Seahawks' Brutal Start to Schedule Highlights Concern Along Defensive Line

Set to take on some of the most dominant rushing offenses the NFL has to offer through the first seven weeks of the 2021 season, the Seahawks defense's biggest strength from 2020 is going to be put to the test immediately. And a lack of certainty in their interior defensive line could spell trouble and yet another slow start for them on defense.
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The Seahawks took their failure to muster up much of a consistent pass rush in the first half of the 2020 season to heart, putting much of their offseason focus on the edge of their defensive line this spring. Retaining Carlos Dunlap and Benson Mayowa, then adding Kerry Hyder Jr. and - depending on how his legal issues play out - Aldon Smith, Seattle should have no issues getting to the quarterback this season.

Stopping the run may be a different story, however, leading to a reversal of strengths of sorts. The Seahawks were dominant against the run in 2020, allowing opponents just 3.9 yards per carry for a fifth-best total of 1,529. Pro Football Focus thought they were even better than where they statistically ranked, awarding them with the highest run defense grade (80.5) in the entire NFL.

That number, of course, took a hit in the postseason. In the Seahawks' 30-20 loss in the wild-card round, Rams running back Cam Akers exploded for 131 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Gashed by a few big runs, it was an uncharacteristic performance for Seattle's defense, and one it certainly doesn't want to carry over into the new league year.

That said, it very much could with the departure of defensive tackle Jarran Reed. In the last year of his second contract with the team, Reed's cap hit of $13.9 million was just too much to bear. Needing salary cap space, the Seahawks attempted to restructure the former second-round pick's deal to no avail. Left with no other choice, they cut him, and he made his way to the Chiefs just a few days later.

Even though he was eventually viewed as a cap casualty in the eyes of the organization, this wasn't their first choice. Reed is a tough presence to lose in the interior of their defensive line, both from a run stopping and pass rushing standpoint, and they'd be better off with him than without him. 

That doesn't mean they flat-out lack talent on the interior; they don't. Their offseason kicked off with a two-year extension of budding star Poona Ford, and they reunited with Al Woods for the third time in 10 years shortly after the decision was made on Reed. Woods, especially, is going to be critical to the Seahawks' success - or lack thereof - against the run at the three-tech position. It is his calling card, however, so they should see positive results in that respect, but he hasn't played in over a year after opting out of the 2020 season. 

Behind those two, there are a ton of question marks. 

Bryan Mone has shown flashes in limited snaps over the past two years, but the jury's still very much out on how he could take to an expanded role. Cedrick Lattimore has played in just one game, albeit an impressive debut against the Rams in the playoffs. Robert Nkemdiche has been away from football for some time after a disappointing start to his career. The also have Myles Adams, who signed to their practice squad last December, and undrafted free agent Jarrod Hewitt, though he's more of a rush-first interior defender who needs to build more strength.

Run defense is going to be especially important for the Seahawks at the beginning of the season. With the schedule now released, they're set to face PFF's fourth (Colts), ninth (Titans), third (49ers), first (Rams), and 12th-best (Steelers) run blocking teams from 2020 in five of their first seven games. The outliers there, the Vikings (27th) and Saints (17th), still carry two of the best running backs in the game in Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara.

Stopping the likes of Cook, Kamara, Derrick Henry, and Najee Harris is going to be a tough task for a team that no longer has its best defensive tackle. They should get a nice boost from the talent they have out on the edge and in their linebacking corps, but the interior is a fairly big concern, especially if one of Ford or Woods goes down with an injury. 

While it's easy to understand why they like players such as Mone and Lattimore, one could argue there may be too much faith being placed in their development. If it backfires, this could significantly hamper the Seahawks defense's chances of controlling games the way they want. If they have a very clear weakness against the run, it'll be exposed, even in today's age where most teams are passing more than ever. 

They can still keep the competition alive and give these players every opportunity to make the roster even if they add an insurance policy or two. And they should, because the free agent market for defensive tackles still has plenty of talent to offer this late in the offseason.

Of course, they don't have a ton of cap space to work with and may have their sights set on a reunion with linebacker K.J. Wright and/or cornerback Richard Sherman. However, if the opportunity presents itself to take a flyer on a veteran like Geno Atkins, Kawann Short, Jurrell Casey, or Sheldon Richardson, it should be heavily considered. 

The Seahawks have a gauntlet to run in the trenches to begin the season, so beefing up their interior as much as possible should be one of their top priorities from here on out. If not, the lack of certainty and reliability on the back-half of their depth chart could potentially lead to yet another disastrous first half on defense.