RENTON — At his core Pete Carroll is still a defensive coach, a tug that at times perhaps pulls harder than being the one that oversees the entire Seattle Seahawks operation.
The ongoing struggles and inconsistency by Seattle on that side of the ball for several seasons has gnawed at Carroll. He built one of the great Super Bowl-winning defenses a decade ago and Seattle hasn’t been able to match that level since.
Which is why Carroll was quick to take ownership of Seattle’s overall defensive issues following the Seahawks’ playoff loss to San Francisco last weekend.
If Seattle intends to close the gap with the 49ers in the NFC West, improvement on defense must be at the forefront.
“The consistency wasn’t there, and I totally have to own that. This is me not getting it right fast enough,” Carroll said. “We can fix some problems, we are good at that, but then we weren’t complete in getting the issues solved. We weren’t as clean as we needed to be at the line of scrimmage, we didn’t fit as well as we needed to, and we made too many small errors that ended up being huge things.”
Seattle finished the regular season 26th in the league in total defense, 25th in scoring defense and 30th at stopping the run. A year earlier, Seattle was 28th overall and 31st at stopping the pass. In 2020, the season Seattle won the NFC West, the Seahawks were 31st at stopping the pass and 21st overall.
Seattle has not ranked in the top half of the league in total defense since 2018 when it was 16th overall, meaning what played out this season is not the outlier. And that’s what is bothering Carroll.
“It’s killing me, yeah, it’s killing me,” he said. “We are going to have to become more dynamic up front, we have to. We’ve kind of been in the same mode, we have to get more production out of the guys, they have to be more of a factor.”
Seattle made structural changes to its defensive scheme last offseason and the results were mixed. They were awful early, solid at midseason only to see some of the problems from early in the season reappear in the final six weeks.
Carroll said there will continue to be tweaks and adjustments to the defensive scheme going into next season, but the biggest change is likely to come with personnel.
Seattle will have some big decisions to make with its front seven and could see the most significant offseason investment. The Seahawks need more impact from their defensive tackles, more pass rushers coming off the edge and potential major changes at linebacker.
Seattle seems settled in the secondary with Quandre Diggs, Tariq Woolen, Michael Jackson, Coby Bryant and the expected return of Jamal Adams. Ryan Neal is a restricted free agent, but is almost certain to return.
But up front is where the changes could come. The Seahawks most impactful defensive lineman was edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu, who led the team in sacks and was excellent in run defense. But interior pass rush was lacking and Seattle’s run defense was a sieve and a continued indictment of the play along the defensive front. Adding to the potential for an overhaul is the uncertainty at linebacker after Jordyn Brooks suffered a torn ACL late in the season and with Cody Barton an unrestricted free agent.
“We need guys to be an issue for the opponents, so schematically, we help them, but physically, they have to do their thing too,” Carroll said. “We are competing to get better.”