SEATTLE -- They did it in 2020, going from a historically bad defense early in the season to one of the best in the NFL over the second half.
They did it again in 2021, righting the ship on that side of the ball after a brutal first month.
Was the Seattle Seahawks' dominant defensive performance in Week 6 a sign that they’re pulling off another drastic turnaround from their latest miserable start? There was plenty of celebration after their 19-9 win over the Arizona Cardinals at Lumen Field on Sunday, but are their defensive struggles from the first five games completely in the rear-view mirror?
"You're seeing all of the work that we put in in practice finally starting to come out," said defensive end Shelby Harris, who had one of Seattle's six sacks of Kyler Murray. "When we get the lead like this at the end of games, you get the rush, D-line gets to have some fun. Obviously, you look around the locker room and everyone is always happier after a win. You're not as sore after a win. Always remember this feeling, and go replicate this next week."
The Seahawks entered Week 6 allowing the most yards per game (430) and the second-most points per game (30.8), while also ranking near or at the bottom of the NFL in several other defensive metrics, including yards per pass and yards per rush.
They held the Cardinals to 315 total yards and kept their offense from scoring after it drove for a field goal on the opening possession (Arizona’s only other points came via a fumble recovery in the end zone on a botched punt). They held Arizona to 4-of-16 on third down and 1-of-5 on fourth down. Throw in the two takeaways they got from rookie cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant, and this might have been the Seahawks' most comprehensive defensive performance since they held the Los Angeles Rams to three field goals in Week 16 of the 2020 season.
It helped that the Cardinals were missing their No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins as well as RB1 James Conner, but the Seahawks' defense had gotten gashed in consecutive weeks by Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints offenses that were each missing some of their best players. That made Sunday's win a reversal of what had become well-established roles over the first five games, with the Seahawks' defense carrying the load for a change while Geno Smith and the offense did just enough.
"Really happy with the whole group on defense," coach Pete Carroll said. "They've been fighting their tails off to get it done and to try to get to a point where they really feel like they're doing something. And the pass rush came to life today. And the guys were all over the quarterback. So really rewarding in that regard."
The Seahawks' six sacks were their most in a game since they had that many in Week 12 of the 2020 season, right after that turnaround began. They came from six different players: Harris, defensive linemen Poona Ford and Quinton Jefferson, outside linebackers Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor and safety Ryan Neal. According to ESPN Stats & Information, they sent four or fewer rushers on all six sacks -- their most sacks in a game via a standard rush since their 2013 Super Bowl season.
"We stopped the run," Nwosu said. "That's really what it was. The last four or five weeks, we've had trouble stopping the run, and that's what the game plan was going into this game: Stop the run so we can have some fun. We did that, and guys were able to fly all over the field and get after Kyler Murray."
Murray ran for 100 of the Cardinals' 144 rushing yards as Seattle held their running backs to a combined 44 yards on 18 attempts. The Seahawks had been allowing a little more than 5 yards per rush (including QB runs) entering Sunday, the fifth-worst mark in the NFL.
Carroll made vague mentions of some adjustments that defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt made up front after their 39-32 loss last week in New Orleans, though he didn't want to specify with the Seahawks and Cardinals facing each other again in three weeks. The changes included different alignments by their defensive linemen -- Ford played more on the edge, for instance -- and not as many snaps for starting inside linebacker Cody Barton, who's had an uneven start to the season, particularly against the run.
"Their running backs averaged 2.5 yards a carry," Carroll said. "And it's all of those guys working inside and setting the thing in motion. We made a couple of adjustments this week that worked out great. And I think they're going to pay off as we move forward."
At 3-3 heading into their Week 7 game against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium, the Seahawks are tied with the San Francisco 49ers and Rams for the best record in the NFC West. Every team in the division has its flaws and none of them appear poised to pull away anytime soon.
With Smith playing like an above-average starter, it doesn't seem at all unrealistic to think the Seahawks can compete for a playoff spot in what was supposed to be a transition season following the Russell Wilson trade -- especially if their performance against Arizona was indeed the start of another defensive turnaround.
"Now it's time to start stacking these things week to week," safety Quandre Diggs said. "You can't be one of those teams that wins one, loses one, wins one -- because that's average football. We need to start stacking these dubs and being consistent. I think it's going to be really, really fun when offense, defense and special teams are clicking at the same time. I think it could be real special around here."