The Seahawks got back on the winning track with a Week 13 win over the Rams, and next up is a home game against the Carolina Panthers. But before we turn our attention to that game, it's time once again to answer questions from you, the fans. As always, thanks to everyone who asked questions this week, and apologies if I couldn't get to yours this time around. And remember, in addition to asking questions via Twitter, you can also submit them online at Seahawks.com/mailbag.
@RycheAndRoll asks, "For Defensive Rookie of the Year, Tariq Woolen, Sauce Gardner or someone else?"
A: Woolen, obviously.
OK, so the team website might be a little biased, but as good as Gardner has been for the Jets, a great case can be made for Woolen, who leads all cornerbacks and is tied for the NFL Lead with six interceptions. And according to Pro Football Reference, opposing quarterbacks have just a 55.4 passer rating when targeting Woolen this season. Woolen also has a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown.
As for the "someone else" in this race, the other name to watch is No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, who has 6.0 sacks and two interceptions for the Lions. There's plenty of season left for all three to strengthen their case, and the Woolen vs. Gardner debate will no doubt heat up when the two teams meet in Week 17, but for now Seahawks fans should be enjoying the fact that a player selected in the fifth round is very much in the running for Rookie of the Year with two of the first four picks in the 2022 draft.
Speaking of Woolen…
@AndrewHobbo asks, "Woolen's pick Sunday was his first in a little while. Do the stats show that opposing teams are starting to target him less?"
A: I'm not sure I'd call it a while when his previous interception came two games earlier against Tampa Bay, but your point is well taken that the ball has been coming his way less often in recent games. Look no further than the chart of passes thrown to Davante Adams when the Raiders came to town. With one of the best receivers on the planet, the Raiders basically decided to exclusively have him line up and run routes away from Woolen.
As Carroll and Woolen have both discussed, a challenge for a cornerback is staying engaged in the game and being ready even when the ball isn't often coming his way, and as Sunday's interception showed, he has been able to do just that.
@PastorJohnBatts asks, "I've been wondering why teams have been able to pick apart our defense over the past few games? It seems like our defense is back to allowing a huge amount of offensive yardage. What has changed?"
A: It's fair to express concern about the Seahawks defense, especially after back-to-back losses to the Buccaneers and Raiders, but despite a slow start against the Rams, the defense did show signs of progress.
As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has discussed this week, the defense made some pretty significant adjustments after the Rams drove down the field for a touchdown and field goal on their first two drives, and after those two scores, the Rams' possessions the rest of the day went punt, interception, field goal, punt, punt, field goal, touchdown, interception. Is that the type of dominance fans would like to see? No, but it is progress after a couple of rough outings, and by the end of the game, the Rams had 319 yards, again, not a dominant effort for Seattle, but improvement after allowing 419 yards against Tampa Bay and 576 against Las Vegas.
And while the Rams' 171 rushing yards are far more than the Seahawks want to be giving up, it is worth noting that a lot of that came on the types of runs—fly sweeps, bootleg quarterback keepers, etc.—that the Rams do better than just about anyone else, with lead running back Cam Akers being held to just 3.5 yards per carry. None of this is to say there isn't still room to grow for Seattle's defense, which will face some tough challenges down the stretch, most notably against the 49ers' rushing attack and against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, but there were signs of progress on Sunday.
"We played better across the board," Carroll said. "They didn't throw for a lot of yards in this game, and they were able to run the ball. They mixed their style of runs with the perimeter stuff that kind of pecked away at us. The QB keeping the ball on the boots, and their flat plays, and that kind of stuff. In general, I thought we just played more solid football. The first two drives didn't feel very much in control of it, but after that, we were able to slow it down. We had the one drive late in the game, but other than that, I think they scored a touchdown on one of the last eight drives or something like that. So, we just played better."
Robert Stout from Kent asked, "Is it true Rashaad Penny said during the Rams game that he could make it back this season?" @wenfot also asks if Penny could return for the playoffs.
A: Penny, who is rehabbing in the Los Angeles area, was at the game, and apparently he did tell some folks that he has a chance to get back, perhaps for a playoff run.
Carroll was asked about this on Monday, and while he didn't rule out a possible Penny return, he did say the running back still has a long way to go and isn't even running yet, so I wouldn't get your hopes up too high just yet.
"Well you've got to love his optimism," Carroll said. "He hasn't run yet. Who knows what's going to happen. He's still a ways from getting back, but I love that he feels really good about the process that he's in right now. That's a good sign."
@HolliWinters asks, "With Ryan Neal banged up, do you think we'll see Johnathan Abram this coming Sunday?"
A: Carroll said Neal is hopeful he can bounce back from a swollen knee and play this weekend, so perhaps the Seahawks won't need to test their safety depth this week, but if Neal can't go, my hunch would be that that Teez Tabor, who took over at that spot for Neal last weekend, would be the next man up now that Josh Jones is on injured reserve. Tabor has the advantage of having been in Seattle's defense a lot longer than Abraham, and it might not be a fair ask to have him step into a starting role less than two weeks after joining the team. That being said, if there is any question about Neal, the Seahawks will want Abraham to be up to speed in case he's needed, and my guess is that, with Jones out, Abraham would be active on Sunday and at the very least contributing on special teams.