A reason for hope at 2-5? Seahawks' embattled defense has 'turned the corner'

RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks have lost three straight and are three games under .500, two things that hadn't happened since 2011. Their 2-5 record puts them well behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. They'll be without Russell Wilson for at least one more game.

It's by far the most dire situation they drafted Wilson in 2012, but it's not completely hopeless.

They're within one win of the final wild-card spot the NFC, which leaves them among the handful of teams in striking distance now that seven teams from each conference make it. They're three-point home favorites Sunday against the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). With their bye after that and Wilson then eligible to come off injured reserve, they could have him back against the Green Bay Packers in Week 10 provided his surgically-repaired finger is ready.

And as they continued to show in their 13-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, their defense is improving.

"We've made a big jump," coach Pete Carroll said. "We've turned the corner in a lot of areas on our defense. Go back three or four weeks, we've turned it."

The Seahawks were still allowing yards at a historic rate when they beat the San Francisco 49ers in Week 4 and when they lost the Los Angeles Rams four days later to begin their three-game skid. But since Week 4, they've allowed 5.6 fewer points per game than they did over the first three weeks and have made a much bigger improvement on third down.

They've held opponents to a league-low 21.6% conversion rate in that same span, down from 48.8%. That includes a 2-for-13 effort Monday night, when they allowed season-lows in yards (304) and points (13). To be sure, it has helped to face an aging quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and an erratic one in Jameis Winston on a wet and windy night in consecutive weeks.

"Thirteen points against any NFL team is remarkable," Carroll said. "And so I'm counting on those guys to keep improving."

When Carroll said two weeks ago that Seattle's struggling defense would turn around, he predicted that the pass-rush would again be the catalyst. That was the case last year, when the Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the league over the final seven weeks after a similarly awful start.

This time, it's been their cornerback play. It was a mess early and has gotten better with D.J. Reed back on the right side, where Carroll believes he's best suited to play, and rookie Tre Brown mixing in with Sidney Jones IV on the left side.

"The corner play has really come around and the guys have been more consistent and more of a factor," Carroll said. "We mixed our coverages last week and made a nice adjustment at halftime to make sure that [Alvin] Kamara didn't catch a million balls in that game. I think the coverages have accented what is going on up front."

Jones, who replaced the since-released Tre Flowers in Week 4, started against New Orleans but Brown ended up playing more than twice as many snaps (50 to 23) as the two alternated series. Carroll declined to say which will start Sunday.

"I think Tre continues to show that he's really comfortable," Carroll said. "I can't get him in many situations that he isn't in command of. I'm really fired up about his play. Sidney made a couple of nice plays in the game and had a nice breakup on third down. I'm happy with those guys and the way they are playing."

The Seahawks are still waiting for their loaded pass-rush to get going. They're 20th in ESPN's Pass Rush Win Rate and 26th in sacks per dropback after getting two Monday night, but that doesn't tell the full story of the past two games.

A third sack against New Orleans was wiped out when Marquise Blair hit Winston in the helmet as the quarterback was being taken down. Defensive tackles Poona Ford, Al Woods and Bryan Mone all played over 50% of the snaps as part of a game plan that prioritized stopping the run, which the Seahawks did. And they didn't have Darrell Taylor, the team leader in sacks (4.0), who was inactive because of a stiff neck but is on track to play against Jacksonville.

A week earlier, they didn't have much of a chance to consistently get to Roethlisberger given how quickly he was getting rid of the ball.

Safety Jamal Adams is still without a sack but has averaged twice as many pass-rushes in the past two games as he did over the first five and is bound to start making an impact there,__ assuming that recent trend continues. He batted down a Winston pass on one blitz Monday night.

"Obviously, the numbers aren't where I would like them to be, but we are meshing as a group and making plays," said defensive end Kerry Hyder Jr., who split a sack of Winston with Carlos Dunlap II. "I feel like we are affecting the game even though the numbers might not show it."

The Seahawks might not be able to climb out of the 2-5 hole they've dug themselves. But if they continue to play defense like they have of late, they'll give themselves a chance. Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick, ranks 27th in QBR as he goes through the expected rookie growing pains. The bigger test will come against Aaron Rodgers (third in QBR) at Lambeau Field after the bye.

"I thought we've been playing better these last few weeks," linebacker Jordyn Brooks said. "That's just guys communicating. Early on ... we were just having communication problems and it led to this play and that play. I think guys are talking better. The chemistry has grown on that side. We're going to continue to do what we do and get a win here soon."