We’ve heard it a million times in less than a week – The Seattle Seahawks cannot get after the quarterback. They cannot apply pressure.
In a move that stunned absolutely no one, Seattle traded for 31-year-old Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap, and Dunlap brings with him exactly one-ninth of the sacks Seattle has in six games. That should tell you two things – Seattle was desperate for help, and Dunlap was not a key franchise piece for the Bengals any longer. If you doubt that, consider that the Bengals accepted a backup center and a late pick for the veteran pass rusher (who was coming off the bench in Cincy). Hopefully the deal works out for Seattle; there’s no reason Dunlap cannot prove he still has something in the tank. That’s why he reportedly wanted to be traded, so this could be a win for all three sides.
After Minnesota sent Yannick Ngakoue to the Ravens for 3rd- and fifth-round picks, and Dallas sent Everson Griffen to Detroit for a 6th-round conditional pick, Seattle fans had to wonder when Seahawks GM John Schneider would finally make a deal. Two weeks ago, Schneider signed Damon “Snacks” Harrison to the practice squad, expecting Snacks to be moved to the starting lineup in short order once the veteran was up to speed on the playbook and passed Covid-19 protocols.
The hope for Seattle is that Dunlap is able to continue or improve his career average of 8 sacks per season, which would be an immediate boost to Seattle’s current pass rush – which is tied with New England for 29th in the league. The other bit of good news on Dunlap is that he hasn’t missed more than two games in a season since 2011, so durability is a plus after so many defensive linemen have struggled with injuries this season.
Like Jadaveon Clowney last season, Seattle cannot simply ask Dunlap to improve the pass rush on his own. Clowney had just three sacks last year, a career worst in a season he started the majority of games, and could indicate why he was not interested in returning to the Seahawks. Clowney accounted for a lot of pressures and hurries, which can be just as important as sacks, but the main issue is that there was not anyone else able to get consistent pressure. So if you were the opposing offensive coordinator, you could just call for help on Clowney, and accept any pressure you happened to get from the other rushers. The opposing lines won a lot, as Seattle finished the season with 28 total sacks, tied for 31st in the league. When the team averages just two sacks per game and limited cap space to sign a big name, it’s no surprise the team essentially punted and allowed their unproven players to have a shot it early in the season, With the results coming in overwhelmingly not great, they are punting again, and trading for veteran help.
It’s a huge departure from a defense that owned the field from 2013-2015, with Michael Bennett, Chris Clemmons, Bruce Irvin, and Cliff Avril terrorizing opposing QBs. Now when you play Seattle, you don’t really have to worry about getting pressure. And that’s a different kind of pressure. In Pete Carroll’s career, his best teams usually had three things – a great running game, the ideal QB, and a defense that could eat you alive. He currently has two of the three, and if he gets the third, half of all life in the universe could be disintegrated from existence. Or something like that.
So what can Seattle do to take some of the pressure off of themselves, and apply it to their opponents? Harrison was a good start, Dunlap is a solid addition, but they need to make another move. If Dunlap is the splash, that’s a problem, as two aging players aren’t going to fix a defense short on playmakers.
Generally the rule is that teams that compete in the same conference do not want to trade with each other if they can avoid it. You can understand the logic, those teams don’t want to see their opponent get better and potentially derail a playoff run with a player they once had.. That lack of interest in helping your potential enemy is double if you share a division, so Seattle can always contact other NFC West teams, but the chances of a deal being done between division rivals is slim. So the best options are in rebuilding teams found in the other three divisions in the NFC, and they can pick from any of the teams in the AFC. There’s the Texans, Jets, Patriots, Chargers, Broncos, and Jaguars all looking to stockpile young talent and picks and move away from expensive veterans ( if they’re not, they should be). In the NFC, you could contact pretty much anyone in the NFC East, then try the Vikings and Falcons to see who they are interested in dealing. While it may be tougher to get good players from teams in the NFC, the payoff is double if you can work it out. You get a player you need, and in most cases that player likely has good experience pressuring the same QBs you’re currently scheduled against. Hard to put a price on that, but GMs and sports agents always do.
Given Seattle’s preference to dealing with Houston in recent years, perhaps JJ Watt is the best target? The Texans are a sinking ship, and fired their GM/head coach Bill O’Brien recently, leaving the door open for a fill in executive to make some mistakes in Seattle’s favor. Watt is a future first ballot hall of famer looking for his first chance to play on a championship contender. He’s not the kind of guy that would demand a trade, but I have a hard time believing he would ask to stay if the right offer came along. He hasn’t been the same player the last two years as injuries have caught up with him, but he still makes a huge impact. If Houston will listen, you have to make a call and see if a deal can be made. Safety Jamal Adams came from the Jets via trade, perhaps they would be willing to deal another member of their defense. Hopefully one that doesn’t cost two first rounders though, no matter how Seattle has used their top draft picks recently.
Guys like Watt are out there and available, and with a defensive line of Dunlap, Watt, Harrison, and one of the up and coming players already on the active roster, and you have one very solid line. Then the guys that are struggling now because they aren’t yet playing at an NFL starter level can rotate in as change of pace players and be their most impactful while learning the trade from guys that play at a high level. Dunlap just came over from the Bengals where he was unhappy with a role coming off the bench, so he’s most likely well rested and ready to feast on opposing QBs just in time for Thanksgiving.
Dunlap will need help if sending pressure at their opponent is going to become the norm. Seattle needs to learn to apply pressure because right now, all of the pressure is on them to beat the odds by winning just with offense. Seattle’s opponents are a combined 14-25, so while the Seahawks have performed well, they haven’t faced the best of competition. At 5-2, Arizona is easily the best team they have played, and while there are valid questions about how good the Cardinals really are, whoever won last Sunday night’s thriller would have few if any bragging rights.
Now that Harrison and Dunlap are expected to be seen in Seattle uniforms any minute, and with the trade deadline rapidly approaching on Tuesday, Seattle cannot be done making moves. While they can learn a lot from their first loss, how extremely close four of their first five contests were should have been alarming given how well their offense has been playing. That tells you two things – they don’t have the players they need to make their scheme work, and they know it. While there are guys out there interested in a new team to call home, Seattle has an uphill battle to be anyone’s trade partner, even if the market has dictated that veteran pass rushers unhappy in their current homes are worth anywhere from two middle round picks to one late round pick, Seattle is getting short on time, low on assets, and even lower on cap room to pay whoever they trade for. So if they do get a chance to trade for a player that can help them and Russell Wilson win now, they may have to dig into their future to do it. Is that worth it to raise their 2nd banner to the CenturyLink rafters?
Absolutely. This offense was recently on pace to meet or exceed what the 2013 Denver Broncos, if they can put a quality defense on the field, there’s really no team in the league this year that is the unbeatable juggernaut, but Seattle has the players and coaching to prove they belong in that conversation. If they can’t field a good defense, they may end up like a lot of good teams that had great seasons but couldn’t win when it counted. Green Bay has a similar situation, but is just a couple of guys getting healthy from having a complete defense, and are looking to add a deep threat to their already potent offense. Like Seattle, they have not faced many quality opponents, so we don’t know for sure how good they really are. Tampa Bay is finally healthy and clicking and looks ready to go on a tear. Seattle’s offense could be better than the Tampa Tom’s, but they’ll need to be able to stop Brady a couple times in a playoff game to prove it. That starts and ends with putting pressure on the crafty and seemingly ageless vet.
Ends. That’s what Seattle needs to make this season a success. Like we learned from Everlast, “some people will rob their mother” for the ends. Seattle needs to look at every team looking to rebuild, and call about getting any and every end they can.
It’s about the ends, winning in this league is all about taking pressure and sending it to the other team. To do that, you need the ends. Seattle needs the defensive ends. Dunlap is a good start to the story, but he’s just one end, not the end.
If Seattle wants a good ending to their 2020 story, they need to go find the end that can help them get there. Dunlap could be that guy, but he’s not going to be able to do it alone.