As some of you may have already seen, Football Outsiders released their annual list of Best and Worst Cornerbacks in the NFL for 2010. Not surprisingly, no Seahawks appeared on the "Best of" list, which is compiled using "Success Rate", which, "to remind everyone, is the percentage of passes that don't manage to get at least 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down, or 100 percent of needed yards on third down." They also measured average Yard Per Catch and average Yards After Catch of the marked receivers. Antoine Williams, Darelle Revis, Stanford Routte, Champ Bailey, Tramon Williams, and Joselio Hansen all scored well in the different categories. Nnamdi Asomugha didn't receive enough targets to qualify for the rankings, but that's because opposing quarterbacks simply don't throw his direction.
Very surprisingly though is the fact that none of the Hawks corners showed up on the "Worst of" lists either. For a team that was near the bottom in every defensive passing category: passing yards against, passing TDs against, points against etc and so forth, you'd expect either Jennings or Trufant (or both) near the top of that list. I think the fact that you don't see them in any category - success (or lack thereof) rate, average yards per catch and average yards after catch of opposing receivers - tells you a lot about the Hawks defense as a whole. One, it tells you that despite popular opinion, the Hawks don't have the worst corners in the league. Sure, they're not near the top either, and yes, they need to improve at the position for the Hawks to have more success, but it also tells you that the blame doesn't necessarily fall just on their shoulders - something I see happening at times. Kelly Jennings is largely denounced as "terrible" and Trufant is "not the player he used to be". Both of these statements aren't completely false, but when it comes to the blame game getting thrown around, I think these statistics exonerate them somewhat.
The safeties, even Earl Thomas, got beat deep a lot too. The linebackers, largely responsible for the coverage of Tight Ends and Running Backs releasing from the line, didn't do their jobs well enough either. Maybe most importantly, it shows that the Hawks didn't get enough pressure on the QB from the defensive line position. They had a good amount of sacks coming off the edge with Brock and Clemons, but did not consistently pressure the QB. The result of this lack of pressure was of course that the defense was picked apart through the air - exploiting the whole defense: the corners, safeties, and linebackers. The defensive tackle position for the Hawks produced one sack this year. This was recorded by Brandon Mebane, at the 3-tech position, the position that Pete Carroll described as "your premier interior pass rusher." Compare that to league leaders: Suh had 10 - Tommy Kelly of the Raiders had 7. This is the type of disruption you need from that position to disrupt the passing game. Mebane is a good player, but his natural position is the 1-tech, a run-stuffing wall of a man. I really believe if you give any NFL level quarterback enough time, they will be able to pick apart any defense. This is part of why the Hawks have a habit of making lower-tier QBs look like all-world players. The obvious goal then this offseason would be to upgrade the pass rush from the key positions responsible - the 3 tech and the LEO. Clemons and Brock were good but we'll need to get steady production again from them. Mebane has been given a third round tender but who knows what that really means once the new CBA is agreed on. If he's back, he may be used more at the 1-tech with Cole and hopefully a pass rushing 3-tech will be drafted or signed in free agency.
As for the cornerback spot for the Hawks, I think it will be really interesting to see what happens there this offseason. It would behoove the Hawks to sign or draft a shutdown corner of course - but what team wouldn't benefit from that? Finding a player of that caliber in the draft isn't easy and I'm not holding my breath for it to happen anytime soon for the Hawks. There are some free agents out there that could be brought in - Nnamdi Asomugha would be a crazy signing. Antonio Cromartie recently publicly 'made up' with Hasselbeck (won't matter if Matt is not re-signed of course) and is a top-level corner in the NFL as well. These guys wouldn't come cheap and aren't likely to be headed to the Pacific Northwest.
So what happens? The Hawks will need to improve at several positions for the pass defense to improve and the secondary is no exception. I believe that Earl Thomas will just get better, and Kam Chancellor has potential to start opposite him. It's possible the situation at corner isn't as bad as people make it out to be. Trufant will be back and should be healthy at the start of the season; Walter Thurmond showed promise in his rookie campaign and will be looking to win a starting role in 2011. Roy Lewis has been signed for another year and will provide depth at the nickel. Brandon Browner will compete in camp for a spot and could be a really interesting prospect. Backups Josh Pinkard and Marcus Brown have shown promise in camp and on the practice squad. Even Kelly Jennings could be re-signed and play in some nickel and bandit packages and honestly would not be a bad option in that role (so long as he's not depended on as the number two corner).
The Hawks will need to get better along the line and not give QBs so much time to pick them apart, but I have to think that the secondary can only improve from last year. The linebacker corps will look to get back to the top form they've been known for in years past. Pieces will have to fall into place, but I'm confident the Hawks defense will improve over last year.
Yeah I wonder what the numbers would be when you look at it as a pair (Trufant and Jennings)... i know that the Hawks pass defense was somewhere near the bottom of the league but thought it was curious that neither one was on the worst of list.
I kind of figured this post would cause a stir- people really hate Jennings. Statistically speaking he may not be the worst but statistics don't always tell the whole story.
I agree about Jimmy Smith in the 1st though- that guy would be awesome. WOuld still have to figure out the QB situation without that 1st round draft choice which could be hard.
Kelly Jennings is hands down THE WORST cornerback in the NFL. Anybody who denies this is pretty much in denial. He gets pushed around, manhandled, and while he sometimes manages to stick with his man, as the ball is thrown in his direction he folds completely and assumes the fetal position as the wide receiver makes a play on the ball. He does not belong in the NFL, period.
I respectfully disagree. I know we do need more help up front on BOTH sides of the ball, but our corner play was abysmal. Yeah, neither Jennings or Trufant by themselves merits the award of worst corner in the league, but I would argue that the pair is within the five worst when evaluated together. While our lines were weak, our oline showed improvement as the season went on, and our defensive line is only one or two depth guys away from being solid. (Alan Branch Anyone?) In addition, our sack totals really weren't all that bad. We did lose the battle up front, but up front also includes corners who are willing to bump and run. Both Trufant and Jennings either got OWNED on the line of scrimmage, or stood ten yards back on 3rd and 3. Neither one of these clowns could figure out how to diagnose a screen play. I would be surprised if either one is still on the roster come the end of training camp. It's apparent that the new regime prefers larger, intimidating cornerbacks like Pinkard and Browner. Look for the hawks to add one more big time corner in the draft. Maybe a Jimmy Smith or Ras-I Dowling type player. Then watch ET make the pro bowl with 10+ INT's baby! Go Hawks!
@Recordblender also, yeah, it always really annoyed me when the Corners played off the receiver 10 yards on a short yardage down - the opposing QB would just zip it over for an automatic 1st down - I'm not sure if that's more Gus Bradley's fault though with the type of coverage he's calling for.
@Dan_Kelly @Recordblender I've never understood why the Hawks play a soft zone. I'd rather see them hit someone, then release to their zones. As much as Jim Mora destroyed this team, when he was the defensive backs coach, he did a great job. In his first year he had the corners playing closer, and a consistant pass rush. This enabled the safeties to play only half the field. The Seahawks nearly set an NFL record for limiting td passes. Remember when Brian Russell was good? He was good because he was able to play to his strengths, and cover his weaknesses, namely his speed. When he only had to cover half the field, when the corners were able to start close to their receivers, the Hawks secondary was great.
When the Hawks have to have one safety help support the run, they're in trouble. The corners have to line up further back (still it should be no more than 7 yards, not 10!) so that they can take some of the area that the safeties would normally patrol, and then the receiver can find the zone seams easier. When the defense can get consistent pressure, while keeping the run in check, Jennings and Trufant can play to their strengths, and look great doing it.
I'd love to get a guy like Jimmy Smith, but I'd rather the Hawks find a consistent pass rusher. That alone would improve the defense by allowing the corners to play closer to the wide outs.
If anyone thinks that Trufant and Jennings are the worst corner back tandem, they did not see either New Orleans game. Matt hasselbeck threw for 638 yards, five touchdowns, one tipped interception, and qb ratings of 104.9 and 113. That would be 5104 yards, 40 tds, 16 ints, and a rating around 108 for a full season. Their dbs are a heck of a lot worse.
Yep!! It all starts up front. We need BIG, NASTY, UGLY, I'M GONNA KILL YA, kind of lineman, high motor, never quit, till... "Oh, was that the whistle... gee I'm sorry... :-)