Seahawks 2010 Season Preview Part III: Defense, Special Teams and Predictions
50 yard line on an american football field
Defense – Starters
Red Bryant* – LDE
Colin Cole – DT
Brandon Mebane – DT
Chris Clemons* – RDE
Aaron Curry – OLB
Lofa Tatupu – MLB
David Hawthorne* – OLB
Kelly Jennings – RCB
Lawyer Milloy* – SS
Earl Thomas* – FS
Marcus Trufant – LCB
* New starter
** Pro Bowl
Defense – Running Game
The Seahawks have changed their defensive philosophy from last season. This year, they are going to try and stop other teams from scoring. [Rim shot] Seriously, you can read more about the changes here. On one hand, they should be more stout up the middle with 320+ lb Red Bryant playing a DE role that is more like a third DT, and SAM LB Aaron Curry playing right over the TE. On the other hand, the alignment makes the Seahawks susceptible to sweeps and stretch plays as it will be hard for Curry and Bryant to contain wide runs. Chris Clemons is also an undersized DE on the right side, with an undersized WILL LB in David Hawthorne playing behind him. They may targets for power runs. The overall performance against the run in the pre-season was encouraging, highlighted by a fantastic showing in Minnesota against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings. The Seahawks were in the top-half of the NFL against the run last year. The goal should be to at least match that showing.
Defense – Passing Game
Any QB that had a pulse had their best game against the Seahawks in 2009. The team gave up a staggering 93.4 aggregate passer rating. Only four teams were worse. It should come as no surprise that lack of pass pressure was a huge factor. The team ranked 28th in sacks. The numbers show this is a serious trend. Chris Clemons is a better pass rusher than anyone the team featured last season, but fans should expect some frustration watching opposing QBs pat the ball on 3rd down before eventually finding a wide open receiver. The secondary is improved at safety and cornerback. A top 20 opponent passer rating is a reasonable goal, as is adding 5-7 sacks.
Defense – Defensive Line
Does anyone remember Marcus Tubbs? He was the 2004 first-round pick who anchored the defensive line during the Seahawks Super Bowl run, but saw his career end quickly due to injury soon after. His presence in the lineup represented a 30+ difference in rushing yards against. The Seahawks have been searching for his replacement ever since. Colin Cole came on last year, and was an average DT. Kevin Vickerson appeared to be an upgrade, but was cut this past weekend, likely due to salary and health concerns. DE Chris Clemons could be the first Seahawk defensive end to record more than 5.5 sacks since Patrick Kerney’s monster 14.5 sack 2007 campaign. He will be rushing the QB regularly, and will get more snaps than he ever has before. The combination of Clemons and DT Brandon Mebane caused serious havoc in the third pre-season game against the Vikings. Mebane played as well in that game as he has in his whole career. He largely vanished with the rest of the defense in 2009, but he has the talent to re-emerge. Red Bryant mans the left defensive end role, and could be a breakout player. He’s a very big man (325 lbs), with good quickness. Rookie Dexter Davis will see some time subbing for Clemons, and is a promising pass rusher. Fellow rookie EJ Wilson will spell Bryant. Depth overall is a concern, especially at the DT spots. This is a unit without a ton of upside, and their lack of top-shelf talent limits the potential of the defense.
Defense – Linebackers
The hyped trio of Aaron Curry, LeRoy Hill and Lofa Tatupu never stayed on the field long enough to judge how good they really are as a group. Hill and Tatupu were injured, and Curry was major disappointment. The best linebacker on the team was backup MLB David “Heater” Hawthorne who averaged a near NFL-best 9+ tackles during his stretch of late-season starts. Only All-Pro 49er LB Patrick Willis averaged more tackles/game than Hawthorne during that span. This linebacking corp was built for speed. It is highly dependent on a strong defensive line to keep lineman off the linebackers so that they can roam free to make tackles. Without that strong d-line, this unit has been largely ineffective.
Tatupu is entering a make-or-break season. He was special in 2005, and just above average in the seasons that followed. He needs to stay healthy, and he needs to make plays. Hawthorne doubled Tatupu’s tackle totals behind the same d-line after he went down. Tatupu tarnished his sparkling image with a DUI before last season, and I began to question if he was as hungry to prove himself as he once was. Signs were positive in his brief pre-season appearance that he may be back to Pro Bowl form. Nobody else on this unit can read plays and drop into coverage the way he can.
Curry is on his way to being a bust. Unlike other positions in the NFL like QB, great linebackers make an impact immediately. Look back across the past dozen Defensive Rookie of the Year awards, and you’ll see a slew of linebackers. Curry probably will never live up to the value of a #4 overall pick. He is not a great tackler, is not strong in coverage, and is not a natural pass rusher. His physical tools and motor are fantastic, so the hope is that the coaches can find a way to take advantage of what he has to offer. If Curry doesn’t flash this season, I expect the team to start looking for a replacement.
Hill will start the season injured and on the league suspension list. He accepted a significantly reduced salary to avoid being waived, and may be on the second unit when he does return. This guy is a beast if he can ever stay healthy. Not sure that will ever happen.
Hawthorne was great last season, but his only natural position is in the middle, and he won’t unseat Lofa this season. He’s too small to play WILL, but that’s where he’ll line up. He’s a forceful tackler, with a penchant for making plays.
There is talent here, but not dominant talent that can overcome deficiencies on the defensive line.
Defense – Secondary
Marcus Trufant was another Seahawk that missed much of 2009, and was not himself when he came back. Whispers about the end of the road started to pick up steam as he was abused by almost every receiver he faced. That won’t happen this year. Tru is back, and may even be better. He is playing with a swagger I’ve never seen from him, and is making plays to back it up. His return to form is a critical development for a unit that was barely an impediment to opposing QBs and receivers last season. Opposite him will be Kelly Jennings. Jennings is a bad DB. If cornerbacks were judged by how close they were to receivers when they made the catch, Jennings would be All World. The poor guy tries his best, but very rarely ever makes a play on the ball.
The team is hoping 4th round draft pick Walter Thurmond will take over that role sometime this season. Thurmond rose to the nickel back role after 2009 starter Josh Wilson was traded to Baltimore. Thurmond is a willing run supporter, and good tackler for a CB. He is also suspect in coverage, despite being everyone’s favorite story (he recovered from major knee surgery). Roy Lewis was the better cover corner, and was every bit the run supporter Thurmond was during the pre-season. Time will tell if Lewis becomes the surprise addition I think he is.
Safety Earl Thomas was the 14th overall pick in the draft. He is blessed with otherworldly speed. Rookie safeties, even the great ones, get fooled. Thomas will go through some growing pains, but gives the secondary a game changer. He likes to hit hard, but tends to throw his pads at the players more than wrapping up and driving through them. That kind of tackling will lead to shoulder injuries for a player his size if he’s not careful. Pairing him up with Lawyer Milloy is perfect for his development, and Milloy still has football left in him. He may end up being the team’s best blitzer when all is said and done. The improvement in this group as a whole should help give the pass rushers more time to get home.
Defense – Overall 2010 Outlook
This defense is incomplete and will have a hard time consistently getting off the field with a subpar pass rush and a defensive line that lacks top-end talent. It should make more plays and give up fewer points if key players can stay healthy, but fans should expect a ranking of 20+ overall.
Special Teams – Overall 2010 Outlook
Kicking and punting are in good hands. Coverage and kick return teams should be adequate to good, with lots of young athletes. This unit will be better than last year’s, and could end up being great if the returners and punter live up to their potential.
Scouting the NFC West
San Francisco 49ers
Everyone has the 49ers as favorites to win the division. This was an 8-8 team last year that lost to almost every team over .500. Alex Smith is a limited QB, and would be the worst QB to win the NFC West in well over a decade if they can pull it off. Patrick Willis is the player I’ve always wanted for the Hawks. It’s hard not to love watching him play. I wouldn’t be shocked to see this team finish with the same record as last year, but that may be enough to win the division.
St. Louis Rams
Sam Bradford is the real deal. He will be the best QB in our division within a few years. There is almost no talent surrounding him. Last place is nearly certain, but there will be some points scored by the offense.
Never count out division champs, especially repeat champs. Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin and Karlos Dansby are gone. Matt Leinart didn’t pan out as Warner’s replacement, so middling QB Derek Anderson fills the role. The defense has had the luxury of a special offense for the last couple of years. Giving up 30 points did not mean certain defeat. This year, the defense will be exposed, and will need to be better than it has been. Larry Fitzgerald, Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett are still the best trio of talent on an NFC West team. The head-to-head matchups with the 49ers will tell a lot.
Scouting The Opponents
REGULAR SEASON TOTAL: 8-8
Fans hate it when a team starts the season with no hope of winning the Super Bowl, but I’m here to tell you there is hope. It’s just a different kind of hope. There is a rare batch of QB talent scheduled to be available in next year’s draft. It is unlikely the Seahawks will ever reach another Super Bowl with Matt at QB. Whitehurst may be the answer, but I wouldn’t bet the franchise on it. Even if the team decides to go a different direction and draft an impact pass rusher or another cornerstone offensive lineman, the best chance for this team to return to glory is to lose this year. I have no interest in moral victory seasons that cost us a legitimate chance to be great. Even with that in mind, it’s hard to see how the Seahawks win fewer than seven games this year with such a fluffy schedule.
I’m looking forward to this season more than any one since 2005. These are the moments when you get to buy low as a fan, and watch the next generation of stars develop. Will Mike Williams be a Pro Bowler? Can Russell Okung lock down the left tackle spot? Is there a diamond in the rough we would never predict? It won’t be long before we’re wringing our hands over these youngsters rookie contracts running out. Enjoy this season. Things only get better from here.