The worst thing that happened to the Seattle Seahawks during their trip to Buffalo on Sunday wasn’t their 44-34 loss to the Bills.
No, the worst thing that happened for Seattle was that the Bills provided the blueprint for how to beat the Seahawks: Don’t even bother trying to run the ball.
The loss to the Bills, honestly, was something the Seahawks could absorb. A road defeat three time zones away against a division leader in the opposing conference? Not a big deal. Seattle is still 6-2, the Seahawks still sit in first place in the NFC West.
The problem is that Seattle has one glaring weakness, and the Bills exposed it to its fullest.
Buffalo didn’t even make a token effort at running the ball during the first half of Sunday’s games. The Bills ran pass plays on their first eight snaps, and 28 of Buffalo’s 31 first-half plays were passes. ESPN has data going back to 2008, and that was the highest percentage of pass plays in a first half ESPN has ever recorded.
There’s a reason for that. Seattle’s pass defense is historically bad.
The Seahawks are on pace to shatter the NFL record for passing yards allowed in a season. Seattle has allowed 2,897 passing yards through eight games, which is 362.1 per contest. The team that holds the dubious distinction of allowing the most pass yards in a season is the 2011 Green Bay Packers, who gave up 299.75 per game. The Seahawks are on track to lap the field.
Even with the NFL drifting further and further toward being a passing league, teams still try to maintain some semblance of balance between run and pass. But Bills coach Sean McDermott said, ‘Forget that.” In the first half Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen slung the ball around like an over-enthusiastic dead-ball infield going around the horn following a strikeout. Seattle’s pass rush couldn’t lay a hand on Allen, receivers found themselves running free all over the secondary, and Allen finished the half 24-for-28 for 282 yards and three touchdowns. The Seahawks were fortunate to only be trailing 24-10 at halftime.
And it’s not like this was peak Tom Brady shredding the Seahawks’ secondary, it was Josh Allen. I acknowledge that it appears Allen has taken a step forward in his third season, and the game against the Seahawks isn’t the only great performance he’s had this year. But it’s hard to forget that Allen was the subject of considerable ridicule the past two seasons.
Seattle adjusted to the torrent by bringing the house on the blitz on almost every snap. That resulted in seven sacks, but it also stressed a secondary that was without top cornerback Shaquill Griffin because of injury, while No. 2 corner Quinton Dunbar was hampered by a knee ailment.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll called the performance, “Uncharacteristic,” and during his Monday morning radio show on 710 ESPN he chalked up the bad day at the office to a lack of defensive execution.
“We made some real mistakes early in the game,” Carroll said. “Just fundamental things in coverage that we can do right, we do right a lot, and we just didn’t read things properly. … There was stuff that’s really clearly the things that we practiced on, that we can do right, that we didn’t carry over to the game, so we know we can fix those things. I’m looking at it differently defensively than you guys I would think of, ‘God what do we do now?’ Well, we just have to keep getting better and clean things up.”
That would be an easier argument to buy if we hadn’t seen Seattle’s pass defense get torched on so many other occasions this season. And further bad news is that the Seahawks had All-Pro safety Jamal Adams back from injury and former Pro Bowl pass rusher Carlos Dunlap in the lineup for the first time, and it didn’t make a lick of difference.
There have been grumblings about whether defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. should take the fall for Seattle’s defensive failings, and maybe a change of perspective would help. But maybe this is just what this defense is. We were spoiled by the defensive talent Seattle had during its Legion of Boom days, when the Seahawks could stay in their base cover 3 defense, not have to institute any wrinkles, sit back and watch the magic happen. But in-their-primes Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas ain’t walking through that door.
At least Seattle doesn’t have the 1983 draft class of quarterbacks left to play this regular season. Other than Arizona’s Kyler Murray, the Seahawks are looking at quarterbacks having subpar years (the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff, Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz) or teams with black holes at the position (the New York Jets, Washington). That won’t be the case come playoff time, when the Seahawks will have the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees salivating over the prospect of facing Seattle.
Maybe Carroll is right. Maybe it’s just a matter of reinserting a healthy player here, coaching up a player there, and Seattle’s pass defense is fixed.
But more likely this is just how things are, in which case Seattle’s blueprint, if it wants to be a Super Bowl contender, will have to be relying on Russell Wilson and the offense putting up huge numbers of points every single game.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.