Seattle Seahawks

Bobby Wagner vows to return Thursday, reconnect Seahawks’ miscommunicating defense

The Seahawks are 3-4 the last two seasons when middle linebacker Bobby Wagner doesn’t play because of injury.
The Seahawks are 3-4 the last two seasons when middle linebacker Bobby Wagner doesn’t play because of injury. Staff photographer

All the attention and angst over the Seahawks’ defense messing up the decisive play in another fourth-quarter meltdown has overlooked the guy who could have prevented it.

Then again, it was easy to overlook Bobby Wagner last Sunday. He was in team sweats, on the sidelines watching, out for the Carolina game because of strained pectoral muscle.

But the $43 million All-Pro middle linebacker and defensive signal caller will be playing Thursday when the Seahawks (2-4) try to turn around their spiraling season at San Francisco (2-4).

“I feel good,” Wagner said before practice Tuesday. “I’ll be ready.”

Wagner missed last weekend’s 27-23 loss, which included a 23-14 fourth quarter lead, to the Panthers because the Seahawks feared he’d turn his injury into one that would cause him to miss many games.

With usual outside man K.J. Wright replacing him at middle linebacker Seattle fell to 3-4 over the last two seasons when Wagner has been hurt. That started with the Dallas home game last October in which he got turf toe.

“I did everything I could to try to get back and play, but the doctors wouldn’t clear me. So I had to sit,” he said. “I felt like I worked really hard last week to be able to get back to play. But they felt like the type of injury I had there was a possibility of me completely tearing what I hurt. So they didn’t want to take that chance.”

Asked if he will still be playing through the injury Thursday, Wagner deadpanned: “Yeah, I’ll be ready for the game.

“It was extremely tough. I kind of feel like you want to help the team but couldn’t. Couldn’t do anything. I’m excited to get back. I’m excited to get this team going in the right direction.”

First things first: Making sure everyone runs the same play.

Seattle’s defense has blown fourth-quarter leads in five of its last eight games and in all four of the team’s defeats this season. Miscommunication has been a prime fault.

“We definitely have some things to improve on. I will definitely make sure there will be no miscommunication,” Wagner said. “I’ll do my job to make sure everybody gets the call.”

Wagner could only watch on Sunday when with the Seahawks leading 23-20 and less than a minute remaining Carolina’s offense ran a pass play it had run about a half-dozen times previously in the game. He was as helpless as you were while more than half the Seahawks’ defenders played one coverage call (Cover 3, which would require cornerback Richard Sherman to have deep routes on his side) and a few others such as Sherman played the correct one (Cover 2, with him covering short routes and safety Earl Thomas covering long on his side). Defensive coordinator Kris Richard had called Cover 2 from the sideline before the snap.

Carolina tight end Greg Olsen roamed free down the hash marks through the confused Seahawks for the easy, 26-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton with 32 seconds left. That sealed Seattle’s fourth loss in six games.

Following Tuesday’s practice Richard, the first-year coordinator and promoted 2014 secondary coach, took responsibility.

“What was supposed to happen was a coverage that didn’t happen, and ultimately we all saw the result of that,” Richard said.

“Ultimately, when there’s a breakdown in the secondary, I coach the secondary. When there’s a breakdown on the defense, I’m the defensive coordinator, so it absolutely starts and stops with me. We’re going to get it fixed.”

Wagner says when he’s in the middle calling defensive signals, he hears the call in his helmet speaker from Richard then gives it verbally his teammates in the huddle. Then, after they break the huddle, Wagner says he goes to as many of his 10 fellow defenders as possible before the snap to personally ensure they have the correct call.

“I tell everybody the play,” Wagner said. “After we break the huddle, I go tell everybody the play — just in case.

“We do a good job just relaying the call. When I’m in there we make sure everybody knows the call. I probably say around 10 times. That’s just the communication. We have to do a better job. And we will.”

With their All-Pro middle linebacker and meticulous communicator back in there against the 49ers, they are more likely to.

Then again, Wagner was in there for the first three losses this season.

“You can either get down or figure out the problem and move forward. I think everyone is staying positive,” Wagner said.

“We know what we can do if we get the season going right.”


THURSDAY: Seattle (2-4) at San Francisco (2-4), 5:25 p.m., Ch. 7, 710-AM, 97.3-FM