RENTON -- The Seahawks are coming off their best two defensive performances of the year against the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals.
Thursday night's victory over Arizona was by far the best the beleaguered unit had played all season in limited the Cardinals to just 21 points and only 314 yards of total offense.
For a group that was horrendous through the first half of the season, the recent run of play has suggested there are signs of life from the much-maligned defense.
So, what changed?
Personnel was certainly part of the equation as multiple banged up players began to get healthy once again. Also, the acquisition of defensive end Carlos Dunlap from the Cincinnati Bengals has provided a spark to the team's pass rush as well.
But head coach Pete Carroll made mention of a team meeting the night before the win over the Cardinals that may have helped the group finally start to coalesce as well. Carroll referred to it as an "accountability meeting" led by defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. that involved the players discussing all of their assignments amongst themselves as a way to build more trust and cohesion.
"Instead of having the coaches say it, the players, were saying the stuff and talking about assignments and all. It just was a nice, real nice step forward. But it was powerful," Carroll said.
Norton tried to downplay the significance of the meeting and not make it a big deal. However, he did admit that it helped bring the defense together.
"Well I think there was clarity," Norton said. "I think everybody understood what everybody else was doing. I think that people were free to to express their feelings, free to understand what their roles are, understand what everybody else is doing and kind of bring it all together. And guys were just able to look at each other and commit, look at each other and be accountable, and play in such a connected way that the good teams play together."
The Seahawks have had a revolving door of players on defense throughout the season that have made finding that comfort level difficult. Rasheem Green was injured in the opener against Atlanta and missed six weeks. Bruce Irvin and Marquise Blair are lost for the season in Week 2 against the New England Patriots. Jamal Adams injures his groin and Jordyn Brooks injures his knee in a win over Dallas in Week 3 and are out multiple weeks. Shaquill Griffin goes out with a concussion and hamstring injuries for four games beginning in Week 7. Benson Mayowa (high-ankle sprain) and Ugo Amadi (hamstring) both get hurt against Arizona as well and miss multiple games. Quinton Dunbar's ailing knee becomes untenable the following week in Buffalo. Carlos Dunlap comes in via trade from the Bengals and starts to learn his new team.
All of these issues led to a revolving door of changes that made building chemistry challenging, especially with an offseason that only happened virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think the biggest thing from all of this with the coronavirus and everything is we haven't been able to really be around each other as much as we would normally have been in a normal season so a lot of that camaraderie, a lot of that trust is built in the offseason, built in the OTAs, built in training camp and so that has been limited a lot especially without a lot of the virtual meetings and things of that nature," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "So I think it was just important, coach Norton felt it was important, to have the guys that you're playing around just listen to them, speak the game and listen to them talk and let them know how much you know the game and you know what you're doing."
The play of the defense against the Cardinals didn't feel like a fluke. The team was covering receivers well. Kyler Murray was completely hemmed in from using his legs to hurt Seattle in the running game. Kenyan Drake had no success running the ball either.
Skepticism is certainly understandable and warranted given just how poorly the group played the first eight games of the season. But Griffin should return to the lineup at cornerback this week against the Philadelphia Eagles as well. The next four games Seattle played come against teams that are just 9-30-1 on the season. All four teams (Eagles, NY Giants, NY Jets and Washington) rank in the bottom seven of the league in total offense and bottom nine in points scored. It's a stretch that could help the group build some much needed confidence before a pivotal game against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16 and the playoffs in January.
With Dunlap's addition, the Seahawks paltry pass rush has become productive. They've racked up 13 sacks in the three games Dunlap has played for the team and have 16 sacks over the prior four games. They had just 12 sacks in total through the first eight games of the year. They've moved from the bottom quarter of the league in sack production to a tie for 13th with the Giants and Cardinals with 25. The run defense remains one of the best in the league as well.
Carroll believes the time is now for the defense to show what it is truly capable of.
"What it means is that the guys have arrived," Carroll said. I can't keep telling you, 'okay, soon we're going to be feeling like we've played together, you know, we need some more time.' I can't say that anymore. We've made it to that point and now we really need to play good football. There's no reason why we shouldn't."
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 19: A pass intended for Andy Isabella #17 of the Arizona Cardinals is broken up by D.J. Reed #29 and Quandre Diggs #37 of the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter is at Lumen Field on November 19, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)