Better, worse or the same? Can Seahawks' D bounce back after rough 2019?

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For all of the well-earned scrutiny over the Seattle Seahawks' 2019 pass rush and whether they've done enough this offseason to improve it, their defensive struggles went beyond their inability to get after opposing quarterbacks.

Just look at the 4.85 yards the Seahawks allowed per carry. That was the fifth most in the NFL last season, and it was Seattle's second-worst mark in 10 seasons under Pete Carroll.

Seattle's defense underachieved pretty much across the board, with the exception of forcing turnovers. It's why general manager John Schneider made notable -- even if not marquee -- additions at every level. That included trading for Quinton Dunbar, signing free agents Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa, and spending the first two draft picks on Jordyn Brooks and Darrell Taylor.

So where does Seattle's defensive personnel stand now, relative to last year? After examining the offense last week, here's a look at the defense and a verdict on whether each position group is better, worse or the same.

Defensive line

Additions: Benson Mayowa (Oakland Raiders), Darrell Taylor (second round), Alton Robinson (fifth round), Eli Mencer (undrafted free agent), Marcus Webb (UDFA), Josh Avery (UDFA), Cedrick Lattimore (UDFA)

Losses: Jadeveon Clowney (unsigned), Quinton Jefferson (Buffalo Bills), Al Woods (Jacksonville Jaguars), Ziggy Ansah (unsigned)

Returners: Jarran Reed, Rasheem Green, Poona Ford, L.J. Collier, Branden Jackson, Bryan Mone, Demarcus Christmas

Better, worse or the same? The same

It's understandable why the Seahawks didn't/won't break the bank to re-sign Clowney given his injury history and asking price. But it's hard to imagine their defensive line being much better without its most disruptive member.

Then again, it's hard to imagine the Seahawks generating fewer than the 28 sacks they managed last season, finishing in a tie for the second fewest in the league. Mayowa (7.0) set a career high last year, as did Irvin (8.5), who might play linebacker on early downs but will rush in passing situations. It's reasonable to expect Reed to top the two sacks he produced in 10 games, even if he doesn't match his 10.5 from the year before. Green, who led Seattle with four sacks after an underwhelming rookie season in 2018, looks like an ascending player.

Reed's suspension for the first six games -- and whatever effect that layoff had -- likely contributed to Seattle's struggles against the run.

A decade's worth of data suggests that the Seahawks can't count on getting significant pass-rush production this season from their draft picks, Taylor and Robinson. A condensed offseason won't help. They'll have to rely more on Irvin and Mayowa replicating their career seasons, Reed regaining his 2018 form, Green continuing on his upward track and Collier following in Green's path. Their hope is that Collier, last year's first-round pick, can make the same second-year jump they just saw from Green.

Ford is another player to watch. Not signing a veteran defensive tackle to replace Woods or Jefferson means Ford is in line for more snaps alongside Reed.

As for the possibility of bringing back Clowney? The Seahawks haven't ruled it out, but it would require him taking significantly less money than what he already turned down from Seattle.


Additions: Bruce Irvin (Carolina Panthers), Jordyn Brooks (first round)

Losses: Mychal Kendricks (unsigned)

Returners: Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Cody Barton, Ben Burr-Kirven, Shaquem Griffin, Emmanuel Ellerbee, Sutton Smith

Better, worse or the same? Better

Irvin could be an upgrade over Kendricks at strongside linebacker if he were to start there. But even if that swap is a wash, the group as a whole looks better with the addition of a first-rounder in Brooks.

That assumes Wright has a season more like 2019 (which included a career high in tackles and no missed games) than his injury-filled 2018. He had offseason shoulder surgery and said recently that he plans on playing in Week 1.

Where Wright plays isn't certain. He has long been the starter on the weak side, which is where Seattle likes Brooks. That could mean Wright moving over to the strong side, where Irvin played on early downs in his first Seattle stint and where he was projected to start until Brooks entered the mix.

Wagner playing in the middle is the only certainty in terms of who will start where. The five-time All Pro could use better play in front of him -- and perhaps less on his plate -- to get back into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. The Seahawks relied heavily on their linebackers last season while running an abnormal amount of base 4-3 defense, even in typical nickel situations. Carroll is undecided on whether he'll continue that approach.

Having four starting linebackers -- and arguably a fifth in Barton -- for only three spots is a good problem to have. That type of depth suggests Griffin is no lock to make the team. He worked his way into the pass-rush rotation last season and showed flashes in that role. That's his best path to defensive snaps in 2020.


Additions: Quinton Dunbar (Washington), Linden Stephens (waivers), Jayson Stanley (waivers), Gavin Heslop (UDFA), Debione Renfro (UDFA), Kemah Siverand (UDFA), Chris Miller (UDFA), Josh Norwood (UDFA)

Losses: Tedric Thompson (waivers), Akeem King (unsigned), Jeremy Boykin (not tendered)

Returners: Shaquill Griffin, Tre Flowers, Quandre Diggs, Bradley McDougald, Marquise Blair, Ugo Amadi, Neiko Thorpe, Lano Hill, Brian Allen, Ryan Neal

Better, worse or the same? Better

How much better depends on how Dunbar's legal situation impacts his availability. But even had the Seahawks not acquired the cornerback in a trade with Washington, they'd still be looking at a full season from Diggs at free safety after only having him for five regular-season games in 2019. Diggs was a difference-maker, as reflected in Seattle's defensive numbers with and without him on the field.

McDougald has been an invaluable piece of the Seahawks' secondary, but the combination of diminished speed, finances ($5.4 million cap hit, $4.1 million savings) and Blair lurking at free safety makes it uncertain that Seattle will keep him for the final year of his contract. It's a mystery to many as to why Blair, last year's second-round pick, didn't see the field more as a rookie. The Seahawks are looking into a potential role for him in their nickel defense, assuming he doesn't end up replacing McDougald in the starting lineup.

Amadi began the offseason as the favorite at nickelback, a role he was in and out of as a rookie last year. He and Blair are two players Carroll wants to see on the field before deciding how much base defense he plans to run versus nickel.

Griffin enters the final year of his rookie deal after making the Pro Bowl as an alternate with a breakout 2019 campaign. Taking the ball away remains the next step in his progression and one the Seahawks need him to make after getting only six interceptions combined from their cornerbacks over the past two seasons.

Dunbar's ball skills were the biggest difference the Seahawks saw between him and Flowers, the incumbent starter opposite Griffin. While trading for Dunbar was a reflection of how they needed better play at right cornerback, it wasn't a sign they were giving up on Flowers. He could still play a meaningful role even if Dunbar doesn't have to miss time.

A decision could be coming soon on whether Dunbar will be charged in relation to an alleged armed robbery last month in Florida. He pleaded not guilty after four of the alleged victims recanted the stories they initially told police. But Reed's suspension was a reminder that the NFL can take its own action regardless of legal outcomes. The league came down on Reed more than two years after an incident in which he wasn't arrested or charged. All of that makes it anyone's guess as to what Dunbar's availability will be.