We’ve heard for years the talk in every sport: Play to your strengths. Minimize your weaknesses.
Seattle Seahawks in the post-Tim Ruskell days have been strong on defense thanks to some quality line play (and no thanks to undersized defensive backs). Our Seattle Mariners under Jack Zduriencik have relied on starting pitching (and done so in spite of the offensive inconsistencies). The Seattle Sounders play best when they play uptempo and bring the energy (even with being built around an older core of players).
Kelly Jennings is the poster child for under-sized.
Which leads directly to the point.
The Seahawks have stocked up enough on the defensive line. Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch and Red Bryant make one of the most imposing fronts in the NFL. This showed when they ranked 15th in rushing yards per game and tied for 4th best in the NFL for yards per attempt. With another pass rushing DE addition to spell or line up opposite Chris Clemons, there will be more getting after the quarterback. And that defensive front will be even more loaded with talent.
Follow the defense all the way back and you have a lot talent. Earl Thomas moves faster than a fast guy on a fast thing. (Channeled my inner John Madden on that one.) Kam Chancellor looks like a giant and hits like a guy twice his size. Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are huge guys that can cover. Four players, four Pro-Bowlers.
Brandon Browner picks off a pass against the Eagles
The linebacker level of depth…well how do I put this nicely…is not elite. It’s not even good. KJ Wright played well last season and has upside. But who among you thinks Leroy Hill or Barrett Ruud will light up the world? If Malcolm Smith was going to take charge and dominate at linebacker, I would have expected to have at least heard about it. I love John Schneider and how he has overhauled the team, but his ability to find a top-notch linebacker in rounds 3-7 is something I question.
If this Seahawks team wants to maximize who they have on defense, I propose a radical plan. A bit more radical than our 4-3 over look.
A nickel defense that serves as base defense. There’s a couple of more variations for multiple defensive back sets (dime, quarter, dollar) and those would be best covered by someone with more schematic defensive knowledge. The basic premise of a nickel defense is easy enough to follow:
- Four down linemen that play strong and will control the line of scrimmage in both run and passing situations
- Two linebackers with speed and ability to flow sideline to sideline to cover or contain the run
- Two deep safeties who can play deep to keep the top on a defense or down in the box for run support or even over a man
- Three defensive backs who play mixes of man and zone coverage.
Thomas, Sherman and others celebrating an interception against the Eagles in 2011
The Seahawks face in 2012 two of the best offenses in the NFL. Both are powerhouses in the passing game and run by a pair of MVP winners. The Packers spread the field with the deepest receiving corps in the league. The Patriots have a two tight end set that creates havoc to defend. The Seahawks have set themselves up for success in their big secondary, so adding a late round/undrafted big corner who can cover would be a great move. It would allow the Seahawks to match up with a Rob Gronkowski or a Jermichael Finley, to say nothing of the increasingly fast and large players at wideout.
The coaching staff has shown they will think out of the box. They will take chances. Some of the moves have worked out, some haven’t. But don’t be surprised come draft weekend to see more emphasis on big coverage guys, and definitely keep an eye out for more defensive backs on the field in the fall.