If you didn’t watch the Seattle Seahawks beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, you would have thought Seattle lost the game based on Bobby Wagner and Shaquill Griffin’s body language during their postgame pressers.
Both players were far more somber than celebratory. They expressed frustration, disappointment and maybe even a little anger based on the performance of Seattle’s defense in the 38-31 win. It was more of the same, really. This has been a three-week script of Russell Wilson and the offense putting up monster numbers (37 points per game, to be exact) while the defense makes just enough plays to get by.
Seattle’s defense currently ranks dead last in yards allowed, 22nd in points allowed and 24th in DVOA. To put it succinctly, the Seahawks are 3-0 despite their defense, not because of it.
“It’s not something I am accustomed to,” Wagner said. “It is not something I want to be accustomed to. We’ll make the changes, we just need to get off the field, we need to make our plays. I think that’s really it, just need to be a little more locked-in, a little more sound, and make our plays when they come to us and get off the field. I think we are hurting ourselves in a lot of facets and we have to get that out of our ball.”
Seattle’s pass rush remains a question mark with only five sacks through three games, but the secondary has been far more troublesome. That was projected to be one of the team’s biggest strengths following the acquisitions of Jamal Adams and Quinton Dunbar.
And yet, the Seahawks have allowed more passing yards (1,292) through three games than any team in NFL history. Additionally, Seattle has given up 18 pass plays of at least 20 yards and six pass plays of at least 40 yards. Both of those numbers regrettably lead the league. It’s a mix of Seattle’s defensive backs losing too many 1-on-1 battles as well as an alarming number of busted coverages.
The Cowboys had two separate touchdown drives against the Seahawks that took less than a minute off the clock and spanned at least 75 yards. That’s a sentence worth reading a second time.
“There’s some plays that we need to win when we have the opportunity and our number is called, we have to win our plays and we have to win our 1-on-1s,” Griffin said.
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Griffin took accountability for his early-season struggles. The reigning Pro Bowler grabbed his first interception of the year on Sunday, picking off Dak Prescott before halftime. The takeaway led to a Seahawks touchdown in the final seconds of the second quarter.
However, Griffin has also gotten beat his fair share in the early going. Michael Gallup raced by him down the right sideline for a 52-yard catch in the second half. Griffin admitted that his focus wanes at times when he goes entire quarters at a time without being targeted.
“I get to a point where I’m falling asleep on that back side,” he said. “So I have to do better on my part, stay consistent and staying in tune to the game each and every play. That’s something that I’m going to work on, on my behalf. I have to do a lot better, I have to.”
To Seattle’s benefit, the Seahawks have the third-best run defense in football and have given up just 3.0 yards per carry through three games. Silver linings only take you so far when you’re giving up 29 points a game, though.
“We have to do good at something so it’s good to hold teams under 50 yards or 75 yards rushing,” Wagner said wryly, "but when we’re still giving up as many yards as we’re giving up, it doesn’t matter.”
Injuries on defense don’t help matters. Marquise Blair (knee) and Bruce Irvin (knee) are already out for the season. Jordyn Brooks (knee) will miss some time with a Grade 1 MCL sprain. Jamal Adams (groin) and Quinton Dunbar (knee) are also questionable to play in Week 4 against the Dolphins.
Guys like Ryan Neal, Shaquem Griffin and especially Alton Robinson could continue to play significant roles for the Seahawks. All three of those guys made pivotal plays to help secure Sunday’s win. But the group will ultimately go as its superstars go. It’s on Griffin, Wagner and the rest of the vets on defense to right the ship moving forward.
“We’re going to do better with that, we’re going to work on it,” Griffin said. “It’s early in the season and I’ve been here four years now and the one thing about it, we always elevate our game going through each week. We always get better.”
And it’s vital that they do, because it’s hard to imagine their current formula being a sustainable one.
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