The Seahawks made the first big splash of the NFL trade deadline by trading a second and fifth-round pick to the Giants for DL Leonard Williams on Monday.
It's not a giant score by the Seahawks, especially at the cost, but itto an improving Seahawks defense that needed it after losing Uchenna Nwosu to injured reserve.
You might be surprised to learn that Seattle led the NFL in scoring defense and defensive EPA in October, a big improvement for a unit that ranked 25th in both categories last season. Granted, three of their four opponents were the Giants, Cardinals and Browns, who have among the worst offenses in the NFL. However, the 17 points they held Cincinnati to in Week 6 looks better after Joe Burrow and the Bengals carved up San Francisco on Sunday.
Needless to say, it's too early to call the Seahawks defense legit, but they should be on our radar when they face the Ravens in Week 9, followed by four straight games against the 49ers (twice), Eagles and Cowboys from Weeks 12-15.
For now, here's a look at what's behind the initial defensive improvement that has Seattle in first place in the NFC West.
Devon Witherspoon is Sauce Gardner 2.0
Seattle overhauled its defense this offseason, highlighted by drafting CB Devon Witherspoon fifth overall. Witherspoon is already looking like a superstar, bursting onto the scene in similar fashion to Sauce Gardner last year. They play different styles and in different defenses, but the symmetry of their impact is there.
Sauce Gardner vs Devon Witherspoon
- Both allowed zero touchdowns in coverage in their final college season
- Both were top-five picks in the NFL Draft
- Gardner led the NFL in completion rate and passer rating allowed in coverage as a rookie
- Witherspoon leads the NFL in yards per attempt allowed in coverage as a rookie
- Gardner was PFF's highest-graded CB as a rookie and Witherspoon has the third-highest grade this year
- Both defended a pass in each of their first five career games.
- Gardner won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as a rookie. Witherspoon is currently second in the 2023 odds.
|Coverage as Rookies
|Sauce Gardner (2022)
|Devon Witherspoon (2023)
Yards per att
Gardner led a Jets' defensive revival last year that had him drawing Revis Island comparisons. Witherspoon is leading a Seahawks defensive improvement that'll have people hoping a return to the Legion of Boom days is in the works.
Gardner was the first rookie CB honored with an All-Pro selection since Ronnie Lott. While he's the premier coverage cornerback in the league, Witherspoon is flashing upside all over the field. He leads the NFL in yards per attempt in coverage (3.9) this season after leading the FBS in that category (3.0) in his final college season at Illinois.
He's got the stats and viral plays that are tough to ignore, starting with this pick-six on Monday Night Football in Week 4.
He came into the NFL with hype for big hits and has delivered so far.
He ranks top two among all CBs this season in pressures and sacks. Pro Football Focus also has given him the highest pass rush grade among corners this year. You can see how explosive he is on this play.
Bottomline. Witherspoon is a massive addition to a Seattle secondary that already benefited from Tariq Woolen's Pro Bowl season as a rookie in 2022.
Williams is the latest addition to Seattle's defense
The Leonard Williams trade continues the makeover on Seattle's defense, especially with depth on the front seven.
Not including Williams, the Seahawks have an NFL-high eight different players with multiple sacks this season. Three of the Seahawks' top five players in pressures this season are offseason additions, between Jarrad Reed (21), Dre'Mont Jones (19) and Mario Edwards (12). They'll be even more formidable if they can get anything from Frank Clark, who has yet to record a pressure on 35 pass rushes this year.
Seattle might finally have a big-time edge rusher in Boye Mafe, though. He has at least 1.0 sack in five straight games, tied for the longest single-season streak in team history. The 2022 second-round pick entered Week 8 leading all edge rushers in ESPN's pass rush win rate, just ahead of Micah Parsons and Myles Garrett.
Seattle's pass rush ranks 14th in pressure rate (36%) and sixth in sack rate this year (8.9%). That's definitely bolstered by an 11-sack game against the Giants, who have the worst offensive line in football, but the group, headlined by Mafe and now Williams, bears watching going forward.
Bobby Wagner and company leading to run defense revival
If the Seahawks are going to hang with the 49ers or Eagles in January, it'll be because of an improved defense, especially on the ground.
Seattle's run defense was embarrassed last year.
- They gave up 112 yards and three scores to Taysom Hill in a Week 5 loss to the Saints
- Josh Jacobs ran for 229 yards, including an 86-yarder in OT in Week 12
- They allowed 223 rush yards to the Panthers at home in Week 14
- The 49ers ran for at least 170 yards in all three wins vs Seattle
Fast forward to 2023 and Seattle has improved from 26th to third in yards per rush allowed and 24th to fourth in yards before contact allowed.
|Seahawks Rush Defense (With NFL Ranks)
Rush yards per game
Yards per rush
The return of Bobby Wagner has something to do with it. He has shown no signs of aging as he is the second-highest graded linebacker by PFF this year. Wagner has the fifth-most tackles in the NFL (76) and the lowest missed tackle rate (2.5%) in the league in 2023 (min. 50 tackles).
Seattle will go as far as defense carries them
This new-look defense offers an intriguing blend of emerging youngsters (Devon Witherspoon, Boye Mafe, Tariq Woolen), offseason additions (Jarran Reed, Dre'Mont Jones, Julian Love) and a handful of veterans (Bobby Wagner, Leonard Williams, Frank Clark, Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs) that's leading to promising results.
The Legion of Boom isn't walking through that door anytime soon, but Seattle's playoff success under Pete Carroll has always been contingent on defense. They are 8-4 in the postseason under Carroll with a top-10 scoring defense, and 2-5 without one. We saw Russell Wilson light it up in the second half of his Seahawks' career (mostly) with little playoff success, and the same can be said of Geno Smith last year.
If this defense is legit, Seattle has a case for the third-best team in the NFC behind the Eagles and 49ers (Lions and Cowboys fans can argue this), can challenge San Francisco for an NFC West crown and make more noise in the playoffs than it did a year ago.