Sept. 8, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (92) celebrates after recovering a fumble during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

The Seahawks Defense: What Went Wrong


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.

Tags: Brandon Mebane Bruce Irvin Featured Kj Wright Mike Morgan Popular Seahawks Seattle Seahawks

  • ST

    You really need to proof read your posts. The staff of this site writes decent enough material, however, when I see typo’s I get the feeling I’m reading the opinion of a uneducated teenager. Please, use spelling/grammar check at the least.

    • 12thMan_Rising

      This was an old draft. The final draft got lost somehow in an overnight server hiccup. By the time I noticed this had been posted for hours already, so I decided to just leave it and move on to the next topic.

    • http://twitter.com/Spokanedad Spokanedad

      Yep ST… That’s whats really important here.. Keith is incredibly active on Twitter, runs the chat on game day, analyzes, ect… A misspelled word here or there is more important than the analysis… Thanks for that…

      • 12thMan_Rising

        Thank Jeff. I really do try, but ST isn’t wrong. The truth is that I probably don’t edit my work as much as I should. My time is limited, and I’ve made the choice to go light on the editing in favor of more time to break down tape and more overall content. I stand by that choice, but that doesn’t mean that the criticism is incorrect.

        • http://twitter.com/Spokanedad Spokanedad

          Keep doing what you’re doing Keith…

  • Hawk_Eye

    Keith, excellent article. Unfortunately, I think San Francisco exposed the weakness in our defense the 2nd half of that game. Nothing was working for them until they went to the dink and dunk stuff in the middle of our defense. Teams will continue this trend until we stop it, especially since the strength of our defense is in our defensive backs. I think Pete will make some adjustments to that part of our defense. It doesn’t help that Leroy Hill has been having a bad year. When was the last game you heard his name called? Amazingly, we are still ranked a top 5 defense this year.

  • Hawkman

    Great points all- in the pass game what I am seeing is ALL the LB’s are weak in coverage and Kam Chancellor is pretty bad in the pass coverage , it shows up every game.On another note RW is finally coming around as is the play calling -it is TOO bad we had to wait 8 to 9 games in to have that our QB be allowed to have a more open playbook !