Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams, left, celebrates with teammate Quinton Dunbarafter intercepting a pass on Sept. 20 against the New England Patriots at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams, left, celebrates with teammate Quinton Dunbarafter intercepting a pass on Sept. 20 against the New England Patriots at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Seahawks defense may play differently when Jamal Adams returns than it did with him early

  • Sun Oct 25th, 2020 8:49am
  • Sports

By Gregg Bell

The News Tribune

Jamal Adams is coming back.

Whether that’s this week, or next—or when—remains to be seen.

How the Seahawks decide to play defense when their All-Pro safety gets back from the strained groin he sustained late in Seattle’s win over Dallas Sept. 27 is just one of the questions for a overall defense and pass defense that continue to rank last in the NFL:

1. Will Adams play Sunday against the Cardinals in Arizona?

The Seahawks, 5-0 for the first time in team history, could sure use him.

Or did you miss what Kyler Murray, Kenyon Drake and the Cardinals (4-2) did in dismantling Dallas Monday night?

Murray, last year’s first-overall pick in the draft, threw two touchdown passes. One covered 80 yards. Drake ran for 164 yards and two more scores. The Cardinals ran away from the Cowboys 38-10 in Texas, and it wasn’t that close.

The Seahawks kept Adams out of their last game, their home win over Minnesota Oct. 11 before their bye. That was to get Adams almost a full month of rest and rehabilitation of his injury before the Cardinals game on Sunday.

Asked if Adams indeed will be ready for Arizona this weekend, coach Pete Carroll deferred on Monday..

“We’ve got to get through the week and see what happens,” Carroll said before the players’ normal off day Tuesday. “Give him these days and figure it out. Take full advantage of the time and make sure that we’re doing the right thing, taking care of him and looking after him.”

Yes, you could say Adams is anxious to play again. The 24-year-old posted a picture of him watching his teammates’ game in Miami he missed earlier this month while wearing his game helmet.

But the Seahawks are looking at the final 11 games and wanting Adams to play in November and December as much or more than in October. The Arizona game this weekend begins a five-game stretch that will challenge the Seahawks’ division lead, currently 1 1/2 games over Arizona and the Los Angeles Rams (4-2), as much as it will Seattle’s unbeaten record.

The Seahawks host defending NFC-champion San Francisco (3-3) Nov. 1. Then they play at AFC East-leading Buffalo (4-2) and the Rams on consecutive Sundays before they host the Cardinals Nov. 19. That return game with Arizona in Seattle will be on a Thursday night, a three-day turnaround from the test in Los Angeles.

“It’s a long season, again,” Carroll said, talking about Adams. “We’d love to have him back as soon as we can get him, but we want to have him back when he’s right and back for the long haul.”

How much Adams practices Wednesday, the team’s first full-go practice in two weeks, and Thursday will give some signs about him playing the Cardinals.

2. When Adams does return, how will the Seahawks play defense?

This has become a most intriguing issue for Seattle’s besieged unit.

When Adams played the first 2 3/4 games, he blitzed like defensive backs rarely do in a Carroll defense. Seattle is usually more conservative in seeking to limit risk and keep plays in front of it. Linebacker Bobby Wagner plus nickel backs Marquise Blair (now on injured reserve) and Ugo Amadi were also blitzing more than usual. Seattle was pushing 40 and 50% blitz rates on pass plays in the first three games. It was to generate the pressure on quarterbacks the defensive line has not.

Seattle’s defensive line has seven sacks in five games, two by end Benson Mayowa. The Seahawks are 24th in the league sacks, after being 31st last season. They are 19th in rate of pressuring quarterbacks (on 21.4% of dropbacks).

Through three games with all the blitzing, Adams had a team-high two sacks. But Seattle allowed an 19 plays of 20-plus yards in those three games, an unheard-of average of more than six such big plays surrendered per game.

Seattle has blitzed 76 times in five games, according to Pro Football Reference. That’s nearly half of its entire blitzing from 2019, before they traded with the New York Jets to acquire Adams this summer. The Seahawks blitzed 176 times in 16 regular-season games last year.

Without Adams at Miami and against Minnesota the last two games, the Seahawks have blitzed far less. They have dropped Wagner, fellow linebacker K.J. Wright, Amadi and their cornerbacks—noticeably Tre Flowers, subbing for injured Quinton Dunbar—deeper in coverage. The reason Wright has defensed five passes and had an interception the last two games is because he’s dropping 10 or more yards off the line into deeper coverage to help the cornerbacks.

Wright’s interception of Kirk Cousins in the Vikings game was on a deep out route to a wide receiver outside. Cousins never studied or expected Wright, a strongside linebacker who lines up on the line, to be that deep in coverage.

Wright’s been catching tennis balls, one-handed, more with defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. recently, to become an interceptor rather than a blitzing threat. The 10th-year veteran credited that for his one-handed interception of Cousins.

“He was like, when it comes, squeeze it. It’s funny, we actually do one hand. We catch the tennis ball with one hand,” Wright said. “All the credit goes to Coach Norton.”

With Adams hurt the Seahawks have dropped to a 29.6% blitz rate for the season so far, per Pro Football Reference. That’s the 12th-most blitzing in the NFL.

Pittsburgh (also 5-0) blitzes the most, 46.3%—and leads the league in sacks (24) and pressure rate (38.9%).

The change since Adams got hurt has worked. Despite missing their most dynamic defender, Seattle has allowed a total of six plays of 20 yards or more the last two games. They’ve cut the big plays allowed per game in half. They’ve kept plays in front of them. That’s why Miami had to settle for five field goals after long drives and trailed 31-15 until the final minutes of Seattle’s 31-23 victory over the Dolphins.

So when Adams returns, will the Seahawks go back to their blitzing ways of weeks one and two, at Atlanta and against New England, when Matt Ryan threw for 450 yards and Cam Newton 397 against Seattle? Blitzing may be what Adams is best at, among many game-changing skills.

Signs are Carroll is going to stick with the more recent approach of dropping off deeper in coverage to ensure defensive backs don’t give up huge plays behind them anymore than they already have. When Adams does blitz upon his return, look for him to do it while Carroll and Norton use more nickel and dime, five and six defensive backs. That’s Amadi and now Ryan Neal, the practice-squad escapee who has flourished playing for Adams the last two games.

It’s a lot safer to blitz Adams out of nickel and dime, when he has four and five DBs to cover for him chasing the quarterback, than it is to blitz out of base 4-3 defense with four in the secondary.

Carroll wasn’t about to advertise how Seattle will play when Adams returns.

“He’s a very unique player. He offers unique stuff…he’s kind of got a style of his own,” the coach said. “You noticed how we played to him some early. So he gives us all kinds of things that we can do.”