Without a doubt, the Seattle Seahawks have been a gold standard for NFL defenses for the past several years. Their performance over the past four to five seasons is why Dan Quinn is head coach of the Falcons. After the draft though, many fans have questioned the personnel decisions Quinn has made in putting together his defense. The most common critique is not addressing the pass rush in this draft. With the Falcons being at the bottom of the league in this key stat for several years, it's not an unfounded criticism.
The question is this: as important as sacks are in this league, are they the primary concern? If not, what might Quinn be trying to accomplish with this D? We'll take a look at how the Seahawks have ranked over the last few years to get an idea.
Seahawks 2012 - 2015
To start the conversation, let's take a look at how the Seahawks have ranked in some key defensive metrics over the past four seasons.
|Year||Sacks||Points/gm||Yds/play||Takeaways||Passing Yds allowed||INTs||Yds/attempt||QB Rating||Comp %||Rushing D|
Before we go any further, let me get this out of the way: I didn't go into this looking to discount the importance of sacks. I do believe they're important to a defense, so I was a little surprised at these rankings for the Seahawks. Since this only accounts for actual sacks - and not necessarily disruption - I won't place too much emphasis on this statistic, but it is noteworthy for those who think that sacks are the only things that matter.
In the table above, I've highlighted the statistics where the Seahawks have consistently ranked in the top-5. Notably, in stats like interceptions, takeaways and even opposing QB completion percentage they have been in the top third of the league, but haven't been dominant in those areas - at least not consistently.
We'll ignore points, since it is likely impacted by the other stats, but this stat does validate they have been one of the best defenses for a while. Interestingly, the Seahawks defense has been one of the best at limiting big plays and shutting down the passing game. They've consistently ranked in the top-5 in yards per play, passing yards per game and passing yards per attempt. They've also been very good at making quarterbacks uncomfortable, as evidenced by their average 3.25 rating in QB Rating.
Getting off the field
As you can see above, though the Seahawks have consistently hovered around the league average for sacks (except 2013, which was top-10), they have had success in making opposing QBs uncomfortable and limiting the success that the opposing offense has. The limited passing yards per attempt demonstrates that they do a good job of limiting the deep ball along with getting to the ball carriers quickly. The relative lower number of sacks combined with the low QB rating suggests that they're "moving the QB" and not giving him a lot of options - something the Falcons haven't done consistently.
While I do think Dan Quinn wants to get better at disrupting the QB - and ultimately generating sacks - I believe he's building a defense that will compete at all three levels. The selections in this year's draft are clearly intended to help improve the yardage we give up to tight ends and running backs - a weakness we've had for a long time now.
Again, none of this is to discount the importance of improving the pass rush. I do believe it will happen with Beasley entering year 2 and the addition of Derrick Shelby. What these numbers do show us, though, is that you can have a top tier defense without being in the top-10 in sacks. Ultimately, to have a top defense, you need to have talent at all three levels of the defense. It's apparent to me that Dan Quinn is stitching together a defensive roster that attempts to do just that.
Time will tell if the 2016 draft picks will pan out as hoped. But the plan here seems pretty clear, and it's to build a defense that will compete at all three levels. If Quinn has gotten it right with these players, the Falcons may turn around their defense in short-order.