With Seahawks training camp set to kick off later this month, Seahawks.com is taking a look at 12 of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2020 season. Today, we kick things off with a look at a defense trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2019 season, and tomorrow we'll focus on ways the offense could evolve in 2020.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider built a defensive juggernaut in Seattle, a combination of talent, scheme and swagger that helped lead the Seahawks to consecutive Super Bowls while also making them first team in the Super Bowl era to lead the NFL in scoring defense for four straight seasons.
The Seahawks were not that type of team on defense in 2019, however. Yes, the defense was outstanding at times, and it forced a lot of turnovers, but overall the numbers show a defense that didn't live up to its own high standards.
The Seahawks ranked 26th in total defense, 22nd in scoring defense, and they gave up 130 explosive plays (runs of 12 or more yards or passes of 16 or more), the most allowed in the Carroll/Schneider era. Seattle's pass rush, while not the only cause of the defensive inconsistencies, was one of the most obvious issues, producing 28 sacks, tied for the second fewest in the NFL in 2019.
"We were not consistent," Carroll said a day after his team's season ended in Green Bay. "Too many explosive plays of various natures. For the most part, we had problems on the edge. We had containment issues. We found that the offenses really put the ball on the perimeter against us a lot. That does challenge us in some ways. You'll see some things be adjusted in the course of the offseason for that. Just the style of offense that we were up against was a little bit different than it's been."
The Seahawks still had some very strong defensive performances in 2019—particularly when at full strength on the defensive line and after the midseason addition of safety Quandre Diggs—and overall Seattle had a strong season, winning 11 games and finishing inches short of an NFC West title, but the Seahawks know that if they're going to live up to their own expectations in 2020, they need to be a better, more consistent team on defense.
"We're hungry," All-Pro linebacker and defensive captain Bobby Wagner said earlier this offseason. "We can look back defensively from last year and really know that we didn't play to the level that we could've played. We don't want to lower the standard. The standard is set, and we want to make sure that we reach that standard and push that standard up. So I plan on being better, our defense plans on being better. I feel like that gives us a lot of optimism."
So how does the improvement the Seahawks want to see happen in 2020? For starters, Carroll said it starts with him and the coaching staff doing a self-evaluation in the spring, as is the case every offseason. Sometimes the result can be schematic changes, sometimes it leads to personnel changes, or finding ways to better utilize existing personnel. But regardless of the specifics, Carroll knows he and his coaching staff need to make the necessary adjustments to improve.
"There'll be some of everything," he said. "A little bit of everything. We're going to work hard at it. Some of it will be going back to things we've done, some of the things will be moving forward. I'm really excited to go about it. It's difficult to adjust some things in the middle of the year."
And of course in any NFL offseason, there is plenty of personnel change as well, and the Seahawks hope the moves they made this offseason will lead to better things on defense. To address their pass-rush, the Seahawks signed veteran pass rushers Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa, and they drafted defensive ends Darrell Taylor in the second round and Alton Robinson in the fifth round. And as of early July, there are also a number of quality pass rushers still available in free agency, including 2019 Seahawks defensive standout Jadeveon Clowney, so the Seahawks could still add more help there.
Looking to add speed and playmaking ability, the Seahawks added linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the first round of this year's draft, and there are multiple players from last year's draft class who should be poised for bigger roles this year (more on this topic next week). Full seasons from Diggs, a midseason trade acquisition last year, and Jarran Reed, who was suspended to start last season, should make a difference as well, and in free agency, the Seahawks brought in cornerback Quinton Dunbar to compete at cornerback.
None of those changes guarantee anything, but those moves, along with the leadership from veterans like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright and the expected growth of young players drafted over the past few years, are enough for the Seahawks to be optimistic that they can get back to having an elite defense after a down year in 2019.
"Pretty pumped up about it," Carroll said. "Getting Bruce to come back was a big deal. Bruce is such a versatile football player can play Sam and Leo and rush in nickel. That was a really good start to it for the defensive side. To hit it with Jordyn inside, he's going to be an extraordinary football player for us, and he's got flexibility to play around—we'll figure out how to fit him in best. To get both guys on the edges that, I think Darrell and Alton are going to be guys that are going to really give us some juice. We've been fortunate, and we needed to get speed on the edge and we got it. And just the speed that Brooks brings, I mean he flies, man. That 4.4 shows up on film. For years it has shown up. He has been a very well-established football player, being an all-conference guy for four years. You could see him way back when, so its natural, it going to carry right into our game too, so it just makes us that much better. So I think we've made some good moves, and the guys are really fitting in."
Check out photos of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner from throughout his ten seasons in Seattle.