It is hate week and what better way to wind it down than with a conversation with the fine people over at Field Gulls.
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1. Russell Wilson is having a historically great season, maybe the best ever by a quarterback. What is he doing different/better and who would you say is the reason why after Russell?
MA: Wilson is a better pocket passer than he’s ever been and I think that’s the biggest leap in his game. He’s always been a pretty good pocket passer but there were many occasions where he’d bail early due to phantom pressure or take some terrible sacks because he ran into pressure. That’s largely down to footwork and understanding defensive coverages. Wilson is a great athlete but he’s also incredibly smart and one of his best attributes is that he finds ways to get better. I know that sounds cliche but it’s true.
Brian Schottenheimer was definitely someone I wasn’t high on as offensive coordinator, and that’s acknowledging that I supported firing Darrell Bevell, but I was wrong about Schotty. Perhaps he just got a raw deal having to coach Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford for much of his career. Schottenheimer still plays towards Wilson’s strengths — accurate passing, a gorgeous deep ball, play-action efficiency, and the ability to extend plays — but he’s added improved footwork, smarter decision making, and now in 2020 he’s actually letting him pass earlier and pass more.
In 2018 the Seahawks running game was a busted flush and it broke Pete Carroll’s brain so badly that Wilson was dead last in pass attempts. Slowly but surely Carroll and Schotty have trusted Wilson to operate a pass-first offense and thus far it’s worked brilliantly. Who would ever have predicted the Seahawks being 1st in early down passing rate? That willingness to change is so vital in developing Wilson and making the Seahawks offense better, so while Wilson himself has been phenomenal, Schottenheimer is a major reason for his elevation to at least one of the three best quarterbacks in the league.
2. What has happened to a once dominant Seahawks defense?
...You know this Q&A was more fun when I answered the first question. Anyway, the Seahawks defense is a shell of itself and that’s largely due to the fact that most of their key players are no longer with the team. The original Legion of Boom is all gone, ditto Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Frank Clark. Thankfully, Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright are still here and are still one of the premier linebacker duos in the NFL.
Rebuilding the defense... has been a chore. Both the secondary and the pass rush have been below par for the better part of three seasons, and they’ve been hit with season-ending injuries to Bruce Irvin and Marquise Blair in 2020. There’s nary a dominant edge rusher on Seattle’s defensive line and they’re relying on young talent like LJ Collier and Alton Robinson to be instant and effective contributors. The secondary was a mess last year, particularly with the lack of a nickel corner that meant a ton of base defense and a lot of awful run D.
The good news thus far for the Seahawks is the run defense has been vastly improved, but there aren’t too many other positives for a team that ranks 26th in defensive DVOA and 29th in pass defense. There are still pass rush issues and at best they might be average or below-average by the time the season is over. In the secondary, Shaquill Griffin has been inconsistent, Tre Flowers has been consistently bad at the other corner spot so hopefully Quinton Dunbar is healthy and Flowers doesn’t start anymore. Jamal Adams was picked on in coverage against the Dallas Cowboys but otherwise has been a net plus and the team’s best pass rusher, but he’s injured and may not play against Arizona. Quandre Diggs has been solid at free safety and Ugo Amadi has done a really good job as a nickel corner, but ultimately they still have so many flaws.
Ken Norton Jr really shouldn’t be DC anymore but they aren’t going to fire him. This is not a unit that is as talented as the Super Bowl years but they are underperforming and look a long ways from being an elite defense. The only hope I have is that they have awful teams like the Giants and Jets on the schedule and if only to boost their own confidence, they ought to shut those teams down or else this is going to unravel in a postseason run.
3. Speaking of the defense, they are bottom of the barrel in yards, but middle of the pack in scoring and first in turnovers forced. Is that something that you think can be sustainable?
Nope! There are some “bend but don’t break” elements to the Seahawks defense, except at some point the turnovers will probably dry up and the bend will just turn into breaking. I don’t consider letting teams with terrible field position come away with a field goal as successful “bend but don’t break.” Seattle is best in the NFL in terms of defensive starting field position and instead of making the most of pinning teams deep they usually let them drive into scoring position.
Last year the Seahawks were pretty good at forcing turnovers and then they went the final four games with zero takeaways and not coincidentally went 1-3 while often failing to get off the field in must-stop situations. Seattle’s defense needs to generate more three-and-outs and more punts (of which they are last in the league, I might add) to compensate for the likelihood that they won’t get 2-3 turnovers every single game.
4. What is the vibe of the fanbase after the first five games and what are the expectations for the season?
The vibes are mostly positive and that’s because the Seahawks have “Let Russ Cook.” There are serious concerns about the defense which we may just have to live with. Seattle’s special teams have been a huge surprise with how well they’ve performed so even with the defensive struggles, the overall team is pretty good and I think the expectations are now to make a Super Bowl run. It wouldn’t be “Super Bowl or bust” per se but they haven’t been particularly close to an NFC Championship Game since 2014 and this is as good a year to make that run.
5. Are the Seahawks heading for 6-0 or could this be their first loss of 2020?
Oooh that’s tough. I think they’ll win this weekend by the barest of margins and then lose the rematch at home (as usual). That said, I see their first loss happening to one of Buffalo or the Rams. I’ll sacrifice a win in Glendale if it means we can go two straight years without devastating injuries happening at that cursed stadium.