RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks' improving defense is about to face its biggest test in a while, one that will be a good measuring stick.
It's not certain Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be cleared in time for Sunday's game at Lambeau Field (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). Nor can anyone be sure that, if he does play, the NFL's reigning MVP will be at peak form after a bout with COVID-19 and a week-plus absence from practice.
Rodgers told "The Pat McAfee Show" on Tuesday, six days after his positive test, that he's feeling better and there's only a "small possibility" he won't play against Seattle. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters a day earlier his team is expecting to face Rodgers and not his second-year backup, Jordan Love.
There's no doubt about this: Seattle's defense has gotten better since its awful start, albeit mostly against lesser quarterbacks.
"I feel, like I've been saying to you guys, we've taken a turn," Carroll said. "I like what we are doing, I like where we are, I like the mentality and all of that, so we've got to see if we can put some stuff together. We've got to get the ball away from the other team. We missed three little tipped balls that we could have had for picks, and that will be a big difference for us if we can turn that around."
The Seahawks only have eight takeaways in as many games and their loaded pass rush has yet to hit its stride. Even so, the 18 points per game they've allowed since Week 4 is fourth best in the NFL. They've allowed the lowest third-down conversion rate in that same span. The turnaround continued in their 31-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, when the Seahawks nearly pitched their first shutout since 2015, only allowing a touchdown in garbage time.
"Just communicating at a high level," strong safety Jamal Adams said of the impetus for Seattle's improvement, "everybody knowing their assignment, everybody doing their job and just flying around the ball. When we're clicking on all cylinders, everybody communicating at a high level, understanding what situation is coming, where we're at on the field, playing situational football, that's when we're special."
Adams and the Seahawks' secondary appear to be settling in after early issues contributed to Seattle allowing at least 450 yards in four straight games, which, according to ESPN Stats & Information, was a franchise record and tied for the longest streak in NFL history.
Free safety Quandre Diggs had another interception against Jacksonville, giving him three in the last five games. Their cornerback play, easily the most glaring weakness earlier in the year, has evened out with Tre Flowers gone, D.J. Reed back on the right side and the combination of Sidney Jones IV and rookie Tre Brown taking over on the left side.
"We knew at some point we were going to lock in, we were going to figure out what was hurting us," Diggs said. "I think we've kind of put that fire out on the routes that have been hurting us. ... We're stopping the run game, we're getting pretty good at stopping the pass game. So for us, it's just now locking into the small things, different details, knowing route combinations, what's coming and things like that. Once we get there and we continue to improve, I think we're going to be rolling with something."
It would help if their pass rush started to heat up. They're 17th in ESPN's pass rush win rate, 30th in sacks per dropback and have been worse in both categories since Week 4. However, any team would have had a hard time getting to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the quick release he showed against the Seahawks, and they got more pressure on Trevor Lawrence than their lone sack suggests.
"It's going to be hugely important this week, for sure," Carroll said of Seattle's pass rush.
That group, led by Adams' return from injury and Carlos Dunlap II's arrival via trade, keyed the Seahawks' defensive turnaround last season. So far this year, improved secondary play has been the catalyst.
"Guys just getting comfortable with who they are, we knowing our assignments and knowing what we've got to do," Diggs said. "I think that's what it is. I know a lot of people say, 'Well, they haven't played blah blah,' and I guess people forget what we did to the Rams the first half. I just let people talk, you know. I've been quiet and just enjoying life and knowing we're going to turn this thing around."
The Seahawks held the Rams to three first-half points before allowing 23 in the second half of a Week 5 loss. Their opponent in that game, Matthew Stafford, has the NFL's best Total QBR this season. Of the other quarterbacks they've faced since their defense began its turnaround in Week 4, only Jameis Winston is in the top 21. He's fourth, but was erratic on a wet and windy night in Seattle.
Jimmy Garoppolo is 22nd, Roethlisberger is 27th and Lawrence is 28th. Rookie Trey Lance, who took over for an injured Garoppolo in the second half against Seattle, has a Total QBR between Roethlisberger and Lawrence but has not played enough to qualify for the rankings.
Rodgers is third.
As an unvaccinated player, Rodgers is required to isolate for 10 days after his positive test, which means the earliest he can be cleared is Saturday, provided he's asymptomatic.
"We're going to prepare like we're going to see their best guys," Carroll said. "That's the way we'll go, and expect that we'll see Aaron back out there. If that's not the case, then we'll have seen the game of Love and we'll know more about what we need to do there. But we've got to prepare for the best guys. The way it looks, protocols and format and all that, he should be back out there."