Today we're going to take a look at the defense. It's a tricky proposition, because I think we have more talent on the defensive side of the ball, but much less execution. Just as a head's up, tomorrow will be covering the Coaching Staff, followed by a Front Office analysis (so please, keep the Ruskell hate there and not in the Offense/Defense/Coaching sections, haha). Finally, I'll sum it all up and see where we might be going and where we ought to be headed. Without further ado...
CHAPTER TWO: The Defense
Defensive Tackles: C+
Oh! It pains me so to give this low a rating to the area with my favorite player, but I see little choice. Colin Cole has been okay-to-good. He is surprisingly agile and has decent lateral speed when tested, but he has not done what he was brought in to do, which is take on two blocks consistently and help collapse the pocket for Brandon Mebane. Likewise, Mebane has flashed excellence, but he has not lived up to the hype that we gave him. He was excellent as a one-tech and we all assumed he would be even better in what appears to be his more natural fit, but he has only gotten one sack and hasn't been the consistent force we were hoping for. Red Bryant has a lot of upside, especially as a potential 3-4 defensive end if things go that direction, but he has too often not even made it onto the field. Craig Terrill remains Craig Terrill. We've not yet had a shot to see Derek Walker in the regular season.
I think the improvement here must come from an improved scheme (3-4) or better play. Improved DE play would certainly help the inside guys look better. Primarily tasked with stopping the run, they have done very well. The two Frank Gore runs came with no Brandon Mebane in the middle, after all.
Defensive Ends: C-
Funny. Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson are arguably our most consistent players on defense this year, but neither has been a game changing force and Tapp isn't even starting. Jackson rightfully won the starting job over Cory Redding by week 3, but since then he has been quieted a little bit. Patrick Kerney is all but a non-factor, apparently showing up for three snaps a game then heading back to his hyperbaric chamber. Redding has been a bit of a let down. Nick Reed is exciting to watch and has been solid on special teams, but he has not yet shown the ability to make plays or get at the quarterback when playing against NFL first stringers.
The big issue, however, is that none of the defensive ends are studs. None of them are showing an ability to get to the quarterback. In a 4-3 defense, they simply must. More than any other factor, the 4-3 DEs are tasked with impacting the opponents. None of ours is currently showing the capacity to do that. Lawrence Jackson is very good against the run and has been incrementally better at getting to the QB. Tapp has been fast and exciting, flying around at all times. Those two players are not enough to return us to a winning team though. The Seahawks will absolutely need to target a defensive end in the draft if they hope to compete next year. Yes, they could get one in free agency too, but the best will either be locked up already or too expensive for their age - do you want to pay $14 million for a 30-year old Julius Peppers?
Most talented trio of linebackers in the league? Could be. But 2009 Lofa Tatupu is not 2005 Lofa Tatupu, and for that matter, 2009 Leroy Hill is not 2005 Leroy Hill. Are they getting older? No, not really, they should be entering their prime, but for some reason people refuse to use Hill as a pass rusher. He had 9.5 sacks his rookie year! Come ON guys! Instead, rookie Aaron Curry has been expected to learn a skill that he was not called on to use often in college. Realistically, Curry is a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker. He has the speed, the strength, the block-shedding ability, and the appetite for destruction. Instead, the Hawks are trying to fit him in as a DE at times (245lb LB vs. 330 lb OT) but it's just not working. Hawthorne is a freak, but not quite at the level we would want him at if we were to move to a 3-4. We have an incredibly young and talented group of linebackers, but they don't appear to be utilized properly at this point.
No offseason upgrades required.
Like it or not, our two starting cornerbacks are actually pretty good. Josh Wilson has stepped up in a very big way and Marcus Trufant is on the right road to recovery, despite the NFL throwing more yellow in his direction than any three-game period I can recall (not that they were all warranted...). Ken Lucas has been a disappointment, and while Kelly Jennings has finally stepped up and played at an NFL backup's level, he is not a good enough backup to be relied upon.
The Seahawks need depth here, if nothing else, but in an ideal world, Josh Wilson would slide to the nickelback as often as possible where he presents a better blitz threat and an upgrade over any other nickel fill in on this team. In a wonderful world we'd get a big-time playmaker like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (who is also very tall) or a shut-down corner like Darrelle Revis (or, heart-flutter, Asomugha). This ain't an ideal world. If we fill anyone in at CB it'll be in free agency (uncertain of 2010's class) or the draft, but not before the fourth round there. I don't foresee help coming, but Wilson has stepped up in a big way, so it's not as needed as it appeared last offseason.
Our weakest spot by far. Letting Brian Russell go was exciting, and still probably the right move, but Jordan Babineaux is simply not an NFL starter. He is failing to make any big plays (most of them have come when he was playing nickel, not free safety), and he has been bad-to-terrible at being the last line of defense. Deon Grant has been better, but again, not good enough. He is good when near the line of scrimmage, but probably not as good as Lawyer Milloy. Milloy joins Hill and Curry in the hyper-select group of Seahawks defenders who tackle with authority. I swear, if I see another shoulder-dive-tackle I'm going to have an aneurysm. It is obnoxious and filled with fail. Jamar Adams is our fourth safety, and should be given a chance to play FS. It remains to be seen whether he will be.
With Grant in his 30s, Milloy a short-term fix, The Babs Experiment failing, and Adams not seeing the field, this is the biggest weakness on our defense. Eric Berry and/or Taylor Mays could be a huge boon to this defense, but we can't get caught up in the hype. They both had phenomenal sophomore years. Mays, now a senior, is in his second straight year of mediocrity. Berry is better, but the fact that everyone WANTS him to be Ed Reed does not necessarily make him so. He is having a good-at-best year in Tennessee and is not quite flexing his magic as he was expected to. They both have the measurables to push themselves into the top half of the first round, but they might not be worth the pick. A very good safety may well be available in the second round and, again, free agency will demand a good hard look.