SEATTLE – There is a simple, but important attitude change new Seattle Seahawks head coach Jim Mora expects his defense to bring to every game.
It is a motto: Relentless effort.
“I believe in attacking and being aggressive, and playing with a bit of a stinger,” Mora said during his first press conference as the team’s head coach last week. “That’s what we’re going to do. Attacking doesn’t always mean blitzing. It doesn’t always mean sending extra guys. It’s a style. It’s an attitude. It’s an emphasis. It’s a passion. And it is also, at times, bringing extra people to affect the quarterback.”
For Mora’s motto to succeed, however, Seattle’s defensive front four must show improvement from 2008 in the upcoming season.
Seattle finished a respectable 10th in the league in sacks with 35 overall. But that statistic is a bit misleading because 13 of those sacks came in two games against San Francisco – the 49ers allowed a league-high 55 sacks in 2008.
Aside from that NFC West rivalry, the Seahawks failed to get consistent pressure on the opponents’ quarterback most of the season. Seattle struggled in part because the team’s best pass rusher, Patrick Kerney, missed nine games with a shoulder injury. Kerney needed season-ending surgery on the same injured shoulder for the second straight year.
With Kerney out and second-year defensive end Darryl Tapp and rookie Lawrence Jackson still learning, the defense failed to come near the 45 sacks the Seahawks generated in 2007. The result was a significant slip in statistics that also showed up on the scoreboard and the standings.
At times, Seattle tried to blitz to create pressure on the quarterback, but the strategy often didn’t work, leaving small cornerbacks Kelly Jennings, Josh Wilson and Marcus Trufant vulnerable to the deep pass.
And Seattle’s opponents made them pay. The 2008 Seahawks gave up 25 touchdowns through the air, tied for third-worst in the league, and hauled in only nine interceptions, 29th overall. Those statistics paled in comparison to Seattle’s defense in 2007, which held opponents to a league-low 15 touchdowns through the air and finished with 20 interceptions, tied for fourth in the NFL. Seattle’s total of 45 sacks in 2007 was fourth in the league.
The poor defensive play led to friction in Seattle’s locker room. Specifically, after the Seahawks were blown out 34-9 by Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, safety Deon Grant and linebacker Julian Peterson complained that the Seahawks weren’t doing enough to create pressure on Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo.
Mora seems to share the same view, and may have been in disagreement with former defensive coordinator John Marshall. However, Mora never said anything publicly during the season, choosing instead to focus on coaching the defensive secondary.
Grant said to expects changes defensively with Mora in charge.
“If we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do to get that pressure on the quarterback or on the running backs it will never work,” Grant said during a recent radio interview on KJR-AM. “And that’s not taking anything away from my front four. … It wasn’t the way it should have been working and had been working over the past year. So I know for a fact that Jim (Mora) is going to figure that part out and change it.”
So which defense should Seahawks fans expect in 2009? Perhaps Seattle will pick up some players in the draft and free agency to boost the talent level on defense. But Mora says the talent already is in place for Seattle to return to its form of 2007, and it’s just a matter of a change in attitude and paying more attention to the details.
He points to coaching improvements that will be made with a mostly new defensive coaching staff in place, led by new coordinator Casey “Gus” Bradley and defensive line/assistant head coach Dan Quinn. He says the defense – in particular the defensive line – will be coached on how to take advantage of the team’s offensive scheme and have a better, overall understanding of the team’s defensive philosophy from a big-picture perspective.
“It is the responsibility of a coach to try to – as you evaluate your players – figure out how to put them in the right position to have success,” Mora said. “To come up with pass-rush plans and to educate them on protection schemes, so when they’re out on the field and you’re on the sidelines, and they have to make decisions, they can make decisions because they’re well-educated.
“Where’s the center going to slide? What pass rush games can we win to affect the quarterback? When the back is in a dotted position behind the quarterback, and the threat of run is there, how does that affect how I rush the passer? If I know they’re sliding the center to me, and I know that’s creating two one-on-ones over here, what do I need to do to occupy that center so he can’t go back and help?
“That’s part of being a good football coach: educating your players in those things. We’ve got young players that want to learn those things, and we’ve got young players that will be taught those things by one of the finest defensive line coaches in the league.”
Mora said it’s also the responsibility of coaches to make sure the Seahawks are getting the most out of the talent already on the roster.
“Not everybody can have the premier, premier pass rusher,” Mora said. “They’re hard to get. You have to finish poorly a lot of years in a row in order for that to happen, and that’s not the case here, nor will it be the case.
“You have to develop that to a certain extent. Yeah, it is a little bit of a big-picture approach. I believe very strongly that it’s important that players have a complete understanding of their position, but I think it’s important that they also have a complete understanding of our scheme and how their position fits in our scheme, and how things are working around them. … That’s what we’re working towards.”