Seahawks Defensive Woes Can't Be Fixed by Abrupt Staff Changes

Colby Patnode

To say the least, the Seahawks pass defense has been bad three weeks into the 2020 season. There isn't any way around that. They rank 22nd in points allowed, 30th in yards per pass attempt, 32nd in passing yards allowed, and their five sacks in three games are tied for the eighth-worst in the league. It's been awful no matter what metric you look at.

But if you were to believe some in the social media world, there is a simple panacea that would magically solve all of these problems. The solution? Simply fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. Simple as that, right? Obviously, it would make some Seahawks fans feel better for a few weeks. Somebody must be held accountable for these numbers and it's not like we can blame the players for playing poorly, right?

Fans tend to view assistant coaches as replaceable. In football, everybody is quick to demand the firing of the offensive or defensive coordinator. In baseball, the hitting coach must be fired when the bats go cold. But all of that is nonsense. It's simply bad performance art. Scapegoating Norton won't solve any problems for the Seahawks defense and could actually create new ones.

Norton is ultra popular amongst the defensive players in Seattle, especially team captain Bobby Wagner. Prematurely firing Norton, particularly when the team is 3-0, could rock the locker room in ways that could have catastrophic consequences. 

Even if you're willing to risk rocking the boat, you'd still have to ignore two major factors that Norton has very little control over: he didn't decide to not sign the pass rushers Seattle desperately needs and he doesn't have total control of the defense. The defensive coordinator position in Seattle is more ceremonial in than most coaching staffs in the league. This is Pete Carroll's defense. Norton is working under Carroll's direction.

If you don't like the way things are game-planned, your issue is with Carroll. If you don't like the way the defense was built this offseason, your beef is with John Schneider. Most of us have no idea if Norton is good at his job or not. Former Carroll proteges like Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn have had mixed results in building defenses after leaving Seattle. So did Kris Richard. The defensive responsibility begins and ends with Carroll.

We've yet to even point at the players, particularly in the secondary. Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin have been mediocre at best. We've seen one good half from Quinton Dunbar. Even Jamal Adams has had his struggles in pass defense. On top of that, the injuries are quickly mounting. Marquise Blair is out for the season. Dunbar missed his first game this week and Lano Hill did as well. Quandre Diggs lost three quarters after an ejection and now Adams is dealing with a groin injury. None of these factors are Norton's fault.

There may come a time when firing Norton makes sense. It may have already passed given last year's defensive troubles. But that time is certainly not entering Week 4 of the 2020 season, especially when the Seahawks are 3-0. Though Dan Quinn could easily be jettisoned by the Falcons soon after blowing huge leads two weeks in a row, it's not like he can instantly be hired as a replacement at his old position. That's not how this works.

Seahawks fans understandably want answers for why a talented group isn't playing better. But rushing to judgment and demanding a person lose his job for some false sense of satisfaction is, frankly, a laughably bad idea.

Comments (3)
No. 1-3

You're the one { making the issue } of firing Norton a story! Seahawk fans are well aware of the reasons: three weeks of three top QB's in the league have been throwing 50 passes trying to come back on our Hawks. Injuries, a new defensive system, a group of defensive backs learning to play as a unit, the first year they have played together, means a period of learning even for this decorated group that will take some time. Let's see how they have grown, in a game when Wilson plays less than at an MVP level and we have a game like last year,, low scoring, close, & then see how they they defend our end zone.

The Tez
The Tez

Firing right now wouldn't be a smart move for a couple reasons, 1 there's not much in way of avail DC to replace him right now, 2, trying to wedge & mortar in a new DC, all needing to learn, develop & implement the D & player skill sets & working relationship. That said, whether someone like Quinn is fired during the season & hired onto the staff, or at end of the season if similar issues continue on the D for yet another year, not only should Norton be upgraded (or given option of demotion to Assistant DC & LB coach) his track record with Raiders (he did have Khalil Mack & B Irvin and still didn't get adequate enough results) and his showing in Sea thus far, despite being a good LB coach & well liked by players, results, even trending well upwards (which they haven't under him, can't call it a turn around when previous DC had really poor talent/low exp players & durability issues particularly for both starting S during brief tenure as DC) are what's important and he hasn't shown 1 inkling that he's capable of getting either from the D under him. Yes PC hand is on the rudder so to speak, has overall blueprint for D, etc, but you can clearly see the differences in D and influence of each different DC in style of play, how play coverages, amount of blitzing, how well prepared players are, etc. Like Kris Richard, seemed DBs played much tighter aggressive in coverage n flew around the field, but between S issues & not able to get a good enough pass rush, he had to start blitzing a lot more w LBs, which PC didn't like & was essentially fired for doing despite not his fault PC & JS didn't give him adequate enough starters, guys with exp & depth. That hasn't been so much an issue for Norton sans maybe the pass rush last 2 years. I don't think just Norton needs to be upgraded either... DL coach Hurtt hasn't done much in time here either, even when has some talent to work with. Neither he nor Norton have shown enough motivational ability & leadership, players like Clowney shouldn't be ones (especially joining team a bit late) who have to call players only meetings to get guys fired up & motivated to play hard & better, coaches need to be doing that. With Norton as DC I'm hard pressed to be able to give fair eval of jobs DB & LB coaches have done. I also think it's very unlikely Sea ever has legit shot at winning SB with Norton as the DC, he just doesn't seem to have it him.

IMO during 2021 offseason, if things continue to be more of the same, Sea must upgrade DC Norton, really should upgrade DL coach Hurtt with a DL guy who's really good at developing young talent, good at getting vets to improve, good at getting & keeping DL playing well, hard, smart, physical, aggressive & especially motivated, preferably with very good ability to develop all guys pass rushing ability in tech, plan, use, etc and how to best maximize & deploy them for each player each matchup. Many teams (especially 34 base teams, which PC concepts borrow significantly from though tech a 43) have is a either a pass rush specialist or 34 rush OLB coach (basically same thing) who's extremely knowledgeable, savvy, a pretty good teacher & solid if not pretty good motivator. I'd like to see Kris Richard brought back as an Assistant DC & DB coach/just DB coach or at least someone much better than who's coaching & managing them when PC isn't doing it, coach em up well to eliminate mental mistakes 1st, then tech mistakes, get them fired up, playing physical & aggresive as possible within rules, get them playing tighter coverage much better, get physical at LOS and maybe most importantly, help them develop confidence as individuals and as a unit, get the necessary swagger going good DBs need to have, get them to play each snap & battle with opponents like their lives depended on it, beat & wear opponents down & instill that bully & fear factor again along with swagger. I'd also look to add a good Vic Fangio/2018 Chi coaching tree DB coach as a S pos coach, adding some new wrinkles to D especially in coverages that should help D get tad more time in pass rush, few more opportunities at Ints as well as help develop & deploy our 3 quality S in most effective ways for each & the D, and I don't see it compromising, changing or neg effecting PC D scheme either.

Al Handleit
Al Handleit

This maybe one of the most ill-informed articles to come out of SI. Alluding to Fans wanting "snap decisions" is a false narrative. Look at the FACTS: With Norton as DC the Seahawk's defense has gone from one of the Historically BEST defenses to overall rank of 22nd, 26th, and now 32nd (and now as the worst defense they are historically the WORST defense IN THE HISTORY OF THE NFL, OUT PACING EVEN THE 1950 Colts in most defensive metrics), all under Ken Norton, Jr.s regime, and all while the defense is loaded with perenial All Stars such as Bobby Wagoner, Shaquille Griffin, Clinton Dunbar, Quandre Diggs, and Jamal Adams.

The Seahawk's Defense is absolutely LOADED with talent. After watching Norton, Jr. wreck what has historically been one of the best defenses, for 3 years- This is no "Knee-jerk reaction" as the author would have you believe. This is the outrage that fans feel after watching Norton, Jr. turn a storied franchise into a laughingstock of professional football. Norton, Jr is a fine D-line coach and is respected in THAT position, but one needs only to look at Norton's record at any other coaching position to see that he is a dismal failure as a DC or head coach (ask any Raider fan). His schemes are amateurish and predictable, and he is slow to recognize offensive schemes and to react accordingly.

Listening to Pete Carroll make excuses for Norton by blaming a boatload of incredibly talented players, or worse, insinuating that it is the Pandemic's fault (disregarding the fact that 31 other teams have started with the same disadvantage) insults the intelligence of the Seahawks fans.

The situation is made even more frustrating because we have what may be the most talented and powerful offenses to ever don a Seahawks uni.

Moving Norton back to a roll he is suited for (D-Line Coach), and bringing in someone who is actually capable of coaching a defense that is loaded with all stars would be a sound move. One which the fans pray for almost every Sunday. Continuing this policy of excuses and misplaced blame is unprofessional at best, obsequious and arrogant at worst.

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