The Seattle Seahawks have questions on the offensive line. Again. But after acquiring Sheldon Richardson last week, the team's defensive line has nothing of the sort. Might this year's Seahawks defense be better than EVER?
Let's stay in the Pete Carroll era, which began when he came aboard prior to the 2010 season along with GM John Schneider.
It's generally accepted that among the best ways to statistically evaluate how good a defense is (or was) are points allowed, yards allowed, and an advanced metric known as DVOA, developed and engineered by Football Outsiders, that accounts for many angles including opponents and turnovers created.
The Seahawks have had an historic run defensively, leading the league in points allowed four straight years (2012-2015). They finished No. 3 a year ago.
The 2013 Seahawks defense — the one that ultimately dominated its way to and through the Super Bowl over a record-setting offense led by Peyton Manning — is widely believed to be the best of the Carroll/Schneider era. It is also considered one of the best ever, by FBO's DVOA, which pegged that unit the No. 8 defense over the last 30 years.
Let's check out those rankings:
First, here's what DVOA is, courtesy Football Outsiders:
Football Outsiders' DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) metric accounts for every aspect of defense: how well teams prevent yardage, how often they get turnovers, and how well they keep points off the board. DVOA measures success on each play, defined using down and distance, then compares it to an NFL average baseline adjusted for situation and opponent. You can read more of the details here — and yes, defensive DVOA adjusts for opposing offenses, not defenses, but we still call it DVOA. The metric is built to balance a measurement of how well a team has played in the past with a forecast of how well a team will play in the future.
A year ago, Seattle finished with their worst Defensive DVOA since Carroll arrived. One can understand how and why that occurred, however. While it's reasonable to suggest some of the talent on the Seahawks' defense isn't quite the elite it once was, Earl Thomas missing the final five regular season games impacted the defense like perhaps no other player's absence could.
Thomas is the center fielder. His range allows the Hawks to play with a single-high safety, which, in turn, gives them flexibility to play an extra player, such as Kam Chancellor, closer to the line of scrimmage — in the box — to stop the run and slow down a short passing game.
Without Thomas, the Seahawks were torched down the field on numerous occasions over the final five weeks, plays that may not even have been attempted had Thomas been in the lineup. Point is, the defense was good, not great, in 2016.
Going into 2017, Thomas has returned, 100 percent healthy, and Seattle just added an impact defensive lineman to an already-excellent front seven.
Sheldon Richardson, acquired from the New York Jets for WR Jermaine Kearse and a swap of draft picks, will improve not only the club's run defense, but also the interior pass rush, something the Seahawks have not been able to do effectively since Jordan Hill got hurt late in 2014. Seattle received just three sacks from the interior line a year ago. And it'd be a mistake to underestimate Richardson's line versatility. He's basically a bigger, younger Michael Bennett.
Graphic and Statistics Courtesy Pro Football Focus[/credit]
Seattle's D-Line may be the best in the NFL and it may not be all that close.
This does look like fun… pic.twitter.com/W4tgHe7azO
— Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) September 4, 2017
Seattle had the best defense in football BEFORE getting Sheldon Richardson
— Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) September 1, 2017
Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson and Frank Clark as the front four in sub packages is going to be impossible to block. https://t.co/uVZkkmB8td
— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) September 1, 2017
I don't think people really get it. Richardson is an absolute monster and they've added him to a D that's already loaded. It could get ugly https://t.co/UbmUR0wVYh
— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) September 1, 2017
Whether or not this talented will translate into one of the 10 best defenses of the last 30 years remains to be seen, but a lot of analysts love the move, including former defensive back and scout Bucky Brooks in the bottom tweet.
|Year||Total Yards||NFL Rank|
|Year||Sacks||NFL Rank||Sack %||NFL Rank|
Some key questions:
- How good will Thomas, Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bennett and Cliff Avril be in somewhat advanced stages of their NFL careers?
- Opposite Sherman, can rookie CB Shaquill Griffin play well enough on the outside? How about veteran slot corner Jeremy Lane on the inside? In 2013, the Seahawks sported Walter Thurmond III in the slot and Brandon Browner on the outside, with Byron Maxwell the first corner off the bench.
- On the '13-'14 teams, the Hawks had talented pass rushers coming off the bench, including Bruce Irvin, who moved from OLB to DE in many pass-rush scenarios. This season, the second-group pass rushers will include unproven, untested young players such as David Bass and Marcus Smith. Does Frank Clark — 10 sacks in 2016 — have another level?
- Jarran Reed, known at Alabama for his ability to stop the run, probably needs to play better than he did last season.
- Naz Jones, a rookie tackle, could play a role even if Reed plays well, giving Seattle options, even though in 2013 and 2014, most of these roles were filled by veterans such as Kevin Williams, Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald. Will the kids warrant enough playing time to keep a heavy workload off the veterans? This may be THE key to the 2017 Seahawks defense being, well, historic.
- Can all of the above come together to increase turnovers without sacrificing run defense or putting Lane, Griffin or Justin Coleman on an island they aren't ready to inhabit?
We'll see this latest version of the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense in action next Sunday in Green Bay, versus one of the game's elite quarterbacks and a very good receiving corps. Test No. 1 for a defense that, since 2012, has been as great as any in the history of the NFL over a five-year stretch.
It's unlikely this year's group is that good (top 10 all-time) but the simple fact it's not entirely out of the question should scare every team in the league.