Seattle faced two top ten offenses, one on the road, and allowed 17 points over two halves. The Seahawks saved the fireworks for the second half and it's the second string that is earning honors. That reveals a fundamental flaw in most scouting based analysis: An inability or unwillingness to adjust to quality of opponent. San Diego and Denver ranked first and second in offensive efficiency according to Football Outsiders DVOA. They ranked first and eighth, respectively, according to Brian Burke's efficiency stats.
Did Seattle struggle at times against two good offenses? Yes. Did its defense seem to come alive when the opponents' starters sat? Yes, of course it did. Saturday's showing wasn't aesthetically impressive. The defense bent and broke in crucial situations. But bad as Kyle Orton may be, the Broncos still have most of a very good offense intact. Seattle made some bad decisions. It got bailed out by Orton losing his head. The Seahawks held the Chargers to seven points in the first half. It held the Broncos to ten points in the first half.
Seven of those points conclude this drive.
3. Colin Cole might not be the abject liability I feared he would be. With Brandon Mebane drawing attention, teams have had less opportunity to tee of on Cole. Good offensive lines, lines that can single block Mebane, or lines that can single block Cole but match him against a good drive blocker, are going to own Cole.
Denver did as much. Cole was frequently reeling and almost always stood up. He didn't record a tackle. That's a rough indicator a defensive lineman wasn't very involved. Seattle's interior line bowed substantially. A better rusher that Correll Buckhalter could have punched holes in Seattle's run defense.
2. There are a few basic benefits of a zone defense. It hides weaker man-to-man defenders. Seattle's best man-to-man defenders are Marcus Trufant, who is out, and Kelly Jennings, who can't finish the job. A zone defense is less likely to collapse. A receiver is likely to be surrounded by defenders and therefore less likely to break one long. It can be opportunistic and intercept passes. A zone defender can hide. That allows him to jump routes or explode into a ball carrier after the catch, forcing an incomplete, interception or fumble. Finally, a zone can confuse a quarterback and assist the pass rush. Shifting, unpredictable zones can cause a quarterback to miss or second-guess open receivers and that gives pass rushers a chance to close in.
The major weakness of a zone is that a zone, by nature, has holes. A man defense cannot have holes, because the defender is where the man is. If the defender isn't, it's blown coverage. Blown coverage is a mistake, whereas every zone has holes. That means a receiver can be wide open without a defender blowing his assignment.
Seattle cedes the most receptions underneath. It's one reason Seattle was bad at defending running backs in 2008 despite having excellent personnel to defend running backs. It's one reason Seattle has been bad at defending tight ends and slot receivers for years running.
D.D. Lewis could have done a better job defending Jabar Gaffney on first and goal from the Seahawks eight yard line. He didn't close on Gaffney as Gaffney entered his zone. Lewis allowed the reception and then tackled Gaffney before he could run after the catch. But Lewis might have been working as instructed. Zones can make disciplined defense and blown coverage almost indistinguishable.
1. Seattle went man-to-man to accommodate its drive ending eight man rush. Gaffney was covered, but Eddie Royal had a step on Ken Lucas. Orton took the easy road and lobbed a pass over Josh Wilson to Brandon Stokely. Eight men engaged; six points allowed.