New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) goes down in front of Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams (33) during a game Oct. 25, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) goes down in front of Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams (33) during a game Oct. 25, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Plan for more aggressive Seahawks D means blitzing Adams more

Seattle rarely used its highly paid safety’s strongest skill — rushing the passer — last season.

  • Gregg Bell, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Monday, February 28, 2022 6:36pm
  • SportsSeahawks

A $70 million coverage safety?

That’s how the Seahawks mostly used Jamal Adams last season.

That — and their 2021 defense and season — failed.

It’s not how new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt says he’s going to use Adams in 2022.

Head man Pete Carroll promoted Hurtt from defensive line coach to replace fired Ken Norton Jr. as coordinator two weeks ago. Carroll’s mandate to Hurtt: improve the pass rush. Pressure opposing quarterbacks far more than Seattle did last season.

The lack of consistent pressure on QBs in 2021 resulted in the fewest turnovers produced by a Seahawks defense over a full season in team history: 18, in 17 games. Seattle went 7-10, the team’s most losses since 2009.

“Jamal is still a difference-maker. How we use him, that’s going to be on me,” Hurtt said upon taking the first coordinator job of his 21 years in coaching. “It’s our responsibility, my responsibility, to make sure we put him in positions so he can be at his very best. And we know how great he is at doing that.

“The other side of it, though — and to his credit — as the (2021) season progressed we put him in positions that, really, it was not his background … playing a quarter-field, or half-field, safety. … Honestly, there’s multiple things that he’s got to be able to do so a quarterback can’t always peg him for being just one particular type of way.”

At his and the defense’s best, Adams is a strong safety for Seattle in name only. The Seahawks traded two first-round draft choices to acquire him from the New York Jets in the summer of 2020. In his Seattle debut season, Adams set the NFL record for defensive backs with 9.5 sacks.

In 2020, he blitzed far more than Carroll had blitzed a safety before. Adams blitzed 98 times in 12 games that season, per Pro Football Reference.

His reward: the richest contract in NFL history for a safety, with $38 million guaranteed.

In 2021, Carroll feared blitzing Adams so much and leaving free safety Quandre Diggs and Seattle’s iffy cornerbacks alone in the coach’s standard Cover 3, single-high zone coverage. The scheme has DBs taking deep thirds of the field to cover long passes. Tennessee burned the Seahawks’ plan repeatedly during a win in week two.

After that loss to the Titans, Carroll had Norton play Adams back in two-deep safety coverage more often. Adams blitzed just 44 times in 12 games. That was less than half his frequency from 2020. Seattle got zero sacks, though two interceptions, from its safety.

Asked in late October to describe the difference from his first to his second Seahawks season, Adams said: “I was getting a little bit more opportunities to rush the passer and create some havoc (in 2020). But we are working through those things. When my number is called, I have to come through.”

Adams again played only 12 games last season. He will be coming off season-ending shoulder surgery to play year three for Seattle this fall.

So far, he hasn’t given the Seahawks the hoped-for return on their investment of $70 million and two first-round picks.

Thing is, the Seahawks made the decision last summer to pay Adams for his unique skill of doing more than a typical defensive back. Hurtt is saying he will play Adams to his unique skills. That is, more like he played in 2020, less like he did in 2021.

It will require more varied uses of Adams than last season. More blitzing and emphasis on pass rush typically means more man-to-man coverage, with defensive backs on the line of scrimmage jamming receivers more than the softer zones Seattle used out of fear early last season.

Adams welcomes the change back more toward the Seahawks unleashing him in 2020.

“Yeah, I feel like I can do it all. That’s just the confidence that I have,” he said during last season. “I’m not here to complain about the opportunities that I don’t have or don’t get from last year to this year. I’ll be honest, I’m not here to prove anything to anybody.

“I’m here to prove myself right.”

Hurtt’s intent is to make Adams right. To make him more varied and unpredictable.

It mirrors what Carroll will task Hurtt to do with Seattle’s entire defense in 2022.

The Seahawks blitzed 22.4% of the time last season, 22nd in the 32-team NFL. Seattle blitzed 33.5% of the time in 2020, when Adams got all his sacks.

“Will we blitz more than we did last year? My answer to that would be yes,” Hurtt said. “Would it be an inordinate amount, something crazy? No, it’s not going to be that. A lot of that is in the mentality in which you play. You don’t want to be soft, you want to be aggressive in how you play coverage.”

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