I don’t think I need to lay out the stats of how different the Seahawks defense has been the past 4 gaves vs the first 5. In the first 5 games, they were elite; one of the games absolute best. Over the past 4, they’ve been abismal, or at least they have been at times.
I wish it was as simple as a key injury, like it was in 2010. The Seahawks defense was decent that year until Red Bryant got hurt, then they couldn’t stop anyone’s ground attack. While there have been injuries, they don’t explain the difference this year.
Another problem is that it also hasn’t been one phase of the defense that has been bad. Against the Patriots and Lions it was the pass defense. Against the 49ers and Vikings it was the run defense. So it’s not a single failing that we can look for and fix. Instead there’s something systemically wrong with then entire group.
I went back and looked at the film from all 9 games just to try and see what the difference has been, and there’s a few common things I saw that I felt I needed to share.
1) Brandon Mebane – In the first 5 games, Mebane was a disruptive force, both against the run and in the pass rush. Over the past 4 games, he’s been the opposite. He’s getting pushed back off the line against the run, and isn’t getting any push up the middle against the pass.
It would seem like there’s an injury here, but he doesn’t show up on the injury report. This drop off in his play also happened last year and in 2010, though in those years it happened much later in the season. The assumption was just that he wore down after a long season. This year was supposed to be different. Jason Jones and Clinton McDonald have both helped decrease Mebane’s playing time to help keep him fresh, but it clearly hasn’t helped at all.
2) Substitution Problems – The Seahawks defense has a huge number of specialists on it. For example, Red Bryant is a great run stopper but fairly useless against the pass. Bruce Irvin is the opposite, which is why he and Bryant share the same position. The same is true, but to a lesser extent, for Alan Branch and Jones. And then there’s Mebane, who’s normally good against both while his backup McDonald is purely a pass rusher.
The substitutions worked early on, but they’ve been a liability recently. Opposing teams have been manipulating the Seahawks into subbing in the wrong personnel package, and using it to their advantage. The Patriots spent most of the first half throwing the ball against the Seahawks heavy line with Branch and Bryant. Not surprisingly, the Tom Brady had almost no pressure on him the entire half.
The 49ers did much of the same thing, but in reverse. There has been a lot already written about the trap runs that the 49ers used against the Seahawks. What you probably haven’t seen is that on almost every trap they ran, it was the pass rushing specialist McDonald who was victimized on the play. When Bruce Irvin came in, they ran to his side of the field over and over, and he was unable to set the edge the way Bryant does. Not that it would be fair to expect him to, as Bryant outweighs him by 80 pounds.
3) Lack Of Quality Depth – When the starters go to the sidelines, bad things happen. We saw that this weekend when KJ Wright had to leave the game with a concussion. The drop off between him and Mike Morgan was really apparent. Plus, Morgan is also the primary backup at both outside linebacker spots, with Wright being the backup in the middle. The Seahawks were simply unable to get their linebackers a breather when they needed one.
It could also be seen in the drop off from Jones to Greg Scruggs. Scruggs is a decent player who probably has a bright future, but he just doesn’t match the quality and consistency that Jones brings. Scruggs was simply ineffective against the Lions, and the lack of an inside pass rush was most of the reason the Seahawks couldn’t stop Matthew Stafford.
But it’s more than just what happened with the 2 injuries. As I said above in point #2, the backups are all specialists. There’s no true backup for Mebane or Branch or Bryant. If those guys get tired, there’s no one available to take their place.
4) Being Overly Agressive – This is mostly true in the 2 games in which they gave up a ton of running yards. The linebackers are over-pursuing and leaving their assignments, only to have the back cut back into the place the LB was supposed to be. They need to be more disciplined, and get back to doing their own job and trusting their teammates to their’s.
5) Not Enough Press Coverage – I didn’t believe it when Pete Carroll said it this morning on the radio, but it’s true: The Seahawks play less man to man coverage (even in weeks 1-5) than we, the fans, realized. They disguise the zones well, often having the corner start out in press coverage anyways, only to release the WR to another defender 10-15 yards down field. It looks like man coverage, but it isn’t.
For some reason, the Seahawks have gotten away from that recently. The press has been happening when it was actually man coverage, and the zone looks had the corners playing off more. This change has been part of the problem. The Seahawks are at their best when they’re challenging the receivers at the line and disrupting their timing. They need to get back to that.