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Originally published November 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 5, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Danny O'Neil

Defense inconsistency a sure thing

A breakdown this severe deserves a diagnosis. A clinical assessment of the critical failures for a defense that has been downright schizophrenic...

Seattle Times NFL reporter

CLEVELAND — A breakdown this severe deserves a diagnosis.

A clinical assessment of the critical failures for a defense that has been downright schizophrenic the first half of this season.

Seattle isn't suffering an identity crisis. That requires an identity, and so far this season the Seahawks defense has shown multiple personalities. The Seahawks can play stingy, and they can turn flimsy. One week, they're a wall, the next week they're a speed bump.

On Sunday in Cleveland, the Seahawks showed both sides of that split personality in 65 minutes of football. Great for one half, grilled the next.

For the first 30 minutes the Seahawks made one of the league's best offenses look rather pedestrian. After that, the Browns walked all over them. The Browns rushed for 9 yards in the first half, then ran for three touchdowns in the second half. They didn't convert a single third down in the first half, and then went 5 of 7 after halftime.

Seattle's defense was only half bad on Sunday. Trouble is, the Seahawks were awful enough those final two quarters to cough up a 15-point lead. Seattle forced only one punt in the second half, gave up 21 points and then lost in overtime.

The Seahawks gave up five rushing touchdowns the first seven games this season. Jamal Lewis ran for four Sunday. Derek Anderson had a career high in passing yardage (364); tight end Kellen Winslow had a career high in receiving yardage (125).

Cleveland deserves some credit, the Seahawks deserve as much criticism. The defense turned soft when it needed to be stout.

"That's uncalled-for regardless of how good they are," Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu said.

This has been a season of transition for Seattle. The offense that carried the Seahawks to the Super Bowl has eroded to an average unit. They can't run the ball effectively, injuries at wide receiver disrupted the continuity of the passing game and special-teams returns have scored two of Seattle's touchdowns and set up two others this season.

The defense that for so long has been a complementary element of the Seahawks' success must become a centerpiece. It has to, considering all the money and draft picks the Seahawks heaped onto that side of the football during the past three offseasons.

And on Sunday, that defense took the field midway through the fourth quarter with a five-point lead and let the Browns push them 89 yards down field for a touchdown. The Browns overcame a holding penalty, two third downs and squashed any thought that this Seahawks defense might be ready to take a place among the league's better units.

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The Seahawks entered the game ranked the third-stingiest defense in the league. The Seahawks held three of its first seven opponents out of the end zone entirely. They knocked Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia out for a quarter of the season opener, they squished San Francisco's Alex Smith (shoulder) and they did everything but administer noogies to St. Louis' Marc Bulger.

Sure, the Seahawks wore down during that duel in Pittsburgh, but that just showed this was a defense built for speed that is at its best playing with the lead, not built for standing and trading body blows with a heavyweight.

Well, this defense had the lead Sunday, and that unit couldn't prevent a touchdown when it mattered most in Cleveland.

"We just didn't do our job as a defense in the second half," safety Deon Grant said.

Winslow caught seven of his 11 passes after halftime. For the third game this season, the Seahawks failed to sack the opposing quarterback, and Seattle has lost every one of those games.

Sunday's loss in Cleveland left Seattle with a .500 record. That's fitting. So far this season the defense has been nothing more than a 50-50 proposition.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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About Danny O'Neil
Danny O'Neil will comment on issues, events and personalities in the NFL. His column will appear on Sundays during the regular season. He also posts most days on the Seahawks Blog.
doneil@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2364

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