Seahawks Struggles: No Jamal Adams; How Does Seattle Adapt? – Sports Illustrated

RENTON, Wash. – If there's a silver lining to the Seahawks likely losing Jamal Adams for the remainder of the 2022 season, the team has grown used to playing without him since he arrived via trade from the Jets. Dealing with numerous injuries, including playing through a torn labrum in his shoulder in 2020, he missed nine regular season games in his first two seasons with the organization.
But after four games, with Adams missing all but one quarter due to a torn quad tendon that required surgery, there's no question Seattle badly misses the uniquely skilled All-Pro safety this time around. Without his services, coach Pete Carroll's squad ranks 31st in points allowed (28.8 points per game), 28th in pass defense, and 29th in run defense. In advanced metrics, they sit 31st in DVOA according to Football Outsiders, including dead last defending the pass.
Making the situation more disheartening, unlike a year ago when the Seahawks were still trying to figure out how to best utilize his talents on the fly after he held in for a new contract, Carroll felt they finally had a schematic plan in place to maximize Adams' abilities. But since he went down in Week 1 with a fluky injury while attempting to sack former teammate Russell Wilson, they have struggled with Josh Jones stepping in as his replacement and felt his loss much more than previous years.
“As it was a year ago, it went the other way. We didn’t have him to develop some stuff that we wanted to do then," coach Pete Carroll said of the Seahawks navigating the waters without Adams. "Now, we had enough time to get our stuff going, so we have had to shift gears some. I’m going to leave it at that.”
Likely fatigued from being asked about the subject, Carroll refused to delve into how much Adams' absence has influenced Seattle's ongoing defensive woes or impacted what they can or cannot do schematically. But on the field, it's clear the defensive blueprint put in place under a revamped defensive coaching staff isn't working near as well as envisioned without No. 33 flying around making plays.
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Transitioning to a hybrid 3-4 defense with defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt taking the reins and assistant coaches Sean Desai and Karl Scott joining the fold, Adams played extensive snaps in nickel and dime sets as a pseudo-linebacker in training camp, often replacing Cody Barton with the Seahawks keeping three safeties on the field. Known for his pass rushing prowess and physical play defending the run, lining him up in the box more often was expected to provide more flexibility while still having an extra defensive back on the field to combat opposing passing games.
Minus Adams, Seattle has been more selective mixing in such three safety sub-packages, but the team has continued to play a ton of nickel defense with five defensive backs on the field. In a 48-45 win over Detroit on Sunday, slot cornerback Coby Bryant played 58 out of 74 snaps, or nearly 80 percent of the team's defensive snaps. He played 66 percent of their snaps one week earlier against Atlanta and even against run-heavy San Francisco in Week 2, he was on the field two-thirds of the time.
In today's NFL, it's not uncommon for teams to play nickel or dime sets more than 50 percent of the time. But with the coaching staff strangely staying in nickel and even dime sets in the red zone and in short yardage situations, the Seahawks' reliance on such sub-packages while missing a huge piece of the puzzle in Adams has hindered them greatly defending the run and results against the pass haven't been much better.
Given the dire circumstances after allowing 45 points to a Lions offense without three of their top playmakers, it's easy to say Carroll and his assistants have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what they can do to help right the ship. After already benching an underperforming Darrell Taylor a week ago, it may be time to make another switch at strong safety where Adams normally resides to try to find a spark.
Despite impressing throughout training camp and the preseason to earn a roster spot, Jones hasn't performed well in Adams' stead by any measure. According to Pro Football Focus, he's missed nine tackles, the second-most among safeties in the NFL, while posting a 28.1 percent missed tackle rate, fourth-worst in the league. He also has allowed 229 yards in coverage, almost 70 yards more than any other safety, along with yielding a 132.9 passer rating.
Though Carroll, Hurtt, and teammates have maintained confidence in Jones publicly and he has shown he can get the job done in the past, signs point towards Ryan Neal potentially working his way back into the lineup alongside Quandre Diggs in the near future if he can't step up his level of play. Now fully healthy after missing most of camp and the entire preseason with a high ankle sprain, he logged a season-high 37 defensive snaps against the Lions, with a portion of those coming at the expense of Jones.
© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Neal didn't necessarily play well in his first extended action of the season and allowed a pair of touchdowns in coverage on Sunday, but the former undrafted signee out of Southern Illinois shined stepping in for Adams each of the past two seasons, contributing 93 tackles, two interceptions, and six pass breakups while starting nine games. Based on comments from Carroll, he hopes to continue giving him chances to get involved in coming weeks, hinting that a change at strong safety may be on the horizon.
“I really think that he’s going to continue. I talked to him just before this game about this week coming up. We had prepared him to play against Detroit, but I had told him that I wanted to try to expand his play time and give him more opportunities to do stuff," Carroll explained. "I just liked the guy on the field. He’s an aggressive, fiery, feisty dude and he hits people and seems to make things happen. So, I’m anxious to see if we can continue to grow his opportunities.”
Since Neal has played well as a spot starter in the past, it's possible such a changeup could pay dividends for the Seahawks and help turn the tide. At the same time, while he's a physical, aggressive player who carries a boulder on his shoulder after being cut multiple times by multiple organizations earlier in his career, he isn't near the caliber of player of Adams and the scheme isn't the same as it was the past two years, making it far from a guarantee he will be able to replicate that success.
In the event Neal can't get the job done or Seattle doesn't feel certain about his capabilities as an every down player instead of a situational defender, the team does have a few capable free agents to consider for reinforcements.
Among them, former All-Pro safety Landon Collins remains a free agent and possesses a similar skill set to Adams with 10.0 career sacks on his resume. He recently worked out for the New York Giants and though his coverage numbers have not been good in recent seasons with Washington, he could provide a solution that better fits the team's current scheme as a physical run defender with plus-blitzing skills.
It's also possible Seattle could consider bringing back Marquise Blair, a former second-round pick out of Utah who was released during final roster cuts in August and currently is on Carolina's practice squad. With that said, he was waived for a reason with Jones outplaying him in camp and the preseason, so that ship may have sailed given his lengthy injury history and inconsistent performance when healthy.
Regardless of what the team opts to do, Carroll and his staff have to keep all options on the table shaking up personnel as the Seahawks try to shore up one of the NFL's worst defenses. They may choose to stick with Jones a bit longer, but if he can't dramatically improve his performance, they will have no choice but to move a different direction either internally with Neal or outside the organization with a proven commodity such as Collins in quick order.
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