The New York Jets visit the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Previewing this matchup, Mookie Alexander of Field Gulls was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the 2020 Seahawks. Many thanks to Mookie, who gave great, thoughtful responses.
1. Russell Wilson is a future first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, yet the Seahawks have always been a run heavy, conservative offense. This preference of Pete Carroll for the run game while having an immortal at quarterback has always struck me as a little counterproductive, though you can’t argue with the Seahawks’ success since Carroll came aboard. Now we get the Let Russ Cook meme, which seems to agree with the point I’ve made here. Where do Seahawks fans tend to line up in this debate? Has Carroll been holding Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense back from achieving their full potential, or have the Seahawks gotten this right all along? Should the Seahawks let Russ cook far more often?
Oh god. I think that’s my least favorite discourse among Seahawks fans right now and I say that as a supporter of Let Russ Cook. The 2018 season really was the final straw for tons of Seahawks fans who thought the team needed to remain run-first. That playoff loss against the Cowboys was just disgusting playcalling that put the handbrake on Wilson while the running game kept getting stonewalled. There was an improvement in 2019 but they were still running a lot on early downs when it’s far more efficient to pass. Unsurprisingly, they spent a ton of 2019 trailing in games before rallying in the 4th quarter thanks to uh... letting Russ cook!
I didn’t foresee the coaching staff actually agreeing to Let Russ Cook — more passing, especially on early downs — but they have stuck with it for better or worse. Wilson’s red-hot start seemed to validate the idea that he can succeed in a pass-first offense but I’d argue he wasn’t always ready for this. There were some absolutely horrible habits from the early portion of his career that would’ve justified not letting him throw more. His pocket presence is so much better than it used to be and early Russ absolutely would panic if his first read wasn’t open. What makes the downturn in his play concerning is it looks like he’s reverting to some old habits as a result of defenses putting the clamps on what the Seahawks really want to do. With more pressure in his face behind a banged up OL he has been confused and bamboozled and making some poor decisions with the ball. It looks like this will be a career-high in interceptions and overall turnovers for him which is perhaps something we should’ve expected by throwing more, but it’s still a bit jarring to see.
Has Carroll held the Seahawks back? In a sense yes. He kept trying to stick with his preferred way of football without having the personnel and as such “dominant run game plus dominant defense” slowly became “dominant run game and bad defense” to having neither. That falls not just on gameday philosophy but also too many non-factors in the draft or in offseason signings. DK Metcalf has elevated the potential of this offense so much but from 2016-2018 they kinda just sat on their asses and didn’t make a serious attempt to improve the WR group. To me, Seattle letting Russ cook has to be more than just letting him pass more. This actually has to be an offense designed to be pass-first. Not just keeping the same offense but throwing more. Carroll and Schotty prefer to run the ball. Wilson has played in run-first offenses since college. We’ll find out in due time whether this substandard play by Wilson is more about growing pains in a different style of offensive gameplanning or if there are serious limitations to the way Seattle lets Russ cook. If his efficiency tanks they may need to dial it back a bit and run it with Chris Carson. I wouldn’t be offended if they did that as long as it’s within reason. You don’t just operate a pass-first style every week regardless of opponent, but that’s what we have largely seen in 2020.
2. The Seahawks completed a blockbuster deal for former Jets All Pro safety Jamal Adams this past offseason, with the Jets receiving two first round draft picks, a third round draft pick and safety Bradley McDougald. At the time Jets fans were pleasantly surprised at how much the Jets got in return for Adams. What did Seahawks fans think about the trade at the time, have views changed since, and how has Adams fared in Seattle?
I think the shock value of giving up two first-rounders really provided healthy skepticism from Seahawks fans over this deal, especially since Minkah Fitzpatrick was gotten for lesser value the previous year at a time when the Seahawks arguably could’ve gotten him instead and jettisoned Tedric Thompson before his injury. John Schneider has made these splash trades before but never at this level, and even now I’m still not exactly thrilled with the haul they gave up in terms of draft capital.
As far as how he’s played, Adams battled injuries in the early portion of the season and is only now getting healthier. His success has clearly been as a run defender and a blitzer, leading the team in sacks at 7.5. I’m also a fan of how well he tackles in the open field after watching the whiff-a-palooza of recent seasons. He does however look to be a liability in coverage no matter how much he gets pissed about hearing that talk. There have been multiple coverage busts involving him that have directly led to touchdowns, and he’s so eager to get to the quarterback that I think he often just freelances his assignment and it can lead to an open receiver.
All things considered, he is still young and what he did extremely well in New York he does extremely well here. I think Adams may have benefited from a proper offseason and preseason to learn the Seahawks defense, whereas you can tell there are times when he’s not on the same page with his teammate. He’s still young and quite talented and the Seahawks would be foolish to give up two first-rounders and not sign him to a contract extension. I suspect we’ll learn more about Adams’ overall abilities when next season rolls around. As of right now, fan reception is mixed.
3. If you were game planning to beat the Seahawks, how would you go about things as an opponent on offense and on defense?
From the Jets perspective? I’d use a lot of play-action and attack the underneath and intermediate routes. If Flacco was starting I’d say testing the Seahawks’ secondary with the deep ball is something worth exploring given the repeated struggles earlier in the season, but I probably wouldn’t have Darnold trying to replicate that potentially down Mims and Crowder. If Gase is smart he gives up the ghost on Frank Gore (thankfully no longer a Seahawks menace) and uses his other running backs Ty Johnson and LaMichael Perine to go after the run defense, which has been solid for much of the year but was heavily compromised in the Giants game last week.
Defensively I think if you take away the sidelines you largely take away a lot of the Seahawks offense. Wilson does not throw a lot of deep middle passes unless it’s off play-action, and the Seahawks’ preference for big plays has led to a pretty underwhelming short and intermediate passing attack in recent weeks. I think that’s partially on Wilson and partially on Brian Schottenheimer for not adjusting to the inevitability that other teams would try to take away the deep ball. This usually involves disguising coverages, amoeba defensive formations (the Giants did a lot of this), and keeping two safeties back. Wilson has also bizarrely struggled quite often against the blitz this season but you can’t blitz stupidly, so maybe it’s a good thing Gregg Williams is gone now if you’re a Jets fan hoping for a win. Another key for the Jets is to force the Seahawks to 3rd down, where they’ve been pretty poor much of the year and often leads to opportunities to sack Wilson.
4. The Seahawks in their glory years of the mid 2010s were known for having perhaps the best defense in the NFL. This year the Seahawks were, for a time, on pace to set records for defensive ineptitude. The team has recently been much better defensively, but they still rank last in the NFL in passing yards allowed, and second to last in overall yards allowed. Why have the Seahawks struggled so badly on defense this year, and do you think the Seahawks’ defensive struggles could prevent them from making a deep run in the playoffs?
The talent isn’t as good as it was several years ago and I also remain unconvinced that the Seahawks should keep Ken Norton Jr as defensive coordinator. While the defense has played better I feel that is partially a product of playing some mediocre if not awful offenses. At best they might be hovering around average by the time the season is over. The struggles have been both the lack of pass rush with just four, as well as too many coverage busts and sloppy tackling in the secondary. Trading for Carlos Dunlap has vastly improved Seattle’s base pass rush so they don’t have to constantly blitz to generate pressure. As for the secondary it’s been more miss than hit. The standouts in coverage have been Ugo Amadi, Quandre Diggs, and DJ Reed. Shaquill Griffin is the best corner on the team but he missed quite a bit of time with injury and had a couple of ugly moments to start the year. Tre Flowers has been playing better but is otherwise usually the one getting picked on the most. Now that he’s on IR he won’t play this weekend. Quinton Dunbar has been mostly injured and could barely move while getting roasted by the Bills.
Injuries definitely have played a factor in addition to just underperformance. Bruce Irvin and Marquise Blair both tore their ACLs in Week 2 and I’ve already mentioned some of the injuries to other key players (Adams, Griffin, etc.) that have led to a lot of lineup changes and a lack of chemistry. There’s just been too much throwing feces at the wall and seeing what sticks and it’s only over the last month that they’ve settled in and don’t look so helter skelter. It’s still possible that the defense gets exposed playing better offenses in the playoffs (they will make the playoffs, right?), but right now I’m more worried that the offense coming unglued is really going to sink the season.
5. Can you tell us about a player (or players) on offense and on defense that Seahawks fans appreciate, but casual fans of other teams might not be too familiar with?
On offense I think we’ve just not got enough people whom casual fans don’t already know. Russell Wilson? Check. Chris Carson? Check. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett? Check and check. That leaves us with David Moore, a 2017 seventh-round draft choice from East Central University. After an impressive preseason and when the Seahawks found out Brandon Marshall was washed up, Moore took his snaps and became an instant hero on a couple of occasions, most notably against the Carolina Panthers on a must-have 4th down touchdown. His play really was not all that consistent through two seasons, with Russell’s efficiency dropping sharply when throwing his way. This year has been Moore’s breakout season and it comes after the team restructured his contract. This year he has 28 catches for 337 yards and 5 touchdowns but just 36 targets. That’s great efficiency from the WR3 spot and it certainly turned me from a Moore skeptic into a Moore fan with how he’s really ramped up his level of play.
Defensively I think Poona Ford has become a fan favorite. He was known as a one-dimensional run stuffing defensive tackle but this year he’s elevated into being a more than capable pass rusher in addition to his ability to blow up running plays. He always gives great effort and can motor for a big man, and he’s another example of those UDFA gems that general manager John Schneider manages to find seemingly every season. Seattle has needed a Brandon Mebane type interior lineman for years, and while Ford really isn’t at that level yet, he’s become a serviceable replacement.