What is up with our Defense?

The Seahawks defense has been much better than we expected. That’s phenomenal. Our run-stopping unit has improved dramatically — and it was undoubtedly our strength the last two years. Currently ranked #2 in the NFL, the Seahawks held Matt Forte to a paltry 11 yards on his eight carries, good for a 1.4 yard average (a career low). In ways, our pass defense has been better, too.

The Seahawks have again adopted a bend-but-don’t-break defense. We have ceded yards like its going out of style, but once the opponent enters the Red Zone, the personality of the defense transforms. Still, it seems like the opponents have been getting into the Red Zone quite a bit. Against the Bears, the Seahawks gave up three or four huge passing plays. The first was Roy Lewis’ pass interference, good for 58 yards. Unfortunately, the ball would not have been caught, so it was a huge error by Lewis, but alas, errors are errors. After that, we looked out of sorts and the Bears marched the remaining 20-or-so yards to score their only offensive TD of the game.

Beyond that, there were a number of short passes that led to huge gains. Marcus Trufant was beat on the sideline, missed his last-chance ankle tackle, and the receiver galloped for a huge gain. This scenario replayed itself two more times. It’s impossible to tell coverages on the TV film, of course, but it looked to me from what I could tell that our defense was arranged largely to take away the deep pass, which led to a number of intermediate routes going long.

Much of the game, the Seahawks dropped into a strange 3-1-7 scheme. Did you see Aaron Curry making a bunch of plays on Sunday? No, because he and Hawthorne were on the sidelines for about half of the game. With three down linemen plus Lofa Tatupu, the Seahawks coverage unit was enabled to man-up with every receiving threat or to drop into a crazy zone defense. Lawyer Milloy came down into the box early and often (as did Roy Lewis and Jordan Babineaux), where he essentially served as a linebacker-safety hybrid. This scheme allowed the Seahawks to get as much pressure as they did. Knowing that Cutler’s whole gameplan would be to get rid of the ball as early as he could. Our defense was arranged to make him hold the ball. Every look into our secondary yielded smothered players. Earl Thomas was playing deep centerfield (where maybe two balls were thrown all day). The corners were in a man-zone hybrid from what I could tell (that’s basically always the case, I suppose). Lofa was doing what Lofa does.

Part of the problem with this scheme is that the WRs know their routes and the CBs do not. Every once in awhile, Cutler completed a pass. When that happened, you had a whole lot of defensive backs who were required to make open field tackles. More than that, you had only one linebacker in the game who was generally behind the play at this point. DBs need to make open field tackles, but other than Lawyer Milloy (who was generally up towards the line of scrimmage), they aren’t really getting paid to tackle so much as they are paid to not create an opportunity for a tackle. In this sort of scheme, you are taking the risk of allowing a big play or two, but you are stopping the likelihood of many more. Where Phillip Rivers ate our defense alive, Jay Cutler merely got lucky with a few long yards after catch.

So, what’s up with our 30th ranked pass defense? We are still learning, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. I love what Gus Bradley is doing with this defense, and I love the aggression and confidence they are playing with right now. If we can keep that up for the whole season, there is no doubt that this team is playoff bound. But keeping it up for the whole year is something we have not seen recently. Fingers: crossed.