On October 1, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts will travel back to the West Coast to face the Seattle Seahawks. In this prime time week four match up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we’re up against.
The Seahawks are just two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance and hope to get back there this year. The last time our Colts played these Seahawks things went as well as they could have. A lot of faces have changed for both teams since 2013, hopefully that turnover won’t hurt our chances this time around. Let’s figure out what we can expect in week four.
A book could be written with the information that the guys over at Field Gulls have compiled. If you’re looking for a resource this is a fantastic place to start and I’m going to do my best to give you the basics in an easy to understand format. If you want to go deeper, you absolutely can, just click that link and have a good time.
The 4-3 Under, in it's simplest terms, is a gap control system meant to stop the run and to pressure the passer. For the most part, each lineman and linebacker is responsible for one gap - this makes each player's responsibility fairly cut and dry and eliminates a lot of the reads and thinking from the game.
In the late 1980's, Monte Kiffin began coaching for the Minnesota Vikings with a coach named Floyd Peters and they further developed the 4-3 Under that emphasized rushing the passer. The 4-3 Under system uses almost exclusively a staggered alignment to the offense in this basic set.
As you can see, in a basic 4-3 Under, the SAM linebacker is lined up to the outside shoulder of the tight end off the line of scrimmage a yard or two and is responsible for the D gap (to the outside of the tight end). He's also responsible for running in pass coverage from time to time. The strongside defensive end is lined up to the outside shoulder of the tackle, in a 5-technique alignment, and is responsible for the C gap (to the right of the tackle). The strongside defensive tackle is usually lined up shading the center in a 1-technique alignment and is responsible for the strongside A gap. The weakside defensive tackle is lined up in a 3-technique alignment off the weakside guard and is responsible for the weakside B gap in front of him. The weakside defensive end is lined up to the outside shoulder of the weakside offensive tackle and is responsible for the C gap on his side.
This leaves the strongside B gap and the weakside A gap open. These are the responsibilities of the MIKE and WILL linebackers.
Still with me? Good.
The defense that Pete Carroll now employs uses the basic tenets of the Monte Kiffin 4-3 Under defense and mixes in a variation originally pioneered by the legendary George Seifert in San Francisco. Seifert wanted to create mismatches against the opposing offensive line so he started using his weakside defensive end to rove around and rush the passer from a two-point stance (standing up position). This was the beginning of the "Elephant" position and one that Carroll uses today. We also see this position called the LEO, and in the Hawks' defense can rush standing up or in a three-point stance.
It's the same basic alignment but as you can see, the SAM linebacker comes up closer to the line to play hard contain and the weakside LEO is pushed out a bit, maybe a yard off of the weakside tackle. The LEO's main job is to control the C gap while rushing the passer like a wild banshee and the SAM plays contain against the TE, runs in pass coverage with him, or rushes the passer in some situations.
Okay cool. So ole’ Pete likes his 4 man fronts and uses a DE in a 2 point stance. Danny Kelly goes on in part two to explain that the Seahawks will use more 2 gap responsibilities when their personnel allows. Based on their current roster, I believe they will continue 1 gapping.
Okay cool, these are the basics of their front seven. What about the Pete Carroll secondary? Danny Kelly talks about that too here:
Three main principles of secondary play:
#1 Eliminate the big play
#2 Out hit the opponent on all plays
#3 Get the ball -- either strip the ball or make the interception when in position.
These are Pete’s objectives for his DB’s. Got it.
"We play man-to-man or Cover-3, not much more than that. It's not a secret." - Kam Chancellor
Thanks for giving up your game plan, Kam. Danny wrote yet another piece that goes a little deeper into their coverage schemes:
Example 1: Three-down lineman nickel Cover-3 look
Again, this is a very general Cover-3, three deep, four under scheme I've drawn up.
Defensive line: In the illustration above, the Hawks have two defensive-end types rushing (No. 91 Chris Clemons and No. 56 Cliff Avril). Those players may go inside or outside the tackle/tight end to achieve pressure. Michael Bennett (No. 72) is aligned over the center ('nose tackle' ), and he'll look to slice through and pressure the quarterback.
Linebackers: I've shown a look here where MLB Bobby Wagner (No. 54) would come in on a blitz, perhaps stunting or drafting off of Bennett. In any case, K.J. Wright could come with pressure here as well and alternate coverage responsibilities with Wagner. There's flexibility. On the outside, you could see Bruce Irvin rush off the edge or stunt with Avril. Seattle has the athletes at the linebacker position to allow them to do both.
Safeties: Because Chancellor (No. 31) is almost a de facto linebacker, you'll most often see him in the box, stopping the run and taking away short crossing patterns. He can drop into coverage, run in man-to-man or blitz. Earl Thomas (No. 29) would take the seam or post route into his area. If there are two, he splits the difference between the two.
Example 2: Four down lineman nickel Cover-3 look
In this case, I've replaced Bruce Irvin with NT Brandon Mebane. This could also be Clinton McDonald. In the case above, Thurmond could be playing man on the slot receiver, with everyone else in zone.
Example 3: Four down nickel look, mixed man/zone coverage
In this case, you see man on Sherman's side, zone on Maxwell's, nickel in man, and Chancellor lined up in man against Julius Thomas, for instance. This could easily be K.J. Wright switching with Chancellor, as well.
Kelly really gives us a great look into the basics of the Seahawks defense and what we can expect. I kept reading time and time again about how the Seahawks like taking 3-4 players and lining them up in 4-3 sets and letting them play to their strengths. Typing that and trying to convey what it means, frankly, hurts my brain. Long story short, expect to see a defense that functions most of the time as a 4-3, looks kind of like a 3-4 and could play like either a 4-3 or 3-4 on any given play.
Game planning for their front seven and that scheme has to be exhausting. It’s a good thing our coaches don’t do it anyway (small joke). What about the defensive backs? Luckily that’s a little easier to predict. Like Kam Chancellor said they either run a cover 3 or man-to-man. They don’t care if you know what coverage to expect. The Seahawks defense is about execution, not the element of surprise.
Also if you’re currently at work, at a job that you need to keep and also love reading about football strategy, don’t click any of the links I posted above you’ll spend multiple hours of your day reading amazing breakdowns and clicking link after link and eventually you’ll end up reading about coaching trees from the 1970’s and how their schematic influences are impacting the current NFL, just like me. I didn’t get fired today but I did look at my production numbers today and yikes. Anyway, here’s more football stuff:
Defensive Line: I Don’t Think This is Fair
The talent the Seahawks have on this line is impressive. The Colts D-line has looked good this year. They’re doing a great job against the run and for the first time in a long time they’re generating something that looks like a pass rush and collapsing pockets. But this Seahawks line is something else entirely.
It starts in the middle with Jarran Reed. Reed fell to the second round in 2016 because he was viewed as a two down DT. A guy that is great against the run and unable to rush the passer and because it’s a “passing league” (I’m getting sick of hearing and typing that phrase) guys like Reed aren’t viewed as being as valuable as someone like the guy that lines up next to him in Sheldon Richardson. Luckily for the Seahawks everyone passed on Reed and he’s been really solid for them thus far in his career.
Did you notice that part where I casually mentioned Sheldon Richardson just a minute ago? I honestly can’t believe the Seahawks managed to add this guy to their team for a very low-end WR2 and a second-round pick. The early results have been positive as Richardson is requiring additional attention, freeing up the other talented members of this front seven to make plays. Once again Samuel Gold gives us a look at the Seahawks new toy.
- Nice Breakdown:
So this team goes out and adds an elite level DT to play next to their stud second-year DT. Surely their DE’s are lacking, right? Sure, outside of two-time pro bowler Michael Bennett we’ve only got to worry about Cliff Avril, who by the way had 20.5 sacks combined in the past two seasons.
Okay sure, but do they have any depth? Not really unless you count Frank Clark who finished 2016, his second season in the league, with 10 sacks of his own. They also added Nazair Jones out of North Carolina in the 3rd round this offseason. He hasn’t had a huge impact thus far but he has made at least one big play this season intercepting Aaron Rodgers, which as you know is uncommon for the defensive tackle position. So you know, very little talent along this line. /s
So if these guys are so good, why are they giving up 121.5 rushing yards per game at 5.2 yards per carry through two games? Simply put, through two games this isn’t the same disciplined defense that Pete Carroll has historically put on the field. Maintaining gap responsibility isn’t exactly the most fun thing to do as a defensive lineman. It just isn’t. You want to be the guy to make plays, you want to get that tackle, you want to be the guy that makes that stop.
But that’s not always your job. Each week I write a scouting report, I always note if a team runs more one-gap or two-gap responsibilities and this is why it’s important if everyone does their job and maintains their gap responsibility running backs have nowhere to go. The Seahawks, uncharacteristically, haven’t done a great job at this so far in 2017.
- Big Hole:
Credit where it’s due, this was a well-executed play from the Packers, pulling the play side guard and center isn’t easy as it usually requires great blocks from the right tackle and tight end, not many teams have Martellus Bennett. With that said (the other Bennett) Michael Bennett does a good job setting the edge while the right defensive tackle fails to win his gap. If he wins that gap this is a completely different result. Another issue on this play was K.J. Wright could have taken a much better angle to the ball carrier.
What About That Pass Rush:
Looks good to me. The DT’s both line up on the left side of the center and stunt down the line to the right while DE Cliff Avril rushes outside. At the snap, you can see Bobby Wagner blitz from right to left. This is a designed play that is intended to create a free run at Rodgers. The Packers RG did a great job recognizing the play and getting off of DT Michael Bennett to put a hat on the blitzing LB. The issue the Packers run into is the fact that they left Cliff Avril, alone, on an island with their RT when they’ve called a play that dialed up routes that need to develop.
I would be shocked if we didn’t see this a few times on Sunday night. I would also be shocked if it didn’t result in at least one sack, not because Joe Philbin won’t prepare them for it because I think he’ll try. It’s going to work because there is a clear discrepancy in talent between the two fronts.
- Another Stunt:
This is nearly the same play. If anyone has any idea why you call this play against a run-heavy front, please give me an explanation in the comments because this seems like a really terrible play call given the look from the offense.
In a way, I suppose it’s better than running the stunt the other way and opening a huge hole but it’s really tough to maintain your gap when you’re moving laterally at the snap. It’s almost impossible to maintain a good base to take on a blocker when you take that step and your base narrows. Ultimately nothing massive opens up here due to the LB’s flowing well and David Bass making a play. (Side note David Bass was cut following this game and signed immediately by the New York Jets.
- Frank Clark Shouldn’t Be Blocked With Any Number of TE’s:
If you watch the backside DT, Jarran Reed, on this play, he eats two blockers which allow his linebackers to flow to the ball, which is exactly what you want. On the play side, you would like to see Sheldon Richardson hold up a bit better against this double team, but that’s not really his game and ultimately he did a good enough job making sure the LT couldn’t get off of him to get a block on Kam Chancellor.
Frank Clark is the guy that makes this stop possible. He pushes both tight ends who are trying to block him straight down the line while K.J. Wright defeats a ferocious block from Jordy Nelson, sets the edge and ultimately makes the tackle.
- Fat Guy TD:
The TD was negated by a bogus penalty because you aren’t allowed to touch Aaron Rodgers, per NFL rules. Which is too bad as Nazair Jones was playing in his first NFL game and isn’t likely to have a chance to score a touchdown for a long time, if ever again.
This defensive line group is good. They’re really good and they’re used in unique ways, but so far, this season they’ve proven to be undisciplined against the run. I believe they’re going to be in the lap of Jacoby Brissett every chance they get. I don’t expect a Pete Carroll coached team to continue to play undisciplined football for an entire season, can they right the ship before week 4? I don’t know, but if this continues we could see a nice game from our running backs, assuming we don’t give up a big lead early on.
Linebackers: I Sure Wish I Would Find a Weakness
The two names you need to know here are K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner. Wright is listed as an OLB and is fantastic in coverage, he’s got great speed for the position and is able to play well in space. Unfortunately, Wagner’s evaluation is the same, except he’s a better tackler.
This is a designed pick play but it doesn’t get called because offense pays the bills, kids. The tight end on the left side of the line runs a “route” directly into K.J. Wright who was dropping into his zone. This “route” prevents Wright from being able to make a play on the pass. Wagner does a good job of maintaining his zone assignment which keeps Randall Cobb covered.
The play sure looks illegal, but ultimately it’s a well designed play from the Packers. The TE could have easily avoided contact and still prevented Wright from making a play, but the fact they knew they needed to pick a linebacker shows that they respect their coverage ability.
- Pocket Collapsed, Everyone’s Covered:
The Seahawks only rush three and manage to flush Aaron Rodgers out of the pocket, but downfield you see the ‘Hawks backers play solid zone coverage and eliminate the possibility of Rodgers picking up the first down with his arm.
The Seahawks linebackers aren’t a deep group, but they’re really good at what they’re asked to do. They fit their scheme perfectly and come to play every day. Expect to see Jack Doyle taken out of the game and don’t be surprised if you see Wagner or Wright make a surprising play on a Jacoby Brissett.
The Seahawks secondary is known by a nickname and I’m not going to call them by it because it’s stupid. Seriously, I hate these guys. You know who I don’t hate? 31 other NFL secondary groups. So why do I hate them? I could give you all kinds of reasons why I dislike these guys but if I’m being honest it all comes down to the fact that they’re good and they don’t play for the Colts.
Jeremy Lane probably isn’t the first guy you think of when you think of this group of DB’s and for good reason. He hasn’t been the best option, but this year he finds himself lining up as a starter across from Richard Sherman. In week one Lane was thrown out of the game on the fat guy pick-six for throwing a forearm. Good call or not, rookie Shaquill Griffin filled in and did so well.
Week two saw Jeremy Lane return to the starting lineup and Griffin play around 20 snaps. But you’re not here to talk about Lane or the future of the Seahawks cornerback position in Griffin. Fine. I’ll give you the headliners.
Richard Sherman. Kam Chancellor. Earl Thomas. Take your dirty gifs:
He’s good. And as much as I dislike him in the way that opposing mid-90’s basketball fans hated Reggie Miller. I can’t help but love something Sherman has done. This is a really, really good read from The Players Tribune. If you’ve never read it and you think you know anything about cornerback play, you might, but you should read this article anyway, it’s worth your time.
Sherman is a smart guy, I don’t dislike him for the things he says in interviews. I don’t dislike him for any stances he takes, I’ve always held to the idea that if I form social and political views based on what 22-30 year old millionaires tell me, I’m probably a moron anyway. So I don’t hate him for any of that, I hate the guy because he’s good on the field and he tells you about it. If he had a horseshoe on his helmet, I’d love the guy.
- Anyway, I’ll Always Have This:
Enough of that. What about Kam Chancellor?
Probably a fluke.
- Maybe Not...
It’s just two.
Kam is used mostly as an in the box safety. He’s best when he helps in run support, over the middle and generally being an enforcer.
In all seriousness though, this is the box safety every team wishes they had. Kam is really good at what he’s asked to do and I fully expect to see him come up with some big stops Sunday night.
Finally, we’ll talk about a guy that our first round safety Malik Hooker compares to pretty well, Earl Thomas. He’s a rangy ball-hawking safety from a big-time college program, drafted in the top 15 picks, he shows great closing speed and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Wears number 29. Has had dreads.
That’s 22 minutes long. I don’t expect you to watch it all, but it’s interesting. Click anywhere in the timeline and you’ll see a guy we hope Hooker can play like. Thomas should be avoided if at all possible. His closing speed and ball skills mean it shouldn’t be shocking to see Thomas make a big play.
- Like this one:
The entire Seahawks secondary is fully capable of making big plays. We obviously can’t avoid all of the members of the secondary for the entire game. We’re going to have to test them and hopefully, we can limit mistakes against a unit that makes a living by exploiting mistakes.
This next breakdown I felt really good about. I was glad I took the clip from the game and I felt really good about my breakdown and how complete it was until I found this breakdown from Lars Russell on Field Gulls that broke down the same play only he did it better. We came up with the same conclusions anyway:
This one is third and 17, an excellent chance to get the ball back but instead it’s a ghastly hole in the coverage that this time leaves Adams blatantly wide open, again right at the first down distance.
The Seahawks are playing extremely soft coverage because of the long line to gain, and both linebackers remain the in their flats to prevent outlet receivers from picking up the ugly conversion. But that means Wagner lets Adams run right by him and cross underneath Cobb releasing toward the deep corner of the field. Lane’s replacement Justin Coleman sticks with Cobb, who gets covered by three men while no defender is within 15 yards of Adams when he makes the catch at midfield. This time there’s no extended run after the reception, and again Seattle managed to screw down and finish the drive without any damage to the scoreboard. But these failures to capitalize on third and long situations surely tire out the defense and add up to the ragged play that let the Packers finish the game with a drive that ate up half the fourth quarter in a one-score game.
That article is a good read on how crossing routes kept the Seahawks defense off balance and created opportunities for their receivers. Hopefully, Chud has taken notes and puts some crossing patterns in the game plan. I feel like this is our best bet against this team given our quarterback situation.
This Seahawks defense is likely the most talented we will face all year. Their biggest hole is at CB2 and if they just park Earl Thomas over the top of him, they’ve fixed that problem.
If they continue to play undisciplined up front we could have a nice day on the ground, I am afraid however we may be in a position that requires us to throw the football if that’s the case, this one could get ugly and our Colts might get embarrassed on national television.