KIRKLAND – When he looks in the mirror these days, he doesn’t like what he sees.
It’s the same feeling Ray Rhodes gets in the film room, when the lights go down and the game tape flickers on. Sometimes he has to look away.
The Seattle Seahawks’ defense has taken an unanticipated freefall, and Rhodes, the team’s defensive coordinator, thinks one man is to blame.
“I personally feel like I’ve let this whole team down because I haven’t been able to get it done,” he said Thursday. “That’s something that’s tough to live with. It’s not something you can go home and go to sleep feeling good about. There have been a lot of restless nights.”
Rhodes has come under fire in recent weeks, not only for his unit’s performance, but for the fact that he hasn’t been visible enough. Too many times after tough losses, players were left to explain what has gone wrong.
The defensive coordinator stood in front of a small group of reporters for the first time in a long time Thursday, answering questions about his struggling team. He offered no excuses, pointed no fingers, and made no promises.
What he said was that he hasn’t gotten the job done this year.
“I take responsibility,” Rhodes said in his first public interview in more than three months. “We can’t have breakdowns. I’ve got to make sure that everybody’s on the same page. It’s frustrating, but I just have to keep working.
“I’m not trying to sound like I can’t get it done. It’s just that I haven’t failed much before. When you get in a situation like this, you feel like you’re failing everybody.”
Upon hearing that their defensive coordinator was taking the blame, some players rushed to Rhodes’ defense.
“To me, that’s ridiculous,” said outside linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski, one of six defensive reserves who have been pushed into the starting lineup at some point this season. “He shouldn’t blame himself for anything. Everybody knows that football comes down to players making plays.
“Ray has proven time and time again, with every team he’s been on, that he knows what he’s doing. His stuff works; there isn’t anything wrong with it. The players just have to play. Unfortunately, these last couple weeks, we haven’t been making those plays. He can’t go out there and play for us. We have to do it. It’s as simple as that.”
The Seahawks had the NFL’s No. 1 defense four weeks into this season, yet have plummeted to 26th. They’ve given up big plays at critical times and have allowed teams to convert nearly half of their third downs over the past two months.
The unraveling since the bye week has been staggering. Seattle gave up 13 points total in the first three games of the season but has failed to hold a single team under 17 in any one game since then.
After allowing an average of 242.3 yards per game against New Orleans, Tampa Bay and San Francisco, the Seahawks have given up 383.9 per contest over the past 11 weeks. Opponents have a 48.4 percent third-down conversion rate over the past 11 games, compared to 21.4 percent through the Week 4 bye.
Things started to fall apart when Seattle gave up 227 yards and 23 points over the final 11 1/2 minutes of an Oct. 10 loss to St. Louis. After that game – a 33-27 Rams overtime victory – things never were the same for the Seahawks’ defense.
“Quite naturally, that was the toughest we’ve had all year,” Rhodes said. “We might have lost a little confidence at that time. But the bottom line in this business is that you’ve got to bounce back. What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. We’ve just got to keep busting our rear ends.”
Rhodes hasn’t sat back and let things happen without trying to fix it. He’s altered the scheme, tinkered with the blitz package and even pushed a trio of rookies into the starting lineup – defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs five weeks ago, strong safety Michael Boulware earlier this month and middle linebacker Niko Koutouvides this week.
Rhodes admitted Thursday that he’s even watched tape of some of the NFL’s top defenses, trying to find anything that will help him turn around the Seahawks’ fortunes before it’s too late.
The frustration has grown so much that Rhodes is actually talking about blitzing his entire defense, or “emptying the post.” It’s something he did in his younger days with some success before offenses starting burning him with throws over the top.
“It’s getting to the point now,” Rhodes said Thursday, “where that post could be emptied real soon.”
Rhodes, 54, has engineered defensive turnarounds in San Francisco, Green Bay, Washington and Denver. All four teams were among the top eight defenses in the NFL by the end of his tenures, and this year’s unit looked in September like it might be on a similar route.
After finishing 19th in Rhodes’s first season last year, the Seahawks got off to a fast start in 2004. It’s been all downhill since then.
And Rhodes puts all the blame on his own shoulders.
It’s a burden that’s been weighing him down lately.
“Sometimes you get a little cranky,” Rhodes said. ” (My wife Carmen will ask), ‘How was your day?’
” ‘My day was crappy, so that’s all you need to know. Matter of fact, the last several weeks have been crappy, so don’t ask no more questions.’
“I’m one of those guys that, I might be bleeding and hurting inside, but I don’t share it with anybody.”