You won’t find a football team in America that doesn’t aim to be physical. It’s one of the common cliché threads used by players and coaches everywhere. But there’s a difference between discussing it in a press conference and actually exhibiting an imposing presence on the field.
The Seahawks defense was largely punchless in 2019. Seattle unintentionally adopted a “bend but don’t break” approach with largely underwhelming results, ranking 22nd in points allowed, 26th in yards allowed and 21st in DVOA.
A mere glance at the box score would indicate there hasn’t been much improvement. Seattle allowed 506 total yards against the Falcons in Week 1. But if you watched the game, you surely noticed an obvious bite to the Seahawks defense that was absent a year ago.
Bobby Wagner, Jamal Adams, Marquise Blair and Quandre Diggs all delivered a big hit or two and serve as tone setters in the middle of the defense.
“I thought it was really noticeable,” Pete Carroll said of Seattle’s physicality against Atlanta. “You couldn't miss the plays by Jamal running and hitting. I thought Q Diggs, too, had some good top-off and some nice plays. As well as the rest of the guys: (Lano) Hill, Marquise. Having all the speed on the field, we're faster than we've been. It shows up in our pursuit.”
Adams’ energy and tenacity is easy to feed off of. His 12 tackles, two quarterback hits and one sack led the way. But Wagner, while only posting a modest seven tackles by his standards, made his plays count. He also had two pass breakups in coverage and was popping pads throughout.
“I thought Bobby played his best game pass defense-wise than he ever played,” Carroll said. “Active, on point with the breaks he was making. He impacted our play quite a bit.”
Wagner noticed the uptick in speed and physicality from the defense as well.
“I definitely feel like it’s something we want to keep up. We’re equipped to do this for 16 games, and I’m excited to be playing with the guys I’m playing with.”
They’ll need those traits in Week 2 against an equally physical Patriots offense, now led by Cam Newton. New England ran the ball 42 times in Week 1 against the Dolphins for 217 yards (5.2 YPC) and three touchdowns. Newton accounted for 75 yards and two scores of that production on a whopping 15 carries.
Newton is obviously healthy as the Patriots weren’t shy about running him between the tackles. That ground-and-pound style could make Sunday night’s game a street fight in the trenches for the Seahawks defense.
“It’s kind of a challenge of who can be tougher,” Wagner said. “When somebody wants to run it 42 times, it’s kind of a test of your will, and I like our will.”
It would be hard to find a starker contrast between Seattle’s first two opponents. The Falcons calling card is a high-powered passing attack. The Patriots, at least if Week 1 is any indication, will be much more focused on a physical running game.
The Seahawks passed their first test, and they seem well suited to handle what New England throws at them on primetime Sunday night.
“The nature of these guys, they're going for it. I love it,” Carroll said. “I love the way we were able to show first time out how we want to play. There's a lot of improvement to be had, but I'm glad that the message was clear: that we're coming to knock the hell out of you when you play us.”