[Note: This article was supposed to go up late last week, but due to other concerns it had to go unfinished until now. But while the subject matter is a bit past tense, if nothing else I figured it’d serve as a nice frame of reference when I take a look at the game tape for the Vikings game.]
The Seahawks’ pass coverage against the Lions was ugly, and looking at it on the all-22 tape didn’t make it any prettier. I’m hoping I don’t have to sit through another film session like that anytime soon, but here are the four main things I learned this time around:
1) Trufant was not bad in coverage.
After the game, I mentioned in the comments that I thought Trufant was a big part of the Seahawks’ problem in coverage against the Lions. As it turns out, I was wrong on that account, because the impression I got from the broadcast footage was not supported by what I saw on the coaches’ film. Granted, there’s a big difference between saying his performance wasn’t bad and saying he played well, but Trufant appeared to be assignment-correct throughout the game and when a play went in his direction he generally put himself in a good position to attempt a pass breakup or help clean up someone else’s mess.
I still think the Seahawks could use an upgrade over Trufant at the nickel back position, but I’m not going to let my general disgust with his play over the last few seasons prevent me from admitting to a mistake when I’ve made one.
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2) The defense’s zone coverage needs work.
A lot has been made of the defense’s failures to stop the pass against the Lions on third down, which is a valid concern. However, the problems the Seahawks were having in coverage were also evident on every other down.
Q1 1-10-DET 32 (13:54) 9-M.Stafford pass incomplete short middle to 25-M.Leshoure.
Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about. This play came early in the first quarter on Detroit’s opening drive. The offensive play design is fairly symmetrical, with both receivers running 5-yard square-outs (the receiver on the right motions in toward the numbers prior to the snap) and both tight ends running 5-yard hitch routes. The running back looks for someone to block, then runs a delay route through the middle of the line and settles down somewhere between and underneath the two tight ends.
The Seahawks show blitz by putting six defenders on the line, but rush just four at the snap. The coverage is straight zone, with three zones deep and four underneath. The corners drop back to cover the deep zones with Thomas, the outside linebackers drop back from the line to cover the left and right flats, and Wagner and Chancellor man the two middle zones.
With Chancellor and Wagner both busy covering the tight ends, Leshoure is able to sneak out into a spot between the two defenders, but Stafford throws a wild pass well over his head. That’s great news for Seattle, because it means Stafford missed out on a big gain because he failed to look to his left. On that side of the field, Wright is slow getting into coverage and Browner never seems to notice the receiver settling into the area he’s vacated with his deep dropback. The Lions may have missed out on a big gain here, but the defense kept giving them more opportunities all game long..
3) The defense excels at man coverage.
As a rule of thumb, the more aggressively man-oriented the defensive playcall was, the better the Seahawks seemed to perform. Here’s a quick example from later on in that same opening drive.
Q1 3-7-DET 35 (13:07) (Shotgun) 9-M.Stafford pass short middle to 16-T.Young to DET 38 for 3 yards (25-R.Sherman).
The play here is a variant of Bill Walsh’s flanker drive concept. The drive route is designed to get the ball in the hands of your fastest receiver after they’ve hit full speed, so the pass to the drive route (i.e. the shallow crossing route) doesn’t get thrown until the receiver has crossed midfield. Against man coverage, the two deep routes on the left are supposed to draw off defenders deep downfield, thereby giving the underneath receiver more space in which to maneuver, although the option for a pass to whichever deep route the safety fails to cover is also there. In this particular play, the second level crosser works in the opposite direction as a sort of pick route, while the receiver left alone on the right side fakes a WR screen before releasing into a go route after a short delay.
This time around, the Seahawks run a cover-2 shell with Thomas and Chancellor and straight man coverage underneath, and the results are a joy to behold. Note that the only receiver not blanketed in coverage is the one wideout who didn’t release into a route, but he isn’t open for long and he’s in no danger of picking up enough yardage for a first down. The pass eventually goes to Young on the drive route, who is then tackled almost immediately by Sherman.
(For the record, the LB draped all over the tight end is Wright, while the DB sticking stride-for-stride with the post route is Trufant. In short, the current roster is definitely capable of tight coverage.)
4) Wagner is definitely a rookie, and coverage is still not Hill’s strong suit.
I’ve been impressed with Wagner so far this season. He’s fast (how many LBs in the league can run down Cam Newton from behind?), he hits hard, and he’s better than advertised in coverage. The only problem is that sometimes he makes a stupid rookie mistake like this.
Q1 1-10-SEA 29 (1:28) 9-M.Stafford pass deep right to 85-T.Scheffler to SEA 9 for 20 yards (29-E.Thomas).
Against this play, the Seahawks run what seems to be their default coverage: two safeties covering two deep zones, the corners playing man coverage on the outside, and the linebackers run zone coverage in the middle of the field. This particular play is designed to open up a receiver by flooding a zone. The corner and linebacker on the left side make the right call by sticking with the two leftmost deep routes, and after that it’s up to the LB covering the other middle zone to recognize the play and cover the receiver trying to skirt around his zone by running through the area vacated by the other LB before cutting over into the soft area between the cover-2 shell and the underneath zone on the right side.
Unfortunately, by the time Wagner figures it out, Scheffler is already behind him and hauling in an easy 20-yard completion. It’s a bad lapse, definitely, but it’s also the sort of mistake that should correct itself as the young LB gains experience.
I wish the same could be said for Hill, but I think his coverage skills are about as developed as they’re ever going to get. Mistakes like this one are the reason Seahawks coaches have always preferred to take him off the field in nickel situations:
Q1 1-10-SEA 48 (2:15) 9-M.Stafford pass short right to 84-R.Broyles to SEA 29 for 19 yards (54-B.Wagner, 24-R.Sherman).
In this still, Red Bryant is pursuing a receiver running a delay route in the flat, and Hill inexplicably decides to abandon the guy he’s covering in the center of the field to charge in toward Bryant’s man. Stafford then makes an easy completion to the receiver Hill was covering for an easy 19 yard completion to Broyles.