Pete Carroll's third year as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks is finally starting to pay dividends. He has the No. 1 defense in the NFL, and the 'Hawks are sitting at 3-2 after five weeks of play. Since he made the move to the Pacific Northwest, Coach Carroll has never had a defense ranked higher than ninth...until now.
Gus Bradley's exotic pressure schemes have helped bail out its struggling offense more than once. Considering Seattle is only putting up 17.2 points per game, Bradley's defense needs to do one better to keep this team a float. His unit is only allowing 14 points per game, and it's taken the ball away seven times this season.
With New England's No. 1 offense coming to the Link this Sunday, can the Seahawks sustain their high-level of play on defense? Let's examine the Seahawks as they head into Week 6, so we can better understand just where this team stands.
The No. 1 defense in the NFL wouldn't be the No. 1 defense without the strong play of the defensive line. Whether it's rushing the passer or stuffing the run, this team can do it all. With big haases up front like Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch, there's no question as to why Seattle only gives up 3.2 yards per carry on the ground.
Mebane single-handedly destroys any run that comes through the A-gap. According to the stat gurus at Pro Football Focus, he is the most dominant 4-3 defensive tackle in the league when it comes to stuffing the run. His grade through Week 5 is an astonishing +12.5. The next closest grade is Justin Bannan's +8.1.
Rushing the passer has been equally as easy. Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin have been manhandling offensive tackles like it's second nature. Currently, Clemons is the second-most productive pass-rushing 4-3 defensive end. He has six sacks, two quarterback hits and 16 hurries. Irvin is not far behind, as he is the ninth-most productive end with 17 total pressures of his own. Five of the 17 pressures are sacks.
The Seahawks have an eight-man deep defensive line rotation. And based on PFF's grading system, six of the eight have a positive pass-rush efficiency grade. When looking at run-stopping efficiency, only four of the eight have a positive grade. Yet, the ones who are in the red have just barely crossed into the unwanted territory.
If I need a guaranteed pressure, I'm deploying Clemons, Mebane, Branch and Irvin.
As good as Seattle's defensive line is, their passing attack is a complete 180. Offensively, Darrell Bevell's group has just had a hard time finding any type of rhythm. They have no problem getting the run game cranked up weekly, but as far as consistency is concerned, that's it. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, and his completion percentage when under siege is 46.7.
Yet, is it fair for Wilson to shoulder all of the blame? Yes and no; he is the leader of the offense, however, he can't do the job of 10 other players. The wide receivers still need to run the right routes and get separation, just like the offensive linemen have to give him adequate protection and not draw those dreaded yellow flags.
Even though they have the 31st-ranked pass offense, there is reason for hope. Coming into Week 5, they were averaging a measly 130.8 yards per game through the air. Fortunately for them, they squared off against Carolina, one of the worst pass defenses in the league.
By game's end on Sunday, they had amassed 221 yards passing, and if it wasn't for the penalty-prone Breno Giacomini, they could have had 52 more yards.
It appears as if Coach Carroll is starting to loosen the reigns week by week. Due to late-game desperation in Week 1, No. 3 had to unleash 34 passes. Since then, he hasn't had more than 25 attempts in a single game.
It's hardly shocking, considering he's only attempted 125 passes, the second-lowest number in the league. Tampa Bay came in 32nd with 119 attempts, but they've already had their bye week.
Rising: Max Unger
After a flat start to the season, he has really picked up his game the last three weeks. Allowing one quarterback hit and two hurries through the first five games is incredibly impressive. In the run game, runs off his right side are averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 34 attempts.
Falling: Breno Giacomini
As a right tackle, how do you draw seven penalty flags in five weeks? Just ask Giacomini, he may have the answer. His boneheaded mistakes are killing this team. Along with the poor run-blocking and 14 total pressures he has surrendered, PFF has him as the fourth-worst offensive tackle in all of football.
Rising: Bobby Wagner
Wagner has already exceeded my expectations up to this point. I never thought he would have been able to step right in and play as well as David Hawthorne did last year. Sure, Hawthorne wasn't a superstar athlete. Yet, he played hard and had a few monster games last season. Nevertheless, Wagner already has five tackles for loss and has only missed two tackles on 201 snaps.
Falling: Earl Thomas
Strong secondary play is the name of the game for Seattle. Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Kam Chancellor are all on pace for career years. Unfortunately, Earl Thomas hasn't found that same groove. He is on pace to have the worst season of his young three-year career. His coverage on the back end just hasn't been good enough, so far.
The Outlook Heading Into Week 6
If the Seahawks want to prove they are for real, they need to beat New England in front of the 12th man. Finding that rhythm on offense may not be easy this week, but if you like defense, this will be the week to watch. The 'Hawks big, aggressive secondary matches up well, especially against Rob Gronkowski.
It will be interesting to see if Gronkowski draws coverage from Chancellor. Chancellor loves to get physical off the line, so Gronk could be in for a long day if that's the way things play out coverage-wise. If not, I'm sure Bradley has something better up his sleeve. Tight ends have only been averaging 48.8 yards per game against his defense.
Even though it has been 10 years plus since Carroll coached the Patriots, you know he wants to get a win over his former boss Bob Kraft. New England leads the series 8-7. Their only appearance at the Link was in 2008. Brady was out with a torn ACL, and Matt Cassel led them to a three-point victory.
With a win on Sunday, Coach Carroll would move to 1-1 all-time against Bill Belichick.