The Seahawks' defense in 2012 was statistically one of the best in team history, but for all of the accolades it garnered, it sure let the team down a lot.
The biggest failure of all came against Atlanta in the divisional playoff game a week ago, as the defense ruined a spectacular comeback from 20 points down by letting Matt Ryan and the Falcons drive within winning field goal range in less than 30 seconds.
Seattle had the No. 1 scoring defense in the league, setting a team record with just 245 points surrendered, and was fourth in yards allowed (306 per game), which is the highest ranking in team history. But the unit blew late leads against Detroit, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta and gave up big rushing days to the latter three as well as San Francisco and Minnesota.
Although they ranked 10th in rushing yards allowed, the Hawks were just 23rd in yards per carry and gave up 5.6 yards per attempt on first down during the second half of the season.
Much of that can be attributed to nagging injuries to top run defenders Kam Chancellor and Red Bryant. Neither played as well as last season -- Chancellor had ankle surgery last week and Bryant was bothered by plantar fasciitis all season.
Chancellor tweeted on Monday (edited), "Would have been in the Pro Bowl this year with my boy Earl Thomas, but I had to fix my body up to be a better player. Next time ..."
The pass rush was no better even after the Hawks spent a first-round pick on end Bruce Irvin and signed inside rush specialist Jason Jones. The Hawks had just three more sacks (36) than they tallied in 2011.
The defense was supposed to be the backbone of the team, but it slouched far too often. So the No. 1 priority in the offseason has to be to improve the defensive line.
Coach Pete Carroll said it himself last week, telling 710 ESPN Radio, "We need a pass rush. More than anything, that's it."
He later told reporters, “We’re going to have to double it up. We need a couple of guys.”
Chris Clemons is their only real threat, and he can't do it by himself. Plus, he will be out until at least August while he rehabs his torn ACL.
Jones also finished the season on IR with a knee injury. Irvin led all rookies with eight sacks, but he proved against Atlanta that he is not capable of playing every down.
The Hawks ideally will find an outside pass rusher and a big tackle who can command double teams, take up space and perhaps get some push up the middle on passing downs.
Jones and Alan Branch are both free agents, and the Hawks could replace one or both of them in free agency and/or the draft, where the Hawks will pick 25th.
Among the possible options in free agency are Cincinnati end Michael Johnson (11.5 sacks) and Detroit end Cliff Avril (9.5). Johnson, 25, just finished his fourth season. Avril, 26, has 29 sacks over the last three years.
Both will be spendy -- the top five ends in 2012 averaged $10.9 million per year. Avril reportedly turned down a three-year deal worth $10 million a year from the Lions last year to play under the $10.6 million franchise tag. The Lions reportedly are not interested in tagging him for $12.7 million this year.
The Seahawks have over $18 million in salary cap space, so they certainly can afford a big-ticket rusher, if that is their desire.
At defensive tackle, the Hawks could look at Chicago's Henry Melton, who had six sacks and was voted to the Pro Bowl, if he is not franchised. Other free-agent options are Miami veteran Randy Starks and Oakland's Desmond Bryant. But the Hawks might be better off drafting one. With the 25th pick, they could look at Georgia's John Jenkins, Alabama's Jesse Williams or Florida's Sharrif Floyd.
Carroll indicated that he and new coordinator Dan Quinn, who replaces Gus Bradley, might have to adjust their scheme if they don’t add the right players.
“We just have to keep working at it and try to get it better,” he told reporters last week. “If we’re not able to find a guy that can spark our pass rush, or a couple of guys, then we have to scheme it at times. … We’ll look and we’ll see what we can find and what we can figure out on that.”
Otherwise, not much figures to change under Quinn, who was with the team in 2009 under Jim Mora and 2010 under Carroll. Quinn, who was a candidate for DC on Mora's 2009 staff, left to be the DC at Florida in 2011 and now returns to replace Bradley, who is the new coach in Jacksonville.
"Dan Quinn is an excellent teacher who is familiar with our system and allows us to maintain continuity," Carroll said last week. "Dan did a great job for us in 2010 and I'm pleased to get him back."
General manager John Schneider was equally happy, telling KJR-AM: "This is a guy we all know firsthand and was here with us our first year. He did a nice job at Florida. There's a certain level of continuity that goes with this, and we're just jacked that he came back with us."
Now Schneider, Carroll and Quinn have to put their heads together to figure out how to jack opposing offenses more consistently next season.