What We Watched – 2016 Seahawks Defensive Review

2016 SEASON REVIEW: DEFENSE

I think most of us would agree that the Seattle Seahawks thrust themselves onto the national stage and tore open their Super Bowl Window in the 2012 season. I think most of us would also agree that it was the Defense, more than anything else, that set the identity of the team and elevated them to perennial title threat.

What we saw in 2016 was a Defensive Unit that at times was just about perfect, but in the end was not up to their own standard. There were position groups that showed a lot of improvement, but injuries and some poor play or lack of depth saw the team slip to 5th in DVOA 9th in weighted DVOA. That is clearly still playing to a high level, but it is the worst they’ve played in 6 seasons. Their 2nd overall rank against the run was great to see, but slipping to 13th against the pass is what ended up sinking them, and it showed during the loss to the Falcons in the playoffs. That vaunted Legion of Boom was not up to their own standard by the end of the year.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Player

Tackles

TFL

Sacks

FF

FR

PD

Frank Clark

47

6

10

2

1

0

Tony McDaniel

43

3

0

0

1

3

Cliff Avril

39

1

11.5

5

0

3

Ahtyba Rubin

39

5

1

3

0

1

Michael Bennett

34

9

5

0

0

0

Jarran Reed

34

1

1.5

0

0

3

Cassius Marsh

22

2

3

1

1

0

Looking Back:

Cliff Avril built a lot of houses in 2016. 11.5 of them to be exact. I’m not sure how they handled that half of a house, but it was enough houses to get to his well deserved first Pro Bowl. It is telling though, that Avril had 10 sacks after the game against the Eagles in Week 11 and then just 1.5 in the final 6 games. This shows that Avril, at 6’3 260lbs, wore down from usage a bit. It didn’t help that the team leaned heavily on him while Michael Bennett battled nagging and more than nagging injuries all year as he totaled just 5 sacks (his lowest as a Seahawk). The upside though is that Frank Clark saw increased snaps in his 2nd year in the league, and matched it with increased production. His 10 sacks were spread throughout most of the year and he showed a blend of power and speed:

Frank_Clark_Brings_Down_Tom_Brady_By_The_Jersey_For_A_Sack

In the middle Ahtyba Rubin was once again an anchor for the defense, starting all 16 games and being the stout anchor in the run game. Next to him, Tony McDaniel returned to have a very solid season and Jarran Reed put in some fairly productive play in limited snaps. However, this is also part of the problem. Due to injury and lack of depth, these 6 players (Avril, Clark, Rubin, McDaniel, Reed, Bennett) took nearly all the snaps on the line. The run defense remained stout all year, but the pass rush slowed down in the second half of the season and players getting hurt and running out of gas certainly played a role.

Looking Ahead:

Michael Bennett received a contract extension, and with a healthy season there is no reason to believe his production will be as low as 2016. However, at 32 years old it is also reasonable to believe he will need a few less snaps. Frank Clark showed in 2016 he can take some of those snaps, and Cassius Marsh is likely to handle some as well, but don’t be surprised if the team looks for added depth in a draft that is well stocked with a variety of Defensive Ends that can help out in the run and the pass.

Defensive Tackle also suffered from a lack of depth in the rotation. Throw in the fact that Tony McDaniel, who started 11 games in 2016, is a Free Agent in addition to being 32 years old. That leaves Rubin and Reed with some possible help from 2016 5th Round Pick Quinton Jefferson if he can stay healthy. Jefferson is a nice piece as he can play both as a big DE and a 3-Technique DT. However, depth on the Defensive Line is both a need for the Seahawks and a strength of the 2017 NFL Draft. Don’t be surprised to see 2 Defensive Linemen being picked up in the Draft addition to some low cost Free Agents to compete for depth. If the right player is there, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Day 1 or Day 2 Draft Pick spent on the Defensive Line.

LINEBACKERS

Player

Tackles

TFL

Sacks

FF

FR

PD

INT

Bobby Wagner

167

6

4.5

0

1

3

1

KJ Wright

126

10

4

1

1

5

0

Brock Coyle

16

0

1

0

0

0

0

Mike Morgan

12

2

0

0

0

0

0

Kevin Pierre-Louis

12

0

0

0

0

0

0

Looking Back:

Bobby Wagner continued to be Bobby Wagner, which is to say he continued to produce in every possible way and play like one of the best ILBs in the NFL. He was again an efficient pass rusher, showed solid coverage skills (especially in zone), and was elite in his ability to read, react, and make tackles in the run game. Bobby Wagner just makes tackles. Life would be frustrating if you were a Runningback who had to play against Bobby Wagner. Joining him this year, and finally answering the question of “What on Earth does KJ Wright have to do to make a Pro Bowl?” is KJ Wright, who enjoyed what was his best season so far in the NFL. He set a career high in both Tackles and Sacks, and just watching the tape he looked the best he ever has in coverage. This version of KJ Wright is a piece of what helps reduce the team’s over the middle coverage issues. He was light out this year.

So, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad? Because when the team played a 3rd Linebacker in 2016 the results were mixed at best. Mike Morgan, Cassius Marsh, Brock Coyle, and Kevin Pierre-Louis all had some time trying replace Bruce Irvin, and had varying degrees of success. Morgan was hurt a lot. Marsh was high motor with some production, but limited in coverage ability. Coyle looked like a career backup and special teams guy, and KPL was the definition of inconsistent when he wasn’t just hurt and unavailable.

Looking Ahead:

There are two ways the team could go here. The team could run more of a base Nickel package where you see a 3rd Safety on the field or a Linebacker/Safety hybrid. This would make sense with how the team loves to use Kam Chancellor in the box, and how much he excels in that role. It could also mean picking up a coverage safety who could play over the slot receiver. However, it also would not be surprising to see the team try to go out in the Draft and replace Irvin after declaring last year’s plan a mistake. In this case you’d look to see a player that is an athletic 3-4 edge rusher style Linebacker, which would allow the team to scheme a bit more like they had in 2015 and earlier. It would seem to me that the team is going to stock up on depth at both Linebacker and Defensive Back, and see what the players force their hands on. I’m sure none of use are surprised that the team response is something along the lines of “let them compete.”

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Players

Tackles

TFL

Sacks

PD

INT

FF

FR

TD

Kam Chancellor

85

4

0

8

2

1

0

0

DeShawn Shead

81

0

0

14

1

1

0

0

Richard Sherman

58

2

0

13

4

0

1

0

Jeremy Lane

49

0

0

3

0

0

0

0

Earl Thomas

48

0

0

10

2

0

1

1

Kelcie McCray

39

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

Steven Terrell

27

0

0

1

0

0

1

0

Neiko Thorpe

19

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Looking Back:

There was a big question mark slotted in across from Richard Sherman as the 2016 season began. Would DeShawn Shead take a step forward? Would Jeremy Lane come back from injury and show the promise he had at the end of 2015? Well… kinda? Shead showed that he was a very functional Corner in Seattle’s system. He wasn’t a playmaker, but he made the plays the team needed him to make and was reliable. On the other hand, Lane was not reliable. He seemed to gamble and get burned quite a bit, and made some read and respond mistakes that were costly for the team.

What the team didn’t anticipate was where other questions would arise. Kam Chancellor started the year out looking like the best Strong Safety in the NFL and in all had a good year, but for the big 3 DBs he was the only one. Earl Thomas started the year a bit off, but got back on track only to suffer a season ending injury just before the playoffs, and when the team lost him you saw just how much of the pass defense runs through him. His range is elite, and it was very much missed. Richard Sherman looked a step slower much of the season, lacking that closing burst he showed in the past, and we found out nagging injuries were to blame for that. Kelcie McCray and Steven Terrell were asked to step up and cover for hurt players, and while they were adequate and showed ability as backups, it was a clearly lower level of play and one the Seahawks could not overcome.

Looking Ahead:

That is what the team needs back. The team appears to be moving forward under the impression that Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor will be healthy and ready to go in 2016. If that ends up being the case, it would mean that Seattle automatically has one of the best Secondaries in the NFL. Kelcie McCray is gone, but Brad McDougald has been brought in to backup at Safety. However, with the injuries the team suffered, Shead appearing to be starting the season on the PUP List, and Jeremy Lane’s mixed levels of play, the team is likely not done adding to their DBs. As it so happens, this is a great year to need a Defensive Back in the draft. Look for a 1st or 2nd Round Pick to go to either a Cornerback to play on the outside across from Sherm, or a Corner/Safety to play in the slot. If Nickel is shifting to more the base defense for the Seahawks, adding a coverage Safety or elite Slot Corner would make a lot of sense. Either way, I would expect a 1st or 2nd Round Pick to be spent on a DB, along with one of their three 3rd Round Picks. This is a position that could easily return to being a core strength of the team again, but getting younger would be a smart idea as the core is moving into the middle of their second NFL contracts and that 30 year old mark creeps up.

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