Seahawks defense is on a roll, but here comes the biggest test yet

RENTON, Wash. -- Pete Carroll was asked Monday for his early impressions of the Atlanta Falcons.

"Their offense is just out of this world right now," Carroll said. "Their quarterback is on fire."

The Seattle Seahawks' defense hasn't received a lot of attention so far this season, and there are probably a couple reasons for that.

One, it's just been business as usual. The Seahawks have been really good on defense. But this is a unit that has led the NFL in fewest points allowed for four straight seasons.

Two, the Seahawks have yet to be tested by a prolific offense. They've faced the Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets in their first four games.

So where does this group stand going into Sunday's matchup against a Falcons offense that is averaging a league-best 32.2 points per game? Here's a look.

Run defense

Stopping the run is one of the pillars of Carroll's defensive philosophy, and the Seahawks have done a good job here, limiting opponents to 3.34 YPC, third-best in the NFL. Football Outsiders ranks their defense sixth against the run. Last year, the Seahawks allowed 3.60 YPC (fourth) and ranked third in efficiency.

The base defensive line of Cliff Avril, Jarran Reed, Ahtyba Rubin and Michael Bennett has been excellent. Tony McDaniel and Frank Clark have played well in rotational roles. Linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are playing arguably the best football of their respective careers. And Kam Chancellor has been outstanding against the run.

The Falcons are led by Devonta Freeman, who has 410 yards and is averaging 5.3 YPC. Their run blocking has been very good, as Freeman has averaged 3.71 yards before contact, fourth-best among running backs.

Pass rush

Bennett, Avril and Clark present problems for opposing offenses on a weekly basis. The trio has combined for eight sacks on the season.

The Seahawks have produced sacks on 8.5 percent of their opponents' dropbacks. That's up from 6.1 percent last year.

Defensive coordinator Kris Richard is blitzing 21.8 percent of the time, which is almost identical to last year's mark (21.9 percent). The Seahawks have been more effective when they send pressure, though, with Wagner and Wright having combined for three sacks.

Pass coverage

The cornerback play with Richard Sherman, DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane has been strong. The Seahawks are limiting opponents to a QBR of 40.9 (third-best), a completion percentage of 56.8 (third), a 6.44 YPA average (sixth) and 5.32 yards per dropback (fourth).

Sherman has a great matchup coming up with Julio Jones, and there's a good chance that he'll shadow Atlanta's No. 1 wide receiver. But as the Falcons showed last week, they'll attack their best matchups, meaning this will likely be a big game for Wagner, Wright and Chancellor in coverage.

The Seahawks rank seventh against opposing tight ends but 26th against opposing running backs so far.


They're allowing 13.5 points per game (third) and have been the best third-down defense (30.4 percent conversions) in the NFL. In the red zone, they're allowing 4.11 points per trip (fourth).

Perhaps the best news for the Seahawks is that they're healthy. They expect to get nose tackle Jarran Reed back for Sunday's game. That means 10 of their 11 regular starters should be available. The only exception is SAM linebacker Mike Morgan, who had sports hernia surgery. He'll be replaced by Kevin Pierre-Louis, Jordan Tripp or Cassius Marsh.

The Seahawks defense has looked like its usual self so far this season, but Sunday will provide a good measuring stick for this unit.