Mike Macdonald's plan for Seahawks defense should worry NFC West rivals

Macdonald's defense will have opponents' heads spinning.
Mike Macdonald of the Seattle Seahawks
Mike Macdonald of the Seattle Seahawks / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

The Seattle Seahawks have used multiple alignments in the past, but Mike Macdonald takes the concept to an entirely different level. The 2023 Hawks know that all too well.

Perhaps the biggest buzz generated by the hire of Mike Macdonald as the Seahawks' new head coach is his reputation for creating so many looks from his defensive sets. Okay, maybe it's fourth, after how dominant his Ravens defense was, the fact he's the youngest coach in the league, and that he replaced the Hawks' best coach ever, Pete Carroll. It's still pretty high up the list.

Seattle Times reporter extraordinaire Bob Condotta wrote about this just a few days ago. As Condotta recounts, Macdonald had this to say when he was introduced as the Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator in 2021: "Watch our Baltimore defense and tell me the times that we look like a 3-4 [formation]. There’s going to be a certain percentage there, OK, but there’s a lot of times we’re going to look like we’re in a 4-3, there’s sometimes we’re going to like we’re a 6-1. Sometimes you’re not going to know what the heck it looks like.”

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Macdonald was the Ravens linebackers coach from 2018 through 2020 and was on the staff for four years before that. In his three seasons coaching the LBs, Baltimore ranked second, third, and second in fewest points allowed. In his two seasons as their defensive coordinator, the Edgar Allan Poe mascots ranked third, then first in points allowed. The man has established one heck of a track record.

One of the key factors that enabled the Ravens to dominate as they did was the ability to move personnel around the field. Last year, defensive lineman Justin Madubuike lined up in the B gap over 400 times and over tackle nearly 300 and had his best season by far.

Safety Kyle Hamilton took over 200 snaps in the box, 300 at free safety, and well over 400 in the slot on his way to making the first team on the NFL All-Pro squad. Snap count alignments are per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). As Macdonald said when joining Michigan, it isn't simply a matter of alignment, it's the multiple looks his defenses bring to the table on every snap.

Pete Carroll's Seahawks were no stranger to multiple alignments either. The savage 2013 edition of the Legion of Boom saw Kam Chancellor line up in the box exactly 500 times. We don't remember quite as well that he lined up deep 490 times, and 191 times in the slot.

Michael Bennett was practically the poster child for versatility. He lined up in the B gap 241 times and over tackle nearly 400. Chris Clemons lined up over tackle 500 times and nearly 200 outside the tackle. The Hawks knew all about attacking from different angles in the days of the LOB.

Carroll carried that forward last year, most notably with Devon Witherspoon. Spoon got the lion's share of the attention, playing with equal aplomb at slot and outside corner. What's often overlooked is how Julian Love played so many roles for the Hawks. He played over 300 snaps in the box and at free safety and even took 168 snaps in the slot. Dre'Mont Jones made a big jump in production once he moved outside the tackle in the second half of the season.

The problem lies here, though. All three of those moves were forced on Seattle by injuries or questionable performances. Witherspoon had to play more outside to pick up the slack, while Love moved to cover in the absence of Jamal Adams. Jones languished inside until the loss of Uchenna Nwosu (and the incompetence of Darrell Taylor and Derick Hall) forced the Seahawks to move Jones outside.

The key difference for the 2024 Hawks is that Macdonald will do this - and much more - by design. It goes far beyond simple alignments. As quoted by John Boyle on seahawks.com, Jarran Reed had this to say about the multiple looks: "I think that will benefit us a lot. Guys won't know where we're going to be as much, so we can create some confusion along the offensive line. It shows everybody's versatility and that's the main thing. Zero, three to four to five, believe it or not, it's all the same thing."

Next. Seahawks sign another quarterback who started against them in 2023. Seahawks sign another quarterback who started against them in 2023. dark

That's the key there. It is the intention to disguise the attack as much as possible under Macdonald's scheme that sets his defense apart from Carroll's - or anyone else's, for that matter. As he's said repeatedly, every player knows every role, so can step into that with ease.

We won't see the confusion we saw all too often with blown coverages in the past few years. These coaches are all about teaching at the most fundamental level. That's a change we can all support for the Seahawks.

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