Now that the 2021 season has officially come to an end with Super Bowl LVI in the books, it's time to look ahead to an offseason that will help shape the Seahawks' fortune in 2022. With free agency kicking off next month and the draft following in April, Seahawks.com is taking a position-by-position look at where the team stands. On Tuesday we kicked things off with the offensive line, and today we turn our attention to the defensive line. Check back Thursday for a look at where things stand at tight end.
From a run-stopping standpoint, there was a lot to like about the Seahawks' defensive line play in 2021. Led by the interior-line trio of Al Woods, Poona Ford and Bryan Mone, the Seahawks held opponents to just 3.8 yards per rush attempt, the second best mark in the NFL last season.
On the other hand, the pass rush didn't live up to the high expectations placed on that unit coming into the season after a strong finish to the 2020 campaign. One bright spot early in the season was the play of Darrell Taylor, who after missing his entire rookie season with a leg injury, started the 2021 season with four sacks in his first five games, but other than Taylor, the pass rush struggled to get going until Carlos Dunlap II and Rasheem Green heated up late in the season.
Question to answer this offseason: Can the pass rush get off to a better start?
In 2020, the Seahawks pass rush struggled to produce during the first half of the season, but then, sparked in part by the addition of Dunlap, they had one the league's most productive pass rushes in the second half of the year. With Dunlap back in 2021and with Taylor coming back from the injury that cost him his rookie season, there was understandably a lot of optimism about the pass rush, but once again that unit got off to a slow start, only to once again finish the year strong, recording 13 sacks in the final four games of the season.
Even with that late surge, the Seahawks still ranked 22nd in the league in sacks with 34, and as Pete Carroll noted, that inability to better affect opposing quarterbacks was also a factor in the Seahawks finishing the season with only 18 takeaways, which ranked 25th in the league.
"The lack of turnovers we were able to create, usually those come when you're ahead in games, and if you're well ahead, the ball gets more exposed, and you get more turnovers and that feeds off itself," Carroll said in his end-of-season press conference. "Also, you've got to create them, and you create them with pass rush. The quarterback is the number one critical aspect of turning the football over.
"We need to improve our pass rush. That is an area that we need to get better in. You saw how dynamic it is when you get going like we did yesterday, but we didn't have that consistency and that is the important part of it. So many things feed off of that, it is the disruption of the quarterback that leads to all of the issues on the positive side for the defense, so we have to, whatever we can do, we have to work there. That's one of the focal points for me."
So with that, a big focus in 2022 will be getting more out of the pass rush, and doing so throughout the season, not just late in the year. The defense figures to look a bit different under new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt, and he promised to deploy an aggressive defense, so some of the pass rush improvement could come from scheme, but the Seahawks will also hope to get more out of their personnel, both in terms players currently on the roster and whoever they might add in free agency or the draft.
Taylor's first season was encouraging, and if Dunlap, who had seven of his team-leading 8.5 sacks in the final four weeks of the season, can pick up where he left off, that those two represent a good starting point for the pass rush, but it's going to take a collective effort to get that pass rush to where the Seahawks need it to be in order for the defense to be at its best in 2022.
On the free agency front, the Seahawks will have decisions to make on a couple of key players, most notably Al Woods, who played a huge role in the success of the run defense, and Rasheem Green, who had 6.5 sacks last season, including 3.5 during a three-game stretch late in the season.
A look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks defensive tackle Al Woods from the 2021 season.
Biggest reason for optimism in 2022: The emergence of Darrell Taylor and the stout run D.
While the pass rush overall wasn't what the Seahawks were hoping for in 2021, a very big positive to come out of the season was the play of Taylor, a 2020 second-round pick who missed his entire rookie season with a leg injury. Taylor finished with 6.5 sacks, plus a handful of highlight-reel hits on run defense and in pass coverage, and while his sack production tapered off after a fast start there were more than enough standout moments in his first season to indicate that Taylor has huge upside as an edge rusher.
And while the Seahawks will be hoping to improve their pass rush, they don't have much to complain about when it comes to the run defense. Playing with more five-man fronts, a look that could be common next season if Hurtt wants to add more 3-4 elements to the defense—while a 3-4 implies three defensive linemen, the two outside linebackers are on the line of scrimmage as edge defenders, essentially creating a five-man front—the Seahawks had one of the NFL's best run defenses, holding opponents to just 3.8 yards per rush. The NFL has become a more pass-heavy league in recent years, but stopping the run is still important, and the Seahawks, who held six of their final nine opponents to a sub-4.0 yards-per-carry average, are set up well to continue that trend in 2022, both from a personnel and schematic standpoint.