Seahawks' defense faces familiar challenge: Turning around another poor start

Jordyn Brooks and the Seahawks' defense have had issues stopping opposing offenses during the first three games, which isn't a new problem in Seattle. Ashley Landis/AP

RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks underwent their most significant defensive transition of the Pete Carroll era this offseason. They revamped their coaching staff, installed a refreshed scheme and made several big additions via free agency, the trade market and the draft.

New defense. All-too-familiar problem.

The Seahawks are once again off to a miserable start on that side of the ball. It hasn't been as prolonged as their struggles out of the gates the past two seasons, which lasted beyond September before they turned things around. Nor has it been quite as pronounced as it was when their 2020 and ’21 defenses were yielding yards at historic rates early on.

But it's been bad. And the issues have been across the board -- missed tackles, missed assignments, communication breakdowns, penalties and losses in one-on-one matchups -- and need to be corrected when the Seahawks play at the Detroit Lions on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

"We have to do better," said Josh Jones, who took over at strong safety when Jamal Adams went down, after the Seahawks fell to 1-2 with a 27-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. "That's what it is, extremely disappointing. It's not how we wanted to start the season off."

Through three games, the Seahawks' defense ranks 32nd in yards allowed per pass attempt, 22nd in yards per rush, 29th in yards per play and tied for 29th in third-down conversion rate. Their pass rush has been OK, ranking 13th in sacks per dropback, and their red zone efficiency has been a saving grace. They own the fourth-best rate at preventing touchdowns from inside the 20.

Two of those stops came via a pair of forced fumbles at the goal line in their Monday night opener against the Denver Broncos, helping them hang on for a 17-16 win but masking what was otherwise a suspect debut. Some of their poor play in a 27-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers six days later could have been a product of an emotional hangover from their thrilling -- and especially meaningful -- win over Russell Wilson and the Broncos. Carroll and general manager John Schneider said it was a real thing they had to deal with on a short week.

But there was no such excuse against Atlanta.

Receiver-turned running back Cordarrelle Patterson gashed Seattle for 141 yards on only 17 carries. Marcus Mariota completed six passes of at least 20 yards, including a 26-yard gain that converted a third-and-19. The Falcons scored on five of their first six possessions (excluding a drive that began with five seconds left in the first half). The exception was a three-and-out in the second quarter, the only one the Seahawks have forced this season. They were the last team to do so, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"I’m disappointed that we're not starting faster," Carroll said. "I would've liked to have gotten off to a faster start with what we're doing. The third-down numbers aren't in good shape, and the running numbers aren't either. There are a few errors that do spell the newness, and you can see it."

One such error came on the third-and-19 completion, when rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen didn't drop nearly deep enough in his zone, allowing the receiver plenty of open space between him and Jones. Woolen, a fifth-round pick, has been up and down. So has fourth-rounder Coby Bryant, who's started the past two games at nickelback. Same for cornerback Mike Jackson and linebacker Cody Barton, fourth-year players who are full-time starters for the first time.

"We have a lot of young guys playing, but that's no excuse," veteran defensive end Quinton Jefferson said. "You're a professional and you're expected to perform. We have to go out there and perform, or guess what? We're going to lose."

But the mistakes haven't been limited to the youngsters. Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu -- the Seahawks' top free-agent pickup this offseason and their most impactful defender through three games -- took the blame for one of the key plays Sunday. Nwosu said he was at fault for allowing Patterson a wide-open cutback lane on a 40-yard run that set up Atlanta's go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

"I don't think it's youth. It's just everybody learning to play together in this new system," said linebacker Jordyn Brooks, a returning starter who's taken over for Bobby Wagner as the defensive signal-caller. "We're going to be great, but it takes time. You have to go through these things early so when it gets to the end of the season, we've made all the mistakes we needed to make.

"I'm not panicking about anything. I'm actually in a good spirit right now because I know we're going to be alright. Just need to keep working on the little stuff and keep going."

Carroll seemed put the onus for improvement mostly on his players postgame, saying the coaches can give them "answers to the test" and that it's on them to execute. But on his Seattle Sports 710-AM radio show Monday, Carroll said he and his staff have to do more to put players in position to succeed, that they're going to "adjust a couple things" scheme-wise.

They'll change up their personnel as well. Carroll made it clear that outside linebackers Boye Mafe and Darryl Johnson will play more. He strongly hinted that their increased snaps will mean fewer for Darrell Taylor, who had a strip-sack against Atlanta but has struggled against the run.

"We have to fit things up more accurately, more consistently," Carroll said of the run defense. "We just have to clean up the way it's happening there ... It's the guys up front, it's the linebackers and the DBs all fitting together. We can't give up the space that we're giving up. It looks like it's too easy for them. It's something that we've been focusing on, but we haven't changed it yet. We need to get that done."

Brooks, who was part of their last two defensive turnarounds, is confident they'll do it again.

"I think it's just part of the journey," he said. "What story isn't great if you don't have any lows? So we'll look back on it at the end of the season and we'll be like, 'Oh man, we was f---king up in Week 2, 3, whatever. And then we flipped the script.' That's the way I see it turning out for us."