Thursday, October 16, 2008

Looking Closer at the Defense

by: Michael Steffes

A lot of blame is being handed to the defense so far this year. They were supposed to step up and be a dominant unit, but they've had a hard run of it. But while everyone is quick to point fingers at the failed unit, I ask you what would you have done differently, personnel-wise?

To see a player by player breakdown of the defense, looking at last year, this year, and next year . . .

LDE Patrick Kerney- Kerney was almost defensive player of the year last year, so nobody in their right mind would run him off. This year he has been the most consistent pass rushing threat in an inconsistent unit. While he is likely to decline in the coming years, at this point he is showing no signs of it. Would you replace him next year? Probably not.

LDT Rocky Bernard- Bernard has been the motor for the Seahawks' line for quite some time. He was injured down the stretch last year and it showed. This is the final year of his deal, and the Hawks were inclined to let him play it out. It was the right move, but he won't be back next year, opening a space for Red Bryant to play.

RDT Brandon Mebane- Mebane turned out to be the steal of the draft last year. He has outperformed just about every DT in the draft. He is great at taking on blockers and disrupting running lanes. He will anchor this line for a long time. It would have been foolish to make a move here.

RDE Tapp/Jackson- The team tried to improve this position in the offseason, using their first round pick on Jackson. However, right defensive ends tend to struggle as rookies. They are often left one-on-one against a left tackle to no avail. Jackson has put up some numbers so far this season--with 10 tackles and 2 sacks through 5 games, he is on pace to put up about the same numbers Mario Williams put up his rookie year. With Tapp moving back into the starting lineup, we can began to see if he has progressed. The main complaint last year was about the undersized defensive front, and the team addressed that by adding Jackson.

OLB Julian Peterson- Peterson went to the Pro Bowl last year. He had 2 picks and 10 sacks. He is one of the top 5 OLBs in the game, and until he starts to show massive decline he will be around. Why would you get rid of him? He is the one player in our defense that O-Coordinators really have to account for on every play.

MLB Lofa Tatupu- This kid has gone to three PBs in his first three years. Of course no one was going to pull the heart and soul from our defense, nor should we no matter how badly he plays this year. He is banged up and not on his A game, but he is a young stud MLB, and having one bad year is not the end of his career.

OLB Leroy Hill- By all accounts Leroy Hill has been a monster this year, and he continually leads the team in tackles. Keeping Leroy around should be priorty #1. Allowing him to leave via free agency will hurt this defense.

LCB Marcus Trufant- Trufant continues to play corner at a Pro Bowl level, despite being burned last week. There's no reason to look for a fix here. Marcus is going to be on that left side for the foreseeable future.

RCB Josh Wilson/Kelly Jennings- First off, Kelly Jennings is not a midget; he is 5'11", the same height as Trufant. Wilson is a bit shorter. But regardless, going into this season, Jennings was supposed to shine. It hasn't happened, but could we have seen that coming? Maybe, but it doesn't mean giving up on him is the right move. Marcus Trufant also had some tough years as he grew into his position. There were years he didn't play like a first rounder, either. However, Trufant finally matured into one of the best corners in the league. For whatever reason--injuries, no safety help, etc.--Jennings hasn't had a good year, but last year he looked like an up-and comer on this defense. Honestly, should we really have seen this coming? Wilson stepped in last week and looked like an improvement. He missed a lot of time in his rookie year last season with nicks. Watching his progress is something we should be keeping an eye on going forward.

S Deon Grant- Grant has played quite well this year in a secondary that has been much maligned. He appears to be the real deal back there and an excellent pick=up. However, he is being asked to do too much. He has never been the guy to cover the entire back end. If anything, it is the other safety who maybe the team should have looked at before the season.

S Brain Russell- There is a lot of disappointment in Russell out there, but I believe it is hard to tell the true extent of his failures. If he had any problems last year, it was mostly in tackling/run support. This year, the team keeps loading him into the box as if practice will make him better. Not only that, but of all the defensive players he is probably the least athletic. Now we are asking him to do things that only the best safeties in the biz can do. I think that Russell's failings could be coved up if they tried, but the team hasn't made that effort at all. This is the one postion that the Hawks need to address going forward, and it isn't because of Russell. If this team wants to play an attacking, aggressive defense, then they need intimidaters on the back end who can also cover. Right now, Russell isn't doing either well.

You may be asking yourself what the point of all this is. By breaking down the defense one position at a time, you can see that we have some of the more talented defenders in the league. Even though they are struggling right now, it is hard to find fault in the way this defense was built, or the fact that they all returned. You could make the case for one or two of them needing to be replaced, but my point is that this unit was and still is primed for success.

As of now, even older players like Kerney and Peterson are still playing well. This means that most of this unit likely will return next year, and next year we should expect them to be an elite unit again.

Right now, something has infected this entire team. NO ONE is really playing up to their true potential. This team had the talent to be great, and they still do. They fixed their two biggest flaws in the offseason, but right now that is all that is working. Unfortunately, those small successes don't matter because of injuries. Hasselbeck is probably the most indispensable QB out there. It takes years to master Holmgren's system, and apparently he doesn't trust the backups to run it.

In the end, this year has the makings of a lost season, but not the end of good Seahawks football. This team is poised for a bounce back season next year with a new coach. The players may have just tuned Holmgren out after all these years. However, the talent on the defensive side of the ball and the fact that this team seems able to run the ball again make me very hopeful. Really, in the end, next season will come down to the receivers again. This team needs to find guys on the outside who can make plays. Also, hopefully they will learn to put a bigger focus on special teams, something that has bit them in butt two years running. Both of these things are easily fixable.

In reality, we shouldn't have to wait until next year. This team is capable of a turnaround at any moment. Let's hope it starts this week in Tampa Bay. ~END~