Bobby Wagner Expects More From Himself, Seahawks' Defense in 2020
For the vast majority of NFL linebackers, Bobby Wagner's 2019 production would easily have been a career year. Earning his fifth First-Team All-Pro selection, he led the NFL with 159 tackles, produced six passes defensed, and chipped in with 3.0 sacks.
But as one of the best linebackers of his era, Wagner wasn't pleased with his overall performance and felt the Seahawks as a unit performed well below expectations. Heading into 2020, he's confident the team will "push" for a higher standard of play.
“I think we’re hungry,” Wagner stated during a Zoom press conference with reporters. “I think we can look back defensively, from last year, and really know that we didn’t play to the level that we could’ve played. We don’t want to lower the standard. The standard is set. We want to make sure that we reach that standard and push that standard up. I plan on being better. I think our defense plans on being better. I feel like that gives us a lot of optimism.”
A far cry from the "Legion of Boom" units that dominated the league from 2012 to 2015, Seattle gave up 24.9 points per game, ranking 22nd in the NFL. They gave up nearly five yards per carry, finishing 26th overall in DVOA defending the run. Though they were slightly better with a 15th overall ranking in DVOA against the pass, an underwhelming pass rush ranked 31st in pressure rate and sack rate.
Even considering his tackle numbers, Wagner didn't have the best season of his career either. Per Pro Football Reference, he missed 10 tackles last season, an uncharacteristically high number for the perennial All-Pro. Quarterbacks also posted a 108.2 passer rating targeting him in coverage, completing 80 percent of their passes for 657 yards and two touchdowns.
While still receiving a respectable 76.1 grade from Pro Football Focus, Wagner's below-average 65.7 coverage grade fell well short of his normal standards. In 2018, he received an elite 95.3 grade in the same category.
After trading for Jadeveon Clowney and signing Ziggy Ansah in free agency, Wagner and the Seahawks simply didn't come close to meeting lofty expectations. Injuries played a part, of course, but the group didn't seem to gel as hoped.
Reflecting on last season as well as looking towards the future, the star defender emphasized developing chemistry on defense matters just as much as pure talent.
“We’ve had multiple seasons where our defense, if you look at it on paper, you sit there and look down at the list and say, ‘Oh, this defense should perform like this,’” Wagner remarked. “And we don’t necessarily perform to that expectation. How things look on paper is just paper. But until we kind of get out there and practice together, be around one another and grow, that’s kind of where you get everything.”
In regards to why fans should be optimistic about the defense taking a step forward next season, Wagner immediately cited the return of Quandre Diggs. Acquired from the Lions before the trade deadline, he immediately provided Seattle's defense with a boost as the team's new starting free safety.
Even with Clowney being unsigned, the Seahawks have also addressed the pass rush by re-signing Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa along with drafting Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson. In the secondary, cornerback Quinton Dunbar has flashed Pro Bowl talent when healthy and could take his game to the next level with his new team.
While that group may lack the star power of the players acquired last offseason, those additions coupled with the presence of Diggs for a full season have Wagner fired up about the potential for Seattle's defense in 2020. He views last season as an aberration and expects a strong bounce back campaign once they return to the field.
“Having somebody like Q. Diggs for a whole season will change things and it’s just one example. I think we have great leadership. I think we’re hungry. Personally, I can’t wait to get back out there on the field and do what we’ve always been doing.”