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2021 Opponent Scouting Report: Week 1 Seahawks Defense, can you play cornerback? These guys need you.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On September 12th, 2021 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Seattle Seahawks. In this Week 1 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

The last time these two franchises met in 2017, the Colts took a 15 to 10 lead into halftime before the Seahawks scored 36 second half points and winning the game 46 to 18. That was four years ago and four years is a lifetime in the NFL. Both teams have seen tremendous change in that span and the 2021 offseason has been a rollercoaster, for very different reasons, for both squads as well. Week 1 always gives us more questions than answers but we can try to sort through the noise to find as many answers as possible.

Let’s see what we can expect in week 1.


Defensive System

I’ve written about the old Seahawks 4-3 under, cover 3 heavy defense so many times it’s exhausting at this point. Even though the Colts only play the Seahawks once every four years, their defensive system became so popular around the league I haven’t been able to go more than a few games without bumping into the system and it’s disciples since the last time the Colts saw these guys.

Instead of rehashing that in detail I’ll give you the $0.10 tour as I remember it from 2017. Back then, Richard Sherman was quoted as saying that it was no secret that the only coverages the Seahawks ran during the Legion of Boom era were man cover one and cover three. They might roll certain coverages one way or another, or invert a coverage from time to time but the coverage schemes they used, were ultimately incredibly simple. If you’re not going to trick anyone, it’s really important that you do those simple things, incredibly well and during that era, the Seahawks did just that. It didn’t hurt that the Seahawks found a completely perfect fit for their system and a hall of fame cornerback in Sherman in the 5th round of the draft, but their players were excellent, their execution was consistent, their scheme basic, and through all of it they were very good.

Coming into this game I knew that the Seahawks defense couldn’t have been the same. Anytime you go from a player like Earl Thomas, with seemingly impossible range playing single high safety, to literally anyone else, your defense can’t stay the same. So even though this is week one and there’s no film of the 2021 Seahawks, I went back to 2020 to watch their coverages to see how much things have changed since the heyday of the Legion of Boom.

Turns out, they will drop both safeties deep

This one is a split safety coverage, which means that both safeties will play a deep half of the field instead of playing a “single high safety” which is what they did almost exclusively in the past. It might be tough to tell that’s what this is because Jamal Adams reacts so quickly to the play going to the other side of the field, Jamal Adams reacts quickly to a lot of things but we’ll save that for later. His initial steps and the actions of the other safety tell us that this isn’t a single high safety defense.

Quarters, probably

Here it looks like they’re in quarters coverage. Once again, Adams comes up quick, if I were a betting man I would wager that Frank Reich will test Jamal Adams in coverage when he drops into a deep zone. Given how aggressively Adams wants to drive on underneath routes, I think Reich will work to set up plays to capitalize on that aggressiveness.

I could be wrong on it being quarters, I don’t think I am, but I could be. Either way it’s another example of the Seahawks splitting their safeties in deep zones.

I thought this was man cover 2 and I was wrong

I was wrong.

So what is this coverage? Donno. This is what I get for not learning enough about coverages I’m not well versed in, in the offseason. You know how you read a story about a player who shows up to camp out of shape? Well, that’s me. I’m that guy right now. My bad. Coverage is a weak point in my football knowledge. I need to do some work.

I’m not entirely sure what the Seahawks are doing here. It looks like it might be a Tampa 2 or a man-zone hybrid, with a linebacker spying Kyler Murray, which would make sense given the split safeties and the fact that Kyler Murray is really fast. Usually when defenses use man 2 against mobile quarterbacks, it’s an invitation for the quarterback to run because most of the defense has their back turned in coverage and the safeties are too far down the field to come up and tackle the QB before he gains a big chunk of yards. So it could be that the Seahawks are using this hybrid man 2- zone look to mitigate Kyler Murray’s ability to run. It could also be some sort of match coverage that starts it’s life in this diamond pattern and once receiving options declare their route, the defenders lock onto their designated receiver and the zone effectively becomes man.

Could be any of those, but I’m pretty sure it’s not, not one of those options.

Ultimately it’s another split zone coverage which, for my purposes in this breakdown, is what’s important. I’m not sure they will respect Carson Wentz’s rushing ability to the same degree they respected Murray’s. We’ll see how that works out.

Blitzes

Blitzes aren’t new for this defense, they’ve been doing it forever, but they haven’t always had Jamal Adams doing the blitzing. They really like to send Adams and for good reason, he’s really good at it. I know I said I would talk about Adams later and I did mean the section on the defensive backs, but he’s too big of a part of the Seahawks defensive scheme to not mention him specifically.

Jamal Adams only played in 12 games in 2020 and he finished with 9.5 sacks. That’s not a typo (I checked three different sources because I didn’t believe NFL.com when I read it there). Jamal Adams, the safety, sacked opposing quarterbacks 9.5 times in 12 games last year. He’s on pace to have more sacks than any other DB in NFL history, either this season or next if his production remains somewhat consistent. He is entering his 4th NFL season. He’s currently 6th all time. So yeah, the Seahawks like to blitz their strong safety.

Here they send a different DB

This is a fun blitz concept. The line stunts left while their cornerback (#29) comes on a blitz that was delayed by the slot receiver. The offense had no idea he was coming, it just looked like he was in coverage as the Bills were using a tight formation.

On the other side the linebacker (#50) flows that direction so that the offensive line focuses on him, further preventing anyone from noticing that pesky corner blitzing off the edge. The best aspect of this blitz concept is that the linebacker doesn’t blitz. He shows blitz before dropping back to spy the quarterback. This allows him to be in position to make a tackle once Josh Allen, another highly mobile quarterback, tries to escape the blitz. It results in the linebacker getting an easy clean-up sack without ever having to take on a blocker.

Sending Adams again

This one doesn’t get home but once again they send Jamal Adams and have defenders ready to cover routes from the backs if they slip out of the backfield or if Murray takes off and runs.

But nothing says “Seattle” like good old cover 3

When I think of Seattle I think of coffee, rain, Kurt Cobain and the cover 3. It’s good to see some of those things still exist in Seattle.

The theme that has remained consistent for the Pete Carroll Seattle Seahawks defense, is it’s simplicity, especially on the back end. A few times I noted they got into their coverage shells in different ways, they might roll or invert coverage but at the end of the day they don’t do much that will seriously confuse a veteran quarterback. This defense is still based on execution. If this were a network broadcast I would tell you that the keys for the game for the Seahawks defense are limiting a very good Colts rushing attack and hitting Carson Wentz early and often.

The Colts offensive line, when at full strength, is a top three offensive line. So the question becomes, do the Seattle Seahawks have the hogs up front to take on Quenton and his crew?


Defensive Line

The Seahawks will have a starting front four of L.J. Collier, Al Woods, Poona Ford and Benson Mayowa, allegedly. I say “allegedly” because Mayowa is listed ahead of second stringer Rasheem Green and they’re both supposedly ahead of Carlos Dunlap II. Also interesting is how often the Seahawks are in what looks like a base 4-3 or nickel formation while listing Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson as linebackers on their depth chart. The Seahawks consider these players their strong side linebackers which is interesting because neither are guys that have spent much time in coverage. Both are listed as edge defenders on most websites that mention both men, in fact Seahawks.com lists them both as defensive ends on their individual player pages. Either the Seahawks will use their outside linebackers more like traditional 3-4 OLB’s or Pete Carroll has finally completely lost his mind and will try to teach all of his defensive ends to drop in coverage. Either is possible.

Former Colt Al Woods, 34, will play his first game in 19 months after opting out of 2020 and being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars without ever playing a down for them. It seems to me that Woods will either come in healthy and refreshed after an extend time away from the game, or the 34 year old will look old trying to come back to a young mans game as the Seahawks starting 3-tech defensive tackle. The last time we saw Woods on a football field, he still looked pretty good.

Just to avoid any confusion, Woods played for the Seahawks in 2019 before signing with the Jags in 2020 and then signing again with the Hawks in 2021.

Also returning after opting out is Darrell Taylor. The Seahawks traded up in the second round of the 2020 draft to take the pass rusher out of Tennessee. Taylor is now a 24 year old rookie who hasn’t played a competitive football game in 19 months, playing in his first NFL game. Although his tape at Tennessee was promising and he did flash in the preseason, he has yet do accomplish anything at the professional level. Seahawks fans, obviously, have high hopes but saying Taylor is unproven seems like an understatement.

Starting at nose tackle is Poona Ford. In 2018 Ford went undrafted out of Texas despite having put a lot of really good football on tape. So why did he go undrafted? He’s 5’11”. Turns out if you’re good enough at football you can be 5’11” and be a good nose tackle. Poona might not get much push on passing downs but trying to move him in the ground game is challenging as “low man wins” is a cliché for a reason and it’s really tough for most guys to get lower than Ford.

I don’t know how the rotation will work out given the return of Al Woods and Darrell Taylor but I feel confident in saying that we will see plenty of Carlos Dunlap and Benson Mayowa on Sunday. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine. Raheem Green and Alton Robinson both looked good in the preseason and both are young players the team might want to try to get reps.

Seahawks fans feel good about this defensive line and if I were a Seahawks fan, I would too. But from the outside I have a lot of questions. Questions about how well Al Woods will play after more than a year and a half away from the game at 34 years old. Questions about the only pass rush help that was “added” being a former second round pick who also hasn’t played in more than a year and a half and has never played a down of NFL football, on a team whose sack leader a year ago plays safety and the guy who had the second most sacks, Jarron Reed (6.5) is now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, AND the guy who finished with the third most sacks on the team, Benson Mayowa (6) is a 30 year old journeyman edge defender who played in 16 games in a season once (in 2014) and started a career high 9 games in 2020.

So while there are a lot of legitimate questions to be asked, if* everything goes as planned for the Seahawks this will be a good unit. Regardless of who the Colts start at left tackle, as long as Quenton Nelson is as healthy as we have all been told, the Seahawks rotation on the defensive line is not better than the Colts offensive line. Seahawks fans won’t like that and if I were you, I wouldn’t either but that’s just how I see these units.

The best part about this prediction is we only have to wait four more days to see if I’m right.

*That’s a big if.


Linebackers

The Seahawks have had a decade of elite level linebacker play thanks in large part to six (6) time All-Pro Bobby Wagner. The future hall of famer is entering his 10th season and turned 31 just a couple of months ago. Selfishly I hope Wagner lost several steps on his 31st birthday, but that’s just doesn’t seem likely after playing great, yet again, in 2020. I could have picked a lot of highlights to show you from Bobby Wagner but plays like the one below are what worry me the most for this Sunday.

Also, can we not do the thing where we try to compare Bobby Wagner and Darius Leonard and say one of them is better than the other? It’s dumb. They’ll never be on the field at the same time. They don’t play against each other and both are great players. Let’s just appreciate the fact that we get to watch two elite linebackers play for both teams at the highest level, something we couldn’t say about the 2017 Colts who started Antonio Morrison, Jon Bostic and John Simon at linebacker the last time these two teams played. This should also serve as a reminder that should you ever run into Chris Ballard in real life, you should thank him for the job he’s done in building the current Colts roster.

The other force at linebacker for the Seahawks for the past decade has been K.J. Wright. Between 2011 and 2020 Wright started 140 games for Seattle but the 32 year old wasn’t resigned by the team, so he took his talents to the Las Vegas Raiders. While researching the Seahawks, I’ve seen fans react to losing Wright and I understood their pain. Colts fans went through a similar reckoning (albeit on a much bigger scale) in 2012, watching long time franchise staples play in other cities. Just based on how they reacted it reminded me of seeing Jeff Saturday in a Green Bay Packers jersey. All offseason I had prepared myself to see Peyton Manning in a Denver Broncos jersey, so while it was still weird to see, I was prepared. What I didn’t prepare myself for was seeing Saturday in a green and gold #63. I think a lot of Seahawks fans will have a similar reaction to seeing K.J. Wright in silver and black.

Much like that 2012 Colts purge (again, much smaller scale), the Seahawks felt it was time to move on to a younger player at the position and 2020 first round pick Jordyn Brooks will take over fulltime starting duties opposite of Wagner. The almost 24 year old Brooks played in 14 games in 2020, starting in six. He had some struggles in coverage early on but as Samuel Gold is about to tell you, he improved a lot over the course of his rookie season.

You might have to watch that video on YouTube and like most of Samuel Gold’s videos, it’s worth the time and effort to go give it a watch.

The Seahawks have had a decade of elite level linebacker play and as Jordyn Brooks grows as a player, it’s not crazy to think that I’ll probably be writing about how good Brooks is the next time the Colts play the Seahawks in 2025. Between Brooks and Wagner, Carson Wentz will have his work cut out for him in the middle of the field in week one.

Obligatory fullback/linebacker/Special Teams Ace Nick Bellore clip


Defensive Backs

2020 pro bowl safety Quandre Diggs saw the massive payday that fellow safety/linebacker/pass rusher Jamal Adams received from the team and decided he needed some contractual attention too. As a result Diggs has yet to practice in 2021 and is on another famous Seahawks “hold-in”. As of the time of this writing (September 1st) it’s unknown if Diggs will be on the field for week one. It would be interesting to know if he and Duane Brown are comparing hold-in notes. UPDATE: as of September 6th both Diggs and Brown returned to practice which would signal that both men expect to play this Sunday. I’m not surprised by Diggs’ decision, I am more surprised by Brown’s. As a Colts fan I am disappointed that they both returned to work.

When I searched for Quandre Diggs videos on Twitter this is the first one that came up and I don’t like it:

Jamal Adams is the guy I’ve spent the most time talking about already in this article and we were almost 3,000 words in before we got to the defensive backs on this squad. As you might have guessed, Adams is pretty good, but he does have some weaknesses.

His ability in coverage has been a notable fault during his career and it was especially evident in 2020. Jamal Adams fans will probably tell you that he played through injuries last year that diminished his abilities in coverage and while there may be some truth to that I’ll be watching him in coverage with skepticism. For all of his faults in coverage, the guy is pretty good at, well, everything else.

More than anyone else on the Seahawks defense, Carson Wentz needs to know where Jamal Adams is before every single snap. This guy is a real problem.

Beyond the safeties this secondary is a real problem for the Seahawks. I could write about 1,000 words describing all of the cornerback transactions this team has had at the position in the last week and a half alone, but I’ll spare you the details.

Here are the guys we should expect to see at corner on Sunday:

D.J. Reed, Tre Flowers, John Reid, Sidney Jones IV and possibly Bless Austin.

Austin was signed last week but doesn’t appear on the team’s official depth chart after coming over from the Jets.

D.J. Reed will start on the left side of the defense. Reed has looked fine but he has only started 10 games in his three year career. There’s a lot we don’t know about Reed right now but he could end up being the best corner on the 2021 Seahawks but that is a rather low bar.

Tre Flowers will start on the right side and that’s good news for whatever Colts receiver lines up on the right side on Sunday. The comment section over at FieldGulls on the article that discussed Flowers winning the starting role was as entertaining as it was telling. Frank T. Raines tells us everything we need to know about Flowers:

This was on Tre Flowers

It looks like the Seahawks are in cover 3 which means both outside corners and the deep safety all take deep thirds of the field. Instead Tre Flowers just doesn’t drop into his zone. He stays underneath to cover a zone that Jamal Adams was already in. Quandre Diggs is left helplessly chasing the receiver to where his help should have been.

I for one approve of Tre Flowers starting this weekend. Michael Pittman Jr. could be queued up for a nice day.

I do want to go into detail about one cornerback transaction because I find it entertaining. The Houston Texans selected John Reid in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL draft. Obviously they weren’t thrilled with their investment because they shipped him to Seattle for a conditional seventh round pick in 2023.

Seattle, not willing to let go of that seventh round pick in two years cut Reid before the deadline and signed him to the practice squad. Then they moved him to the active roster yesterday.

I understand the Seahawks didn’t trick the Texans out of the next Deon Sanders, but I’m always in favor of the Texans giving away their young, recently drafted players for absolutely nothing in return.

Sydney Jones came to the Hawks in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones played well a season ago but hasn’t lived up to what many believed he could have been before tearing his Achilles before the 2017 draft. Jones will be an interesting player to watch for this defense as the season goes on, I just hope he stinks in week one.

Outside of the safeties this unit is pretty bad. Hopefully Carson Wentz can take advantage.


Final Thoughts

This Seahawks defense isn’t as good as it once was, but to be fair, it used to be great. A season ago this was a top five rush defense and the second worst pass defense by yards given up. They were a classic bend but don’t break defense, they gave up a ton of yards but they were middle of the pack when it came to giving up points.

Carson Wentz could have his first 300 yard passing performance in a Colts uniform this weekend but it might not matter if Frank Reich can’t get his team to execute in the red zone. I believe this game will be won or lost based on who executes better near the goal line. Field goals won’t win this one.