Hawks Eye View Week 3: Seahawks Defense Secondary to... Everyone
Another week, another win as the Seahawks remained undefeated and now sit alone atop the toughest division in the NFL through three weeks.
A week where Russell Wilson and his dream team scored at least 35 points, witht he star quarterback continuing to shatter NFL records. On Sunday, he became the first quarterback to throw for 14 touchdowns in the first three games.
But it’s also a week where the Seahawks defense was setting records — and not in a good way.
Beneath Wilson's shimmering rainbows lofted downfield to the likes of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett lies a dark reality: the Seahawks have had to rely heavily on the pass because their defense can’t defend it. Statistically speaking, the Seahawks have been the easiest team to throw against this year.
Seattle's defense currently ranks last in the league giving up 497 total yards per game. Per game. That sounds alarming because it is: they are the only team in NFL history to ever allow more than 1,200 passing yards in the first three weeks.
Truthfully, the Seahawks secondary has been exceptionally bad this year, which is likely why defensive team captain Bobby Wagner appeared pensive when reflecting on their close win.
When asked how it feels to win games that are down to the wire, Wagner said the following: "Those moments are cool, to be on the field and be able to stop a team from scoring, and doing that and winning the game - they're fun, but we shouldn't have been in that situation."
If Wagner's demeanor seemed unusual following a win, the following stats may be helpful in understanding why Seattle's defense might be worried:
• Dak Prescott leads the league in passing yards with 1,118. Nearly half of those yards (472) came from the Seahawks game (although he did throw two interceptions).
• Matt Ryan has the third-most passing yards in the NFL with 961. Again, nearly half of those yards (420) came from his game against Seattle.
• Seattle has allowed 430 passing yards per game, ranking last in the league. The second-worst team, the Falcons, have allowed 80 less yards per game with 350.
• The bottom 12 defenses have allowed 250 or more yards, and the Seahawks have allowed at least 150 more yards than teams 20-29.
• The Seahawks are second in rushing yards allowed per game with only 66.7 - it makes sense when teams are up against Jamal Adams and Wagner - but it also makes sense that no one is bothering to rush against them because they can pass at will instead.
To be fair, the Seahawks haven’t exactly had the easiest opponents in Weeks 1 through 3. Ryan is a talented veteran passer with MVP pedigree, Cam Newton still has plenty of gas left in the tank and also was an MVP at one time, and Prescott continues to make the case for a much-deserved monster contract.
And to be fair, the Seahawks embody a much bigger trend. The league as a whole is passing more, but they're also passing through everyone's Swiss cheese secondaries, not just Seattle’s. The top 10 NFL quarterbacks in passing yards all have over 800 passing yards over three games - with that average, Matt Stafford, Joe Burrow, and Ryan Tannehill stand to have 4,500-plus yard seasons, while Prescott and Josh Allen would have more than 5,800 yards to finish off the year.
Those projections are pretty unlikely to play out for a whole season, meaning the NFL first quarter stats are more a testament to the fact that no one has really been great at stopping the pass so far. Case in point: DK Metcalf burned 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore for a 54-yard touchdown in Week 2.
That being said, we still have to talk about Seattle's struggles. All day Sunday, defensive backs were playing from behind Dallas' receivers, who seemed to be running wide open every single play and had tons of room to operate after the catch for explosive gains. The best example to illustrate pass coverage deficiencies is how little-known receiver Cedrick Wilson dazzled with two 40-yard touchdowns.
With the first Wilson touchdown, the Cowboys lined up four receivers out wide. While Adams came down for the blitz, linebacker K.J. Wright lined up opposite Wilson fin one-on-one coverage. Spotting the mismatch, Prescott targeted Wilson on a quick slant against Wright, allowing Wilson to speed past the linebacker and elude a tackle by Quandre Diggs on his way to the end zone.
Facing Carroll's usual Cover 3 defense, targeting the middle of the field means that if the receivers can beat the linebackers, they just have to zip through cornerback and safety zones to get a touchdown. That's what happened on Wilson's second 40-yarder, as the Cowboys employed a flood concept to counter the Seahawks' match zone coverage. Wilson crossed the field in a medium-level route and snagged a pass past Shaquill Griffin, speeding past Tre Flowers and a delayed Diggs for another six points.
Picking on Griffin appears to be a favored strategy by opposing quarterbacks, and his 2020 stats shed light on why.
According to PlayerProfiler.com, Griffin has a -44.8 coverage rating, an 85.7 percent catch rate allowed, and a 149.7 passer rating allowed. Essentially what that means is that whoever the fourth-year cornerback is covering is pretty much open throughout the game. Considering that he's first on the depth chart for the left cornerback position, Griffin is going to need more interceptions and broken plays to lower the almost perfect passer rating he's allowed so far.
Griffin and his fellow teammates have allowed 65 first downs. They've also allowed half of their third and fourth down conversions to be converted, giving teams increased opportunities to drive down the field. They are the second-best team when it comes to takeaways, but that is also likely the result of so many passing plays. If the secondary could keep up their high takeaway totals while limiting big gains and breakaway touchdowns that have plagued them so far, Seattle would be in stellar shape to face the rest of the season.
Offense wins games, defense wins championships, and the Seahawks are in the driver's seat in the NFC West early - but that will be the only thing they win if they don't make crucial defensive adjustments. Wilson and his weapons can win any shootout, but it really is defense that matters most when it comes to lasting in the playoffs. The Steelers, Bills, and Buccaneers are already proving to have some of the strongest NFL defenses - and they too have quarterbacks who can sling it.
If the Seahawks can improve even slightly against the pass, then the "Legion of Gloom" could turn things around enough to allow the team to be in the hunt for a Super Bowl title. But if the defense can't win figure things out in coming weeks, they won't be winning championships anytime soon.