The Seahawks aren’t just missing the biggest piece of their defense.
They’re missing the two biggest pieces, strictly in terms of size. Red Bryant, Seattle’s 323-pound defensive end, is out for the year because of a knee injury, and Colin Cole, the 328-pound nose tackle, is likely to miss his fifth game because of an ankle injury.
Their absences are huge, and all the Seahawks can do is make little adjustments like emphasizing fundamental tackling, maintaining gap discipline or sliding nose tackle Junior Siavii down to Bryant’s defensive end spot for a few plays.
“We’re changing some things that we do,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “But I think the big thing is just personnel that we have available and then fitting them in to where they can play best.”
The next step? Duct tape.
The run defense that was so formidable the first six games has functioned more like a speed bump these past few weeks.
In the first six games with Bryant and Cole, the Seahawks were 4-2 and ranked third in the league against the run. Now, they rank No. 22 and are coming off a game in which they allowed 270 rushing yards to the Chiefs, the highest total given up by Seattle in 10 years. On Sunday, they face the Panthers, who have an offense that is abjectly terrible in all but one regard: They are reasonably average running the football.
Seattle is trying to patch together a defensive line that has lost half its starters. Of the seven linemen who suited up Sunday, only three were with the Seahawks when training camp began. So when Seattle lost two starters in the span of two quarters of a Week 8 loss in Oakland, it’s not all that shocking that the effects are being felt five weeks later.
Bryant was a piece of serendipity this offseason, an unexpected discovery. A fourth-round pick in 2008, Bryant was a nose tackle who couldn’t get on the field with any consistency his first two years. Moved to defensive end, he was a revelation that convinced coach Pete Carroll he had the personnel to run a version of the 4-3 defense he used as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator in 1995 and ’96.
So what can Seattle do to stop the bleeding? After all, Bryant isn’t coming back this year, and Cole just began working out on the field this week, so he’s unlikely to play.
The Seahawks are making it simple. The message is to get back to the basics of their job description.
“For everybody to just check themselves individually,” linebacker Aaron Curry said. “Make sure they’re doing their job right.”
There is a precedent here the defense can look back upon.
“We’ve stopped the run before,” Curry said. “Getting back to what we were doing then.”
Effort isn’t an issue. If anything, the struggles have caused some players to try to do too much.
“Sometimes what happens is guys try to do too much, and maybe overcompensate,” Bradley said. “Then it can steamroll a little bit.”
So Seattle will go back to basics, hoping that a few little things will add up to a big improvement as Seattle seeks to return to the stout form it showed those first six games.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to go full circle,” safety Lawyer Milloy said. “Maybe that time is now.”