mark thanks to a high-flying offense coupled with the one saving grace of that defense: turnovers. They’re already at 1-2 this year, the turnovers aren’t happening, and the offense only scores in one half. This team could be in serious peril by the end of next Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams.
Seattle’s front office has played with fire one too many times and this time around, bad process may finally lead to a bad result.