Is the Seahawks' Secondary Now a Liability Following Suspensions?

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Is the Seahawks' Secondary Now a Liability Following Suspensions?
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks have the NFL's best record at 10-1, due in large part to the league's best defense (entering Week 13).

The strength of that defense until recently was a secondary allowing an NFL-low 180.4 passing yards per game.

Now, however, the Seahawks head into a key matchup with the New Orleans Saints with questions swirling around the defensive backfield. Given those questions, it's fair to wonder whether that strength on defense has suddenly become a weakness that the Saints can exploit Monday night.

Seattle has been beset by suspensions in the secondary...again. This time, not to be outdone by teammate Walter Thurmond's four-game suspension, fellow cornerback Brandon Browner went and got himself suspended for an entire season.

As Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com reports, Browner is appealing his suspension, but after serving a four-game ban last year for the same offense, the odds of his winning are...

Well, they're so good that Thurmond dropped his appeal in order to be eligible to return for the playoffs, just as Browner did last year when both he and Richard Sherman were facing suspension.

That's a starting cornerback and the nickel man gone in the blink of an eye. The starter isn't coming back.

At this point, it's worth noting that Browner missed Week 11 and part of Week 10 with an injury, and over that stretch, the Seahawks outscored their opponents, 74-30. The Seattle defense played just fine in those games. Against Minnesota two weeks ago, it was Byron Maxwell who started opposite Sherman, although Thurmond played more snaps and had the better game (including a pick-six).

Browner's 2012 suspension spanned the final four regular-season games, in which the Seahawks went undefeated and surrendered just 43 points, notching one shutout. But in those four games, they faced the likes of the Rams, Bills, 49ers and Cardinals. And not the Carson Palmer-led Cards, but the John Skelton-led Cardinals whose passing attack was laughable.

They haven't faced an offense like the Saints when they've been without Browner.

Now, the team will be without Thurmond and Browner, and coupled with the release of journeyman Perrish Cox, the Seahawks are paper-thin at cornerback.

Almost since the moment that Browner's suspension was announced, Antoine Winfield has been mentioned as a potential addition. The 36-year-old, who retired earlier this year after joining Seattle in free agency, has talked to the team, but according to Mike Garafalo of FOX Sports, nothing is imminent:

In any event, no one's appearing out of the blue this week to help Seattle, and it's this week that the Seahawks are going to find out if they have a real problem on their hands.

Of all the weeks to spring a significant leak in the secondary, heading into a matchup with Drew Brees and the Saints probably isn't optimal timing.

And this is a huge game. The winner will leave Week 13 with the NFC's best record (via tiebreaker). It could easily be the difference between The 12th Man and "Who Dat" in the NFC Championship Game.

That's what makes weathering the storm this week such a huge deal for the Seahawks.

Get past Week 13 with a win in front of the home crowd, and not only do the Seahawks hold a two-game edge on the (presently) second-seeded Saints, but life gets a lot easier.

Seattle Seahawks Schedule
Week Opponent Passing YPG Passing Offense Rank
13 New Orleans Saints 317.3 2nd
14 at San Francisco 49ers 180.2 31st
15 at New York Giants 233.1 18th
16 Arizona Cardinals 246.5 14th
17 St. Louis Rams 209.8 26th

Weeks 13-17

With the exception of the Saints, none of the Seahawks' remaining opponents ranks inside the top 10 in the NFL in passing. Seattle also gets the only consistent passing team left on its schedule (Arizona) at home in Week 16, where the raucous crowd is a huge advantage.

In other words, by the time the Seahawks play a team truly capable of taking advantage of their weakened secondary, it won't be that weakened anymore. Thurmond will have returned, and any veterans (Winfield) who have joined the team will have had a few weeks to get up to speed.

However, get carved up by Brees and lose to the Saints at home, and all of a sudden, the pecking order in the NFC is a lot less clear.

It's a real possibility, too. There isn't a more adept quarterback in the NFL at spreading the ball around than Brees. If a consistent mismatch is there, Brees is going to exploit it over and over and over and over; you get where I'm going.

Frankly, if for no other reason than the fact this week's game is in Seattle, the Seahawks may have dodged the proverbial bullet. After all, the last time the Saints traveled to the Pacific Northwest, things worked out OK.

The Seahawks haven't lost at home since 2011. Survive this game, and they have a two-game lead on the rest of the NFC with four to play, in addition to holding tiebreakers over the Saints and Panthers.

The playoffs will be headed through Seattle, and the Seahawks don't lose at home.

The problem is, neither do the Saints. If the NFC title game winds up in the Big Easy because of this game, an outcome that could easily cost the Seahawks a trip to New Jersey in February, then "liability" won't begin to describe the impact of these suspensions on the 2013 season.

"Undoing" would. Maybe "catastrophe."

In any event, we won't have to wait long to find out.

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