RENTON, WA - Despite now being 15 games into his tenure with the team with a $70 million extension in tow, Jamal Adams and the Seahawks are somehow still figuring out how to maximize his unique skill set defensively.
Fielding questions from reporters on Monday following a disappointing 33-30 overtime loss to Tennessee, coach Pete Carroll indicated Seattle has been able to do some of the things it wants to do with Adams schematically. But after two regular season games so far, he feels the team has work left to do to best deploy their Swiss army knife and the player has much to learn as he continues growing into a still-evolving role on defense.
“We’re both learning. He’s learning too," Carroll explained. "He’s learning how we’re using him and how to take advantage of the opportunities that he’s getting. He’s really an aggressive player, so he really goes for it. He has to figure out how to manage that to fit in with his assignments. There’s more stuff to do with him. We haven’t called everything that we have, but he’s going to continue to be a massive part of it and continue to be moved around.”
Known for his infectious energy and the exuberant passion in which he plays the game, Adams excitement may have gotten the better of him at times against the Titans. As Carroll noted, he remains in the process of finding the right balance between playing with his hair on fire and still executing his assignments within the confines of Seattle's scheme.
Most notably, Carroll called out Adams in his post-game press conference on Sunday for his part on a long touchdown run by Derrick Henry early in the fourth quarter. Coming on the blitz, he got crack blocked by the receiver inside, allowing the star back to bounce outside to his left and sprint past cornerback Tre Flowers and safety Quandre Diggs for a crowd-silencing 60-yard score.
"We were too aggressive on the edge," Carroll assessed. "Just got Jamal fired up about taking a shot at something and he, the combination of how we played the edge right there, the ball bounced and he's been doing that for years, he takes off and gets on the edge and nobody can take him down. All day long we fought to not let that happen and then it finally did."
This was far from the first time Adams's overaggressiveness wound up hurting Seattle. Last year, he was learning a new defense on the fly and mistakes were expected, especially after an abbreviated training camp with no preseason games or traditional offseason program. There were occasional lapses in coverage and missed run fits, but the team could live with those miscues due to his tremendous contributions rushing the passer.
Through the Seahawks first two games, Adams has produced 15 tackles and Pro Football Focus credited him with four run stops classified as "failures" for the offense, but the three-time All-Pro has yet to make any game-changing plays, including as a pass rusher. Coming off a record-setting year with 9.5 sacks in just 12 games, he hasn't registered a pressure in eight quarters of play, with his lone quarterback hit being nullified by a roughing the passer penalty in Sunday's defeat.
While Adams hasn't been overly effective when blitzing through two games, a big reason why his pass rushing productivity has taken a nose dive has simply been the lack of opportunities. With an improved defensive line, Seattle has preferred rushing only four most of the time and he has only been sent after the quarterback 13 times on 164 total snaps during the first two weeks. That equates to an eight percent blitz rate.
When Adams took down Adrian Wilson's sack record for defensive backs a year ago, the Seahawks blitzed him nearly twice as much, in part out of necessity with the front line struggling to generate pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, he amassed 34 pressures on 104 rush attempts, generating pressure on nearly one out of every three blitzes. Out of players with 80 or more rushes, he received the highest "pass rush productivity" rating (18.7), which measures pressure created on a per snap basis with more emphasis on sacks.
Still, despite his incredible efficiency in 2020, Carroll didn't seem too keen on the idea of increasing how often the Seahawks send him as an additional rusher on Monday.
“There’s more to do with him, but we’re moving him around a lot. He has a lot of opportunities. I think he rushed about seven times yesterday. We like him working the passing game aspect when we can. We can’t do it a lot, but we can do it some.”
Compared to a year ago, based on PFF's positional data, there's no question the Seahawks have been using Adams a bit more traditionally from a safety standpoint. In 2020, he lined up in the box or played on the defensive line on 57 percent of the 784 defensive snaps he played and only dropped back to free safety 19 percent of the time. This season, however, his box/defensive line snap percentages have gone down nearly 12 percent and he's been classified as a free safety on 39 percent of his 164 snaps thus far.
Less snaps playing near the line of scrimmage has played a key role in limiting how often Adams has had his number called as a blitzer. Instead, he's been playing off the ball more frequently with Seattle using more two-deep looks than in the past, blending in fire zone blitzes that drop a defensive lineman back into coverage as well.
In Adams's defense, he has played much better in coverage this year than he did in his first season with the Seahawks. During the first two games, he has been targeted five times, allowing four receptions for a measly 28 yards. He hasn't given up any explosives and he's done a good job locking up opposing receivers and tight ends out of a variety of looks.
But on the flip side, Adams still hasn't been able to make any plays on the football, bringing a long-time criticism of his game back into focus. He hasn't registered a pass breakup or an interception and last year, he had just two pass breakups and couldn't reel in a pick. Making $17 million per season on his record-breaking deal, if he isn't going to be featured as a rusher, he has to become a factor generating turnovers somehow to justify the investment.
Which begs the question: for as talented as Adams is—and he's absolutely one of the best safeties in football when used correctly—are the Seahawks stuck in a position where they are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?
Now in his second season with the team, the Seahawks should have a clear, defined idea what Adams role will be on their defense at this juncture. That obviously can't be him blitzing every play. But when you give up two first-round picks and a third-round pick to acquire a star player of his caliber, you should already have a concrete plan for how to utilize him before signing off on the trade to begin with and unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case.
Even after Seattle's front office backed up the Brinks truck to re-sign Adams in August after a lengthy hold-in in training camp, all parties are still feeling each other out trying to make the most of this courtship. That's far from an ideal situation considering everything the franchise gave up to bring him into the fold and invested to retain him for the foreseeable future.
It's still early and there's ample time for Adams and the Seahawks to figure things out. He showed last year what kind of a game changer he can be in spurts and the team seemed to have a better handle on how to optimize his strengths in the second half.
But after a somewhat slow start, the honeymoon period is over and there's 70 million reasons why there can't be any more excuses at this point. Carroll and his coaching staff need to do a better job of putting the player in the best position to succeed, while Adams must be more disciplined carrying out his assignments and generate the type of impactful plays superstars are expected to make in this league.