RENTON, Wash. (AP) — The players the Seattle Seahawks lost off their defense over the past year became synonymous with being considered among the best at their position and creating an elite unit that was tough to have success against.
And yet, the current batch of Seahawks sit near the midseason point with a defense that statistically is back among the elite of the NFL.
“I’m not surprised at all. We knew coming into the season we had a great group of guys and we knew the outside was sleeping on the leadership we had in the building and the people that we had in the building. … We knew that people didn’t see that. They wouldn’t see that,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
“If you listened to us talk, we were very confident in what we were going to get accomplished and what we were going to be doing. What we are seeing is good, but I think there is a level where we can get better.”
Heading into Week 9, the Seahawks have the No. 5 total defense (327.3 yards per game), No. 4 in pass defense (219.0) and No. 4 in points allowed per game (18.7). Those numbers include six games playing without starting linebacker K.J. Wright because of knee surgery and three games without Earl Thomas after he suffered a broken leg in the Week 4 win over Arizona.
Wagner was around before the overhaul started. So was defensive end Frank Clark and defensive tackle Jarran Reed. But the rest of Seattle’s defense has been largely re-tooled over the past two seasons. And instead of Seattle taking a major step back, it has returned to being among the NFL’s best in less than half a season.
“The first few games, even up until now, we were still trying to learn how to play with one another, learn how to have fun with one another,” Wagner said. “Now, you’re seeing the product of that last game and I think it’s still room to get better.”
Seattle is coming off one of its better defensive performance of the season when it limited Detroit to 34 yards rushing in a 28-14 win over the Lions last week. Matthew Stafford still had a big day throwing the ball, but the Seahawks ability to make Detroit one-dimensional on offense was critical considering the Lions ability to run the ball in recent weeks.
It was the fourth time Seattle held an opponent under 100 yards rushing and the Seahawks forced three turnovers bringing their season total to 16.
The Seahawks were hopeful this kind of defense would develop but knew it could take some time with new players such as Tre Flowers, Shamar Stephen and Barkevious Mingo joining the lineup, and Tedric Thompson, Bradley McDougald and Shaquill Griffin stepping into more prominent roles.
“There is so much football that they don’t know you can’t be upset by what they’re doing. Because they’re working really hard, they’ve had success, they’ve had failure,” Seattle defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “They’ve learned from their successes and failures so it’s really fun to watch the development of the young players.”
The competition Seattle has faced should be noted and will get significantly tougher in the coming weeks, beginning with Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Three of Seattle’s wins have come against teams ranked in the bottom half of the league in total offense.
That changes this weekend. Led by Philip Rivers, the Chargers have the sixth-best offense in the NFL averaging 402.7 yards per game, and nearly 28 points. That’s followed by a matchup with the Los Angeles Rams and their second-ranked total offense; then back home to face Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers on a short week after that; and finally a trip to face Cam Newton and Carolina to close out November.
If there’s a concern that Seattle’s defense has yet to be truly tested, the examination will happen over the next four games.
“We all treating them the same and that’s the best quarterback we’ve played against,” Griffin said. “That’s the type of mentality we have to bring to that, no matter what quarterback we’re facing. We’re going to bring the same mentality and play our best ball. You name some great guys and I’m looking forward to playing against all of them.”
NOTES: Coach Pete Carroll said the release of veteran WR Brandon Marshall on Tuesday was mostly because of roster construction and the fact Seattle is passing the ball less. Marshall had only two snaps in the win over Detroit and Carroll said the roster spot was needed for additional special teams help. The Seahawks promoted WR Malik Turner from the practice squad on Wednesday to take Marshall’s spot. … Carroll said the team was hoping for a shorter suspension for LB Mychal Kendricks, who was suspended eight games, but looked forward to getting him back late in the season.