Football

The key to turning around Seahawks’ defense? Players say it starts with better discipline.

NFL coaches and players talk about consistency being a benchmark of success.

Well, having passed the halfway point of the season, the Seahawks' defense has the consistency part down.

After the first week of the NFL season the Seahawks ranked 23rd in the NFL in total defense.

Nine weeks later, after a little bit of variance here and there, Seattle stands at almost the same spot – 25th – allowing 380.8 yards per game (more than 100 yards more per game than the 273.6 of the 2013 Super Bowl title team).

But that obviously isn't the kind of consistency the Seahawks wanted.

More ominous, after playing a slate of games that has included four of the league's bottom 10 scoring teams (all teams the Seahawks beat) Seattle now plays its last seven games against teams that rank in the top half in the NFL in scoring, starting with Monday against the San Francisco 49ers, who are third in the NFL in scoring with an average of 29.4.

So, what will have to change to turn things around?

Seattle coaches were intentionally vague about that this week, with defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., smiling and saying he didn't want to delve into any specifics for game-plan reasons.

But Norton acknowledged that Seattle won't win too many more games this year allowing 34 points and 418 yards (335 passing), as it did Sunday against Tampa Bay. It was the second-most points Seattle has allowed in a win in the Pete Carroll era, topped only by the 41-38 victory over Deshaun Watson and Houston in 2017.

"I think we all walked away from that game wanting to improve in certain areas," Norton said Thursday. "Nothing specifically. We did a lot of good things, but obviously the passing yards is something we always want to get down. We're at that point in the season where we feel like we should be improving in certain areas. As the games go, we should see a lot more improvement in that area."

That's the hope, anyway.

The only two Seattle defensive players left from the Super Bowl teams – linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright – said after Sunday's game they felt the biggest problem was discipline.

After watching the film, they said they stood by that assertion.

"Yeah, I definitely feel like the discipline was the thing," Wagner said. "We're in a position where there's a lot of guys playing for the first time with one another and things of that nature. I still think it's trusting the other person is going to be there. It takes time, but I feel like we have that capability, we have that in us. We just have to do it consistently; we can do it one play and not do it another."

Discipline is a key concept in all aspects of football. But it's always been especially critical the way the Seahawks play defense, with players often saying it's as if they are all tied on a string – if one player goes out of position it can pull all of them astray. On Sunday, one of the most notable ways that failing came to light was in the team's zone and defense and players either failing to react quickly enough or failing to be in the right spots.

"It's guys just taking turns not doing right is what it comes down to," Wright said. "If you just simply do right, it will all play itself out. It's just a lack of discipline. We've got to trust each other. Trust each other that they will do their job."

And the reality is, a lack of discipline and trust might be the best-case scenario for what ails the Seattle defense, because that's something that's fixable.

It's more worrisome if the Seahawks simply aren't good enough physically.

The Seahawks have gotten largely solid play from their linebackers. And it was expected the secondary might continue to have some growing pains with a largely young group and one that has had a revolving door at safety, where a team that for about six years had one of the best and most stable combos in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas has started four different duos in nine games.

Most disappointing has been the pass rush – Seattle has just 15 sacks, tied for 26th in the NFL despite the additions of former Pro Bowl ends Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney in the offseason. The Seahawks' inability to get much from their four-man rush against Tampa Bay forced them to blitz more as the game wore on – their only two sacks came from linebackers Wagner and Mychal Kendricks.

Clowney has played well overall, and his two sacks are tied for the team lead. Ansah has been more sporadic, with Carroll saying this week that his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery caused Ansah to lose weight and strength and that he weighs in the 250s compared with his listed 275.

Asked what he's seeing from the team's pass rush, Norton gave a wry smile and said, "The same thing you're seeing."

"It's an area that we need to improve – that's all I can say. We'd like to be more productive, and that's something that we're constantly working on."

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