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Five questions with Field Gulls: Figuring out the reasons for the Seahawks’ struggles on defense?

Mookie Alexander joins us from Field Gulls to help us learn more about the Seahawks.

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Mookie Alexander from Field Gulls was kind enough to answer five questions ahead of Sunday’s showdown between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. We reached out to him to try and get a better understanding of this Seattle team.

1.) Everyone seems to be concerned with DK Metcalf, but it’s evident that Tyler Lockett is the guy that Russell Wilson trusts and relies on more when you watch the Seahawks. If you had to tell us which receiver is more important to Seattle and why, how would you explain that?

Metcalf may be more important in the long-term as he improves his game — he’s more valuable chasing down guys after interceptions, that’s for sure — but it’s evident that Lockett is the most impactful and most efficient Seahawks receiver. Lockett’s chemistry with Wilson is really something special to watch. He is Wilson’s #1 target in play-action passing and his primary guy for deep balls and intermediate routes. Lockett has better hands and is a crisp route-runner with absurd body control and an ability to make difficult catches in tight windows. Metcalf is himself a serious deep threat and looks phenomenal in YAC situations, but he’s had some drops and fumbles that you just don’t see out of Lockett.

Where Lockett really can work magic with Wilson is when it’s scramble drill time, as he always finds the soft spot for Wilson to deliver a dime to him. Lockett’s catch rate has ranged from 75-82% since 2018, which speaks to how money that combination has been ever since he usurped Doug Baldwin as the number one option.

2.) Some fans are dubbing this game the “injury bowl.” Seattle will be without a laundry list of starters. Which are the three biggest injuries for the Seahawks in this game, and why?

I’ll only stick to the players who are no better than a game-time decision:

Jamal Adams. He is Seattle’s best pass rusher. He is also a safety. You see the problem here? Adams is a swiss army knife who can play at the line, in the box, or downfield in coverage. The Seahawks traded a lot to get Adams, and he had an immediate impact before his groin injury. Adams can be picked on in coverage, but otherwise, he is valuable as a pass rusher, run defender, and he’s one of the few players on the team who consistently tackles well. Adams, in this particular matchup, would be vital for the Seahawks defense against a creative 49ers offense. He’s a game-time decision, so I wouldn’t bank on him playing after just one practice in a month.

Chris Carson. Another game-time decision due to a mid-foot sprain. Seattle’s running back position is now just as beaten up as San Francisco’s, except the 49ers could probably plug-and-play Garrison Hearst, and he’d rush for 150 right now. The same can’t be said for the Seahawks backfield. Carson is the most consistent, powerful runner on the team, and he’s considerably improved his value as a receiving back. I don’t like the lack of nuance in the “running backs don’t matter” debate because you can clearly see a fundamental difference between Carson and Travis Homer.

Carson is a vastly superior between the tackles runner compared to anyone else on the roster, and he breaks tackles and fights for extra yardage better than anyone on the team. Only Carlos Hyde is close to him, and he’s not playing this weekend. If Carson can’t go, then you’re probably looking at a Homer/Deejay Dallas duo, and that is not going to end well.

Shaquill Griffin. He’s definitely out with a concussion and hamstring injury. Griffin is the team’s #1 cornerback and the heir apparent to Richard Sherman, but you don’t just replace a legend that easily, and he’s been inconsistent in his contract year. When he’s good, he’s really good, but that Cowboys game was some ugly tape. With that said, he’s clearly the top corner on the team, and his absence means more of Tre Flowers, who’s been a mess this season and stretching back to last postseason. It’s not a stretch to suggest that Flowers is the worst starting corner the Seahawks have ever had under Pete Carroll.

3.) The injuries on defense have impacted how effective the Seahawks have been on defense, but there’s no way to sugarcoat it: Seattle has been bad on that side of the ball. What are some of the key reasons for their struggles, aside from injuries?

If I just said “Ken Norton Jr” and “most of the great players are gone” and just ended my answer, I think that would’ve been acceptable, but it would’ve done a disservice to your readers. This has been an ongoing problem throughout Norton’s tenure for sure, but it’s gotten progressively worse, even independent of the injuries. Outside of stopping the run and generating turnovers, there’s nothing the Seahawks do well. Even tackling had become a serious issue when that was one of the hallmarks of the team.

For all of the complaints about how often Seattle’s defensive backs got away withholding during the LOB era, the current secondary swung the other way, and receivers have plenty of space to work with. Tre Flowers has been the main culprit because he’s too foot-slow to deal with quick routes and too slow-slow to deal with fast receivers down the field.

The biggest problem has been the lack of a pass rush. Since trading away, Frank Clark, the front office has done a sub-par job of building a good defensive line, and as such, the pressure rate ranks near the bottom of the league. Then Norton exacerbates the issue by occasionally sending his best pass rushers into coverage so quarterbacks can get hours to throw.

In fact, the Seahawks have put themselves in a position where the secondary struggles to cover one-on-one in blitzing situations and can’t cover when the Seahawks only send three or four. If not for the turnovers, this might actually be the worst pass defense in the NFL, which is insane to think about for a Pete Carroll team.

The injuries to Jamal Adams and Marquise Blair (and now Shaquill Griffin) certainly are a factor, but Norton has yet to field a competent defense as coordinator for either the Raiders or the Seahawks. I could go deeper into how bad draft picks, and questionable signings by GM John Schneider have factored into the collapse of the Seattle defense, but I am convinced that Norton is the problem and he needs to go. There’s enough talent on the defense; there is just too much underperforming and botched execution. Hopefully, trading for Carlos Dunlap can help fix some of the pass-rushing woes.

4.) Nearly halfway through the season, Seattle appears to be the same team they are every year: An entertaining team where every game is going to come down to the final possession. What are your realistic expectations for the rest of the season, and is the feeling in Seattle that this team is going to be the No. 1 seed?

I’d say they’re a different team in that they’re winning with their offense while still finding a way to make most games come down to the final possession. Realistically I see a playoff team, and I still believe that they can make a Super Bowl run through Russell Wilson’s brilliance. I’m not confident that they’ll be the #1 seed, though. My gut tells me that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Green Bay Packers will finish as the #1 seed.

5.) The 49ers need this game more than the Seahawks. If Seattle does lose, how big of a deal would that be to lose back-to-back divisional games, and how much would that change your opinion of the team going forward?

I’m not worried about the Seahawks missing the playoffs because, with an extra spot, I am pretty certain that 10-6 would be good enough to qualify. After all, they still have three NFC East teams to play and the Jets. I would not be satisfied with merely qualifying, though, so another loss in the division would have me nervous about losing the NFC West. Pete Carroll is the old guy in a division filled with young, offensive-minded coaches.

It seems like for as much as the Seahawks are now an offensive juggernaut, Kingsbury, McVay, and Shanahan are likely to consistently run circles around his defenses, which may speak to the brilliance of those three and/or the obsolescence of his own defensive schemes. This division is too stacked for Seattle to keep dropping divisional games, and if they lose this one, then that’s five in a row dating back to last year. At 5-1, I’d put the team at Defcon 5, but 5-2 with two divisional losses gets the Seahawks to Defcon 4, which I’m sure will put 49ers fans on Cloud 9.