Opponents in a big rush to find Seahawks’ failures on defense

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comNovember 29, 2012 

Linebacker K.J. Wright did one of those dramatic exhalations that made his lips flutter like a winded thoroughbred.

He’d been asked about the Seattle defense in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss at Miami. He then shook his head and offered a poetically brief description: “Total meltdown.”

And this was by a unit that had been so icily impervious to such melting during the early part of the season that many of us suggested this could be the best defense in franchise history.

But to give up 227 yards in the fourth quarter to Miami, a lower-tier offense with a rookie quarterback who had thrown five interceptions in the two previous games? Yeah, meltdown covers it.

As was the case in Detroit a month ago, the Seahawks not only blew a late lead, they blew it twice in the fourth quarter, this time surrendering 17 points in the last eight minutes.

“We can not afford to have letdowns like we had Sunday,” linebacker Leroy Hill said in the locker room Wednesday before the Seahawks set out to prepare for a tester against the Bears in Chicago on Sunday.

The season stats are a little misleading because in terms of total yards, the conventional measuring stick, the Seahawks are still rank fifth in the league. Their previous best seasonal ranking came in 1984, when they finished sixth in yards allowed.

But it only takes a couple late-game collapses to make the total-yardage metric meaningless.

Perhaps the most relevant numbers are these: Last year, the Seahawks held opponents to 3.8 yards per rush. This season, the average is 4.6. The inability to stop the run changes almost everything about how the defensive scheme can operate.

“The (defense against) the running game has not been as effective consistently,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We’ve found our way into making enough errors on runs that we’ve allowed for explosive plays.”

A couple of explanations. As it turns out, defensive end Red Bryant, the most stout component in the run-stop plan, has been playing with a foot injury that might cause him to miss Sunday’s game.

Bryant has been solid in most games this season, but his overall impact is not what it was last season when he blocked three field goals and a PAT, and had two interceptions in addition to being an immovable object at the line of scrimmage.

Another issue against the rush on occasion is when linebackers fail to fill the correct gaps. For as many plays as young linebackers like Bobby Wagner and Wright make, they’ve also failed to get off blocks on plays that turned into big runs by opponents.

Wright and Hill appeared to be out of position or just physically out-run on certain pass coverages against Miami, and veteran nickel back Marcus Trufant has also looked a step slow at times.

Mismatches at those positions are made more vulnerable in the absence of a pass rush. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked only once and hit just one other time.

The Seahawks’ sacks total for the season is fine, but they’ve come in bunches, and often not when most critical. Top pass-rushers Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin have combined for a modest 31/2 sacks in the past five games.

“We’ve done better on third downs, which was an area in the last month we needed to reel in some,” Carroll said on a positive note.

But Carroll also cited problems with attention to details and fitting the game plan to match some of the opponents’ strengths. “We’ve usually stopped the featured aspect of the stuff that we’ve intended to, but that’s showed up lately.”

At this point, Carroll considers the deficiency a matter of execution rather than game plan.

But giving up nearly 6 yards per rush in the past five games? And 31 points in the fourth quarter of their last two losses?

Yeah, those qualify as meltdowns. But what now?

“The leaders gathered us together,” Wright said. “The stuff we’re doing is unacceptable. This is something we can’t allow to continue. We can’t let offenses … put up points like that. We need to finish these last five weeks strong and it has to start this week in Chicago.”

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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