Moments after his team had capped off a 20-9 victory against the Rams to clinch an NFC West title, Jamal Adams wasted little time making a bold declaration, calling the Seahawks the best defense in the NFL.
"You can quote that. You can do whatever you want with it," Adams confidently said after Seattle's division-clinching victory. "At the end of the day, I believe in these guys."
Only a few short weeks ago, such a statement would have been met with laughter and ridicule. This was the same unit that had given up more than 350 passing yards per game - they were on pace to obliterate the Packers single-season NFL record for coverage futility by 1,000 yards - and nearly 30 points per game through the first nine games of the season.
But despite the defensive ineptitude and calls for defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.'s job, coach Pete Carroll's confidence that the unit would eventually right the ship never wavered. Not even after the Bills put up 44 points against the Seahawks in Week 9, the most points surrendered by a defense during his 11 seasons on the sideline.
“We were so uncharacteristic, and so off and all that. That was like the final straw,” Carroll told reporters on Monday. “We had to make sure that we adjusted, and figured it out and tweaked it and all of that.”
Sure enough, after being humbled in Orchard Park, Seattle started to finally turn things around in its first matchup with Los Angeles back in Week 10. While Jared Goff threw for over 200 yards in the first half, everything started to click in the final two quarters as the Rams were limited to just six points and suddenly, Adams' proclamation doesn't look so ludicrous.
Since beating the Cardinals 28-21 in Week 11, the Seahawks haven't given up more than 20 points in any of their past five games and rank first in the NFL in scoring defense during that span (13.67 points per game). On Sunday, they enacted a bit of revenge on their divisional rivals, keeping Goff and the Rams out of the end zone and holding them to a trio of field goals in a suffocating defensive effort. It was the second time in three games that Carroll's defense hadn't yielded a touchdown.
"I think it's been awesome," safety Quandre Diggs said. "I think this is the plan that we had at the beginning of the year when we started those Zoom meetings and we started training camp. This is what we dreamed about, going out and holding teams to nine points, a really good offense and divisional opponent on a championship day. We did it."
While Seattle still ranks last in the NFL in passing yardage allowed (4,138) after such a horrid start, a surging defense led by Diggs and Adams has allowed just 189.7 passing yards per game over their past six games, the third-fewest in the league behind only the Steelers and Rams. They've also allowed only six passing touchdowns, with none of them going to receivers.
“There was times during the season here when everybody had enough statistics to go ahead and blow us out like we weren’t worth anything on defense,” Carroll said after Sunday’s victory. “This defense is good, and they’ve shown it, and they’ve declared it and this is the kind of defense that we played in years past when we were really a good team down the end of the stretch.”
Just how impressive has the Seahawks defensive turnaround been? Historically speaking, their 180 degree turn in performance over the past few months is unrivaled.
Per Pro Football Reference, 13 teams have given up 300-plus passing yards per game through the first nine games of an NFL season. Illustrating how poorly the unit had played in the first half, Seattle ranked first in passing yards (3,180) and second in points per game allowed (29.56) among this select group.
But over the past six games, the Seahawks have cut their passing yards allowed totals by a whopping 163.6 yards per game, more than 50 yards than the next team on the list. Their six passing touchdowns allowed currently is the fewest for any of those 13 teams in their final seven games.
Most importantly, Seattle's remarkable improvements in scoring defense have been unprecedented. After spending the entire first half ranked near the bottom of the league, they have surrendered 15.9 points per game less over the last six games. No other teams on that list of 13 improved their scoring output by more than eight points in the final seven games.
What's behind this historic elevation of play? An easier schedule facing the Jets, Giants, Eagles, and Washington Football Team certainly benefited Carroll's squad. None of those teams are close to offensive juggernauts and two of them were playing backup quarterbacks against Seattle.
But as shown on Sunday against a far superior Rams outfit, the Seahawks now have a legitimate championship-caliber defense featuring plenty of star power. The arrival of defensive end Carlos Dunlap via trade has brought out the best in other pass rushers, the return of a healthy Adams and Shaquill Griffin has bolstered the secondary, and newcomers such as cornerback D.J. Reed and rookie linebacker Jordyn Brooks have stepped up as key contributors.
“We figured it out and guys are just being accountable,” veteran linebacker K.J. Wright told reporters after Sunday's win. “We’re communicating like no other. Just to hear guys’ voices each and every play is just truly special. Defense wins championships. We know that going down the stretch it’s gonna be some tough, tough battles. Playoff time is around the corner and defense always wins championships.”
Looking at the season holistically, Seattle won't rank as a top 10 defense due to their atrocious start. The unit certainly won't stack up against the outstanding "Legion of Boom" defenses that led the league in scoring four straight years from 2012 to 2015.
But none of that will matter if the Seahawks capture a second Lombardi Trophy in February. Given the confidence and swagger Adams and his counterparts are playing with as the playoffs loom, this team looks poised to make a deep run and won't be an easy out next month.