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Report Card: Grading Seahawks Defense Through First Quarter of 2021 Season

Through five games, Seattle's defense has once again been historically bad, allowing opponents to gash them each week through the air and on the ground. How has each positional group performed in the first quarter of the season?

Through the first five games of the 2021 season, things haven't gone quite as planned for the defending NFC West champion Seahawks, who currently sit in third place in the division with a 2-3 record and will now be forced to play at least three games without quarterback Russell Wilson.

At the root of Seattle's struggles, the team hasn't been able to come close to getting the job done defensively, becoming only the fourth team since the NFL/AFL merger to allow 450-plus yards of offense in four consecutive games. While stellar red zone defense has kept them from being in the bottom 10 in scoring defense (25.2), they're on pace to shatter the record for yardage surrendered in a single season.

Already a quarter of the way through the season, how has each defensive position group performed for the Seahawks?

Defensive End: C+

Going into the season, the Seahawks' defensive end group looked poised to be an area of strength after years of being an Achilles heel. But while there have been bright spots, the unit as a whole hasn't lived up to those expectations through the first five games. Re-signed to a two-year deal in March, Carlos Dunlap has yet to produce a sack and has contributed only six tackles and a pair of quarterback hits. Benson Mayowa has missed two games due to a neck injury and has a sack and two quarterback hits, while Rasheem Green, Alton Robinson, and Kerry Hyder have combined to produce just 2.0 sacks. The group has been inconsistent against the run as well, which has contributed to Seattle's 31st-ranked run defense.

On the plus side, coming off a lost rookie season due to injury, Darrell Taylor has quickly emerged as one of the NFC's most exciting young pass rushers. Racking up 4.0 sacks and a forced fumble in the past five games, his speed off the edge is undeniable and he continues to improve his rushing angles and hand technique as he gains experience. He's also made strides as a run defender, though he still has plenty of work to do setting the edge and winning at the point of attack.

Defensive Tackle: B-

After losing long-time starter Jarran Reed in free agency, the Seahawks had depth questions at defensive tackle heading into training camp and those concerns haven't necessarily been alleviated after five weeks. Following a dominant opener in Indianapolis, Bryan Mone hasn't been near as effective after returning from an elbow injury and the combination of Robert Nkemdiche and former first-round pick L.J. Collier hasn't contributed much behind starters Poona Ford and Al Woods. This has left the group vulnerable in the second halves of games, which partially explains why running backs have consistently gone off in the final two quarters after being thwarted early in the game.

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With that said, Ford and Woods have still be rock solid anchors for the Seahawks in the trenches. Ford has 10 quarterback pressures from the interior this year and has remained a force defending the run, producing a pair of tackles for loss. The 34-year old Woods hasn't shown any signs of rust after sitting out last season and has been one of the more impressive defenders on Seattle's maligned defense, producing 12 tackles, a sack, and three tackles for loss. With a little more help behind them, this unit should be able to turn things around as the season progresses.

Linebacker: C-

From a pure productivity standpoint, Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks pop off the charts. Going into Week 6, Wagner ranked second in the NFL behind only Denzel Perryman with 58 tackles, while Brooks ranked 11th with 45 tackles. They have also contributed a sack apiece and five combined quarterback hits, offering value as blitzers. But looking deeper into those numbers, not all tackles are created equal and both players have made a bunch of stops after yielding receptions or several yards downfield on run plays. Surprisingly, both have struggled getting ball carriers to the ground, combining to miss nine tackles through five games according to Pro Football Focus.

Issues in coverage, however, are what truly drag down the grade at this position. Opponents have been feasting on the middle of the field in the passing game, taking advantage of Wagner and Brooks trying to cover athletic receivers on crossing routes. Per PFF, Wagner has yielded 23 receptions for 265 yards on 27 targets, which equates to an 85.2 percent completion rate. Brooks hasn't fared better, allowing 20 receptions for 216 yards on 24 targets and allowing a touchdown. Quarterbacks have at least a 107.0 passer rating targeting both in coverage. Some of that falls on poor scheming and an inconsistent pass rush, but the duo simply has to play better.

Cornerback: D-

Going into training camp, the Seahawks didn't have a bigger question mark on the entire roster than cornerback and fears about that group dragging down the defense have manifested into reality. The trio of Tre Flowers, D.J. Reed, and Sidney Jones have produced three pass breakups and no interceptions through five games while getting torched weekly by opposing receivers. Reed's shift back to the right side has yielded more positive results over the past two weeks and his recent play may be what ultimately saved this group from flunking out on this initial report card. But the other cornerback position remains a major problem for Pete Carroll's secondary.

First, Flowers won the starting right cornerback job by default due to injuries around him and the decision to trade Ahkello Witherspoon to the Steelers. After Carroll heaped praise on him throughout camp, he gave up 14 receptions for 208 yards and a 139.6 passer rating in three starts before being benched and eventually waived. Struggling with assignment-related mishaps, Sidney Jones has arguably been worse since entering the lineup in Week 4, with PFF charging him with 11 receptions for 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns in coverage. Rookie Tre Brown has been on injured reserve with a knee sprain all season and could be next in line to start on the left side as Seattle desperately looks for a solution.

Safety: B-

Aside from receiver, the Seahawks may not have a more talented positional group on the roster than safety, but the underwhelming play of one of their stars has kept the unit from meeting expectations so far. For his part, free safety Quandre Diggs has continued to play at a borderline All-Pro level during the early stages of the 2021 season, registering both of Seattle's interceptions, 25 tackles, and a pass breakup. But he hasn't had much help, including from strong safety Jamal Adams, who has yet to come close to living up to the four-year, $70 million extension he signed in August. While he ranks among league leaders at his position for tackles, he hasn't made many impact plays and has been exposed at times in coverage, including giving up an easy touchdown to Rams tight end Tyler Higbee in Week 5. He must be better moving forward for the defense to be able to turn things around.

If there's another silver lining here that slightly boosts the grade, Ryan Neal has continued to make the most of his limited opportunities. Playing just 32 defensive snaps in five games out of Seattle's dime package with six defensive backs on the field, he produced a trio of third down stops in a win over San Francisco in Week 4 and also recorded a pass breakup in coverage.