Already good, Seahawks defense looking to get even better

Posted Jan 17, 2013

After losing defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to the Jaguars on Thursday, the Seahawks acted quickly in replacing him with Dan Quinn. Now the focus switches to finding players to spark the pass rush.

The first order of business for the Seahawks’ defense this offseason was finding a new coordinator, after Gus Bradley was hired on Thursday to be the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.


A closer look at the Seahawks’ defense during the 2012 season:

Where they ranked: No. 4, allowed an average of 306.2 yards – No. 10 rushing, 103.1; No. 6 passing, 203.1

Statistical leaders: Regular season
Tackles: MLB Bobby Wagner, 140
Sacks: DE Chris Clemons, 11.5
Interceptions: CB Richard Sherman, 8
Passes defensed: Sherman, 24
Forced fumbles: CB Brandon Browner and Clemons, 3; Sherman, 2
16-start players: DT Alan Branch, DE Red Bryant, NT Brandon Mebane, FS Earl Thomas, Clemons, Sherman

Statistical leaders: Postseason
Tackles: Wagner 17; LB K.J. Wright 16
Sacks: DE Bruce Irvin and Branch, 1
Interceptions: Thomas, 2; Wagner 1
Passes defensed: Sherman, 3; Thomas and Wagner, 2

Captain: Bryant

Postseason honors
All-Pro: Thomas and Sherman
Pro Bowl: Thomas
Pro Bowl alternates: Clemons (first), Sherman (first), SS Kam Chancellor (second), Mebane (fourth)

Done. Dan Quinn is returning after a two-season stint as defensive coordinator at the University of Florida to replace Bradley. Quinn coached the Seahawks’ defensive line in 2009 on Jim Mora’s staff was retained in 2010 when Pete Carroll was hired as the team’s head coach.

And the next priority is a familiar one for Quinn and Carroll: Improving the pass rush.

Carroll entered last offseason with the same item at the top of his to-do list, which led to selecting rush-end Bruce Irvin in the first round of the NFL Draft and signing rush-tackle Jason Jones in free agency. Irvin led all NFL rookies with eight sacks and added another in the wild-card victory over the Washington Redskins, while Jones’ efforts as an inside rusher were invaluable before a knee injury first interrupted and then ended his season. But Carroll wants more.

“We need to improve our guys, we need another pass rusher,” said Carroll, who then amended that statement to include, “We’re going to have to double it up, we’re going to need a couple of guys.”

The Seahawks’ best pass-rusher in the just-concluded 2012 season is the same player who led them in sacks in 2010 and 2011 – Chris Clemons, who size, speed and relentlessness have been a perfect match for the Leo end spot in Carroll’s defense since he was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But Clemons tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee during the win over the Redskins and, at 31, is looking at a lengthy rehab before he can even hope to return to the form that allowed him to collect 11 sacks in his first two seasons with the Seahawks and then up that to 11.5 this season.

Not having Clemons was a key factor in Sunday’s two-point loss to the Falcons during their divisional playoff game in Atlanta. The Seahawks did not register a sack of Matt Ryan and blitzing nickel back Marcus Trufant was the only one to be credited with a hit on the Falcons’ QB.

The Seahawks’ inability to “get there” was evident after they had taken a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left in the game. In two quick plays, Ryan completed passes of 22 and 19 yards to get the Falcons in range for their game-winning field goal.

“We went after them on both plays with really the pressures that had been most effective for us during the season and even in that game,” Carroll said. “We wanted to force the issue.”

Now, Carroll will force the issue of improving the pass rush. Again.

“We just have to keep working at it and try to get it better,” he said. “If we’re not able to find a guy that can spark our pass rush, or a couple of guys, then we have to scheme it at times. … We’ll look and we’ll see what we can find and what we can figure out on that.”

The inability of the Seahawks to stop Ryan and the Falcons with the game on the line was a downer of a way to end the season in a season where the performance of the defense was so uplifting.

The Seahawks ranked No. 4 in the league in average yards allowed (306.2) during the regular season – the highest ranking in franchise history; as well as the second consecutive season they’re ranked among the Top 10 and only the seventh time they’ve done it in 37 seasons.

More importantly, and impressively, the Seahawks led the league in average points allowed – 15.3, by yielding 245 points, the fewest in franchise history. That average is reduced to an even more defense-friendly 13.9 when you remove the three touchdowns and a safety that were scored by opposing defenses and special teams.

The run defense finished No. 10, allowing an average of 103.1. But the Seahawks ranked No. 5 at midseason before allowing an average of 121.3 over the final eight games – the spike directly related to giving up 182 yards to Adrian Peterson and 243 to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 9 and 189 rushing yards to the Miami Dolphins in Week 12.

The pass defense finished No. 6, allowing an average of 203.1 yards. And that side of the equation did the exact opposite of the run defense, ranking as high as No. 13 at midseason before holding the final eight opponents to an average of 178.3 passing yards.

With the team success came individual accolades, as free safety Earl Thomas was voted to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive season and joined cornerback Richard Sherman on the All-Pro team. Clemons, Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor and nose tackle Brandon Mebane are alternates to the Pro Bowl. And Bradley, of course, is now a head coach in the league.

But as much as the defense has improved in three seasons under Carroll and Bradley – from No. 27 in 2010, to No. 9 last season, to No. 4 this season – the best is yet to come for this young, fast, aggressive, physical unit.

The leading tackler in 2012 – during the regular season and postseason – was rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. The leader in interceptions during the regular was Sherman, in his first full season as a starter. The leader in interceptions during the postseason was Thomas, who has started in each of his three seasons since being a first-round draft choice in 2010. The second-leading tackler in the regular season and postseason was strongside linebacker K.J. Wright, also in his first full season as a starter.

You get the picture.   

“This is a very young and resilient team, and we were able to do a lot of great things for our foundation in terms of what we want to be able to do – not just this year, but every year to come,” said defensive end Red Bryant, who was voted the unit’s captain this season.

“The way this season ended is bitter sweet. Of course we would have loved another opportunity to play the 49ers (who instead are playing the Falcons in the NFC Championship game on Sunday). But I’m extremely proud of this team. I’m extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish.

“I’m just looking forward to next season, and hopefully we’ll be better.”

Or as Thomas put it, “We know we’re building something great here.”


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