The Seahawks entered last Sunday’s game without one defensive starter and a key roll player. Nickel corner Marcus Trufant couldn’t play because of hamstring injury, and starting weak side LB LeRoy Hill was out with an ankle injury. The matchup with the Bears limited the impact of Trufant’s absence, and Walter Thurmond played well in his limited snaps.
It was Hill’s injury that created the biggest question mark for the defense. The Bears offense is such that the Seahawks were going to have to play most of the game in either base defense, meaning Malcolm Smith was going to be on the field a lot. The other problem is that the weak side LB in this defense is responsible for covering the RB on most pass plays. That meant the Smith was going to be responsible for covering Matt Forte, one of the best receiving RBs in the NFL.
That’s a lot to ask of a guy who was making his first start.
The thing is, Smith did more than just fill in for Hill. He excelled. He played better than Hill has in any game all season. I went back and watched the game again, and did my best to concentrate on Smith’s play (I like watching LBers. weird huh?) Smith played very well. He was very disciplined in his gap assignments against the run. There was at least twice that I saw where Forte tried to cut back when the hole was filled, only to cut right into Smith who had stayed home where he was supposed to be.
It was a pleasant sight. Smith found a way to do more to help the defense by not trying to do too much. Too often in recent games we’ve seen Seahawk LBs try to do too much, and get out of position, only to have the RB cut back into the void for a big gain. Forte had no such luck this week.
Against the pass its tougher to grade Smith’s performance. The all-22 film isn’t available yet, so I’m stuck using the incredibly limited broadcast view. Too often the players just aren’t on the screen, which is annoying. I don’t expect to be disappointed though when the tape does come out.
According to Pro Football Focus, Smith was in pass coverage on 19 plays. He gave up 2 catches for 8 yards. Can’t complain there. I’ll take that every day from the WLB to be honest, especially against Forte.
Now, before you think that I’m just blowing smoke here, I’m not alone in my evaluation. The guys at Pro Football Focus scored his game a +2.1, the best of any Seattle defender. That says a lot considering how well Kam Chancellor and Brandon Mebane played on Sunday. Think about that for a second.
Consider it this way: If Smith averaged a +2.1 over 12 games, he’d be at +25.2 for the season. That would be #2 in the NFL. So if you think I’m trying to paint a rosy picture here, I’m not. I’m giving you an honest breakdown of what I saw.
It was an eye opening performance. It’s the type of performance that warrants more playing time, a lot more. Smith needs to be starting. The Seahawks now have the next 5+ games (see what I did there?) to see if Smith can play at that level on a consistent basis. If he can play like this consistently, then it changes the offseason plan. The Seahawks will no longer need a starter at the position, and will only need general LB depth. If this was just a blip on the radar, then they need to know that too.
Either way, I expect to see a lot more of Malcolm Smith over the next few weeks.