Pete Carroll's defensive priorities, part II

John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

I have to admit to spending the last two to three weeks thinking, mind-wandering, and researching "Part III" of this series. Part III is going to be, essentially, Pete Carroll's Offensive Priorities, which I contend is a sort of "reverse image" of his defensive priorities. That blog will have to wait until next week. I have unfinished business on the defensive side of the ball.

As a review, please see my previous post, where I explore the 1st Principle in the "3 Main Principles of USC Secondary Play". I won't go too much longer on the explosive play element, but to review, here are the 3 Principles below.

1. Eliminate the Big Play
2. Out-hit the opponents on all plays.
3. Get the ball.

EXPLOSIVE PLAYS

Before the draft, Seahawks GM John Schneider did an interview where he referred to a group called "the boys upstairs". There was a cool LA Times article written about one of "the boys upstairs," Todd Nielson, a full-time statistician for the Seahawks. Funny thing is, now I see that guy on the sideline and in the locker-room post-game speech videos. He always has that same look on his face.

Anyhow, these 'stat nerds' calculated what John Schneider dubbed as "daily doubles". You hit a "daily double" when your football team wins both the explosive play battle AND the turnover battle. We know that the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game 80-85% of the time. That is a widely known statistic and qualifies as Pete Carroll's favorite statistic. Interestingly, Jim L. Mora, also incorrectly known as Jim Mora Jr., mentioned that a possibly more compelling stat was the explosive play battle. I have heard him mention that several times. For this exercise, I think it is fair to assume that if you win the explosive play battle, you win the game at a very high rate, let's posit 80% of the time. The stat that Carroll and Seto quote, from an NFL study, was that when a team hits an explosive play, they score 75% of the time on that drive, and obviously, points translates to wins.

I don't think it is a stretch to think that if a team that wins BOTH of these battles, in other words, hits a "daily double" -- that team wins the football game 90%+ of the time. I have no statistical proof for this theory, but take the Jets game for example:

The Jets hit only two explosive plays (20+ yards), both were Mark Sanchez passes, and created two turnovers (the fumble for a Mo Wilkerson TD and Marshawn Lynch's fumble).

The Seahawks hit four explosive plays (three 20+ yard TDs + 27 yard screen pass to Lynch), and had three 18 yard plays (which may qualify as explosive under the Carroll definition) which included a Lynch 18 yard run, a Wilson 18 yard run, and a pass to Baldwin for 18 yards. The Seahawks only completed 13 passes in the game, yet six of them were for 18 yards or more and three for scores!

Bottom line, the Seahawks won the turnover battle 3-2 and the explosive play battle 4-2 (or 7-2 depending on your yardage definition). Of course, they won the game.

OUT-HIT THE OPPONENT ON ALL PLAYS

From the Seto Presentation:

"Teams are going to complete passes on any defense. Shorter underneath throws are not as bad in terms of impact however since odds are the opponent can not consistently string together 10-12 play drives and go the length of the field. (Matt Stafford shocked/impressed Carroll in Detroit, parenthesis mine - and Carroll admitted as such).

"A safety can make a good break on any ball thrown over a 22 yard ceiling. The key is reading the QB and reacting in a timely fashion...When the safety can not get over in time to help the corner or arrive in time to disrupt the pass the emphasis then switches to delivering good clean hard hits on the wide receiver...Also, even when the ball is completed the hit put on the WR has the psychological effect of making them tentative in the future. USC will outhit the opponent."

I don't need to mention the quality of hard hits the Seahawks defense brings on every level of the defense. But I will. The hits from Kam Chancellor alone can fill YouTube highlight reels. How about Sherman's lick on Dez Bryant before he crossed goal line in 2011? Brandon Browner's hit on Megatron and Wes Welker from this year. Browner could fill his own highlight reel. How about Earl Thomas's hit on Percy Harvin back in the 2010 preseason. How about Kam's hit on Kerley on the hole shot during the Jet's game. We know that Leroy Hill, Wagner and KJ Wright can also bring it. It is no wonder that receivers drop passes with regularity when playing the Seahawks. Again, think about the drop on 3rd and 2 by Keller with Kam's footsteps approaching on the flat. He drops the pass and the Jets have to punt. Any casual observer of Seahawks football knows that the Seahawks play tough, physical, and they will hit you. Jason Witten.

GET THE BALL

"USC practices daily drills for DBs in individual practice periods with both cornerbacks and safeties breaking on different balls. Coachs throw hitches, slants, outs, fades, seams, post, corner and go routes...Much attention is put upon footwork, hands, and hip motion and direction in turning..."

We know that Pete Carroll obsesses about turnovers. "It's all about the ball." We also know that every member of the secondary has ball skills in addition to playing with physicality.

The Seahawks have created 16 turnovers so far in 10 games in 2012. I have the feeling that Carroll isn't satisfied with that stat, and I have a feeling the Seahawks might make a little turnover run (the good kind) in the final six games. During the offseason, Carroll bragged that the defense had taken the ball off the opponent in the second half of 2011 more than any other team in the NFL. I didn't verify that stat, but I can verify that the Seahawks took the ball off the opponent 19 times during the last 8 games of 2011. Again, they didn't find their running identity/commitment until the Dallas Game (8th game of the season, which was a turning point during the Carroll regime). 19 times equates to 2.375 per game, or a season adjusted 38 take-aways over a 16 game period. While, that may not be 2012 Chicago Bears "good", it is pretty darn good. Consider this, the three teams that led the NFL in 2011 in turnover margin were:

San Francisco: +28 turnover margin; 15 fumbles + 23 interceptions = 38 takeaways
Green Bay: +24 turnover margin: 7 fumbles + 31 interceptions = 38 takeaways
New England: +17 turnover margin: 11 fumbles + 23 interceptions = 34 takeaways

***
I want to add one more priority, and this one is not mentioned on any presentation, but something I have gleaned more from comments from Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley during their weekly interviews.

MAKE THE OPPONENT ONE-DIMENSIONAL

It is more than "stop the run." It is more than "force the other team to pass." I would describe it as, "force the opponent to pass -- on your terms."

The Seahawks' run defense was very good in 2011. A cursory review of stats tells you that the Seahawks were 15th in opponent rushing yards allowed per game at 112.3. That stat is deceiving. The Seahawks were run on 473 times in 2011, good for 8th most in the NFL. The defense held opponents to 3.8 yards per carry, the 4th best in the NFL. The 49ers led the league in yards allowed, but were "run on" only 353 times (2nd fewest). To their credit, they gave up only 3.5 yards per carry.

A huge emphasis for Pete Carroll is stopping the run. The only 2010 stat of note, before the ill-fated "Halloween in the Black-Hole" Oakland beat-down, was that the Seahawks' defense was second only to the Steelers in yards per carry allowed. That Seahawks team was bottom 10, and oftentimes, bottom 5 in every category outside of special teams. Once Cole and Mebane were hurt in the Raiders game, that stat also went out the window. But, it is a huge emphasis, and the commitment of money and playing time to Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch demonstrate that more than anything. On 1st down, you essentially concede the pass rush to only Clemons (like a boxer going into a match with one arm tied behind his back). The way Carroll counter-acts this 1st down pass weakness is by having a "super-safety" combined with devastating press corners.

Many teams without elite quarterbacks are still committed to running, especially on 1st down. The Seahawks run defense has been suffering when compared to its high standards as of late. In 2012 they are 12th in yards allowed and 21st in yards per carry. That being said, I predict the Seahawks' run defense will shoot back up to the top of the NFL by the time the season ends and the books close. Here's why: consider this, the 2012 Seahawks have allowed only two teams in 10 games to rush for 100 yards. One is the NFL leader in rushing, the 49ers, and other other team has Adrian Peterson. Frank Gore, Peterson, and Lynch lead the NFC in Pro Bowl ballots for running backs. "Normal" NFL teams don't get much via the ground versus the Seahawks.

But so what. Why shut down the opponent's run game?

You shut down the run game, so that on 2nd & 3rd and long, you force the team to pass. You force the other team to pass on your terms. You know they have to pass, they know they have to pass, and you are able to send in your "package" to counter-act the pass. That package includes Jason Jones, Bruce Irvin and your nickel and dime personnel. Carroll and Bradley might supercharge the nickel package and also dial up a blitz with aggression without fear of the run. The defense can now play with even more aggression when rushing, blitzing, and in coverage -- because they know exactly what is coming. No one has to suck up to crowd the box and there is no fear of a play-action pass thrown over your head. You have forced the opponent to pass on your terms.

And it's worked. Opponents have only run 232 times on the Seahawks (23 times per game), yet have thrown 352 times (35 times per game). In 2012, the Seahawks have forced the opponent to pass 60.3% of the time, which is the 7th highest percentage in the NFL.

These are close games too.

The Seahawks have a +37 point differential, good for 12th best in the NFL, but any watcher of Seahawks football know how agonizingly close most of these games are until the 4th quarter, and oftentimes through the 4th quarter. The opponent is rarely frantically passing on every down because they are behind by two scores, nor milking a big lead.

Opponents are passing often on the Seahawks, but they are not passing well on the Seahawks. Opponent quarterback rating versus the Seahawks is a paltry 73.8. Only two teams are better. Houston holds opponent QBs down to a 71.7 rating and Chicago sports a mind boggling 61.5. Keep in mind Chicago has 19 interceptions in 9 games!

Opponent YPA against the Seahawks is a measly 6.1. Only two teams are better. Pittsburgh at 5.9, and Houston at 6.0.

Opponent passing completion percentage is a mere 58.2%, good for 7th in the NFL. Seattle has allowed only 9 passing touchdowns -- which is tied for 4th best, and the teams that have allowed 8 passing touchdowns (Baltimore, San Francisco, and Chicago) have only played 9 games, and Seattle has played 10. And yes, the Seahawks have played 10 games, while most of the NFL has played only 9, but Seattle has 28 sacks, which is second only to Denver at 31. Keep in mind, Denver has Peyton and a +87 point differential to couple with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervill.

Lastly, even though the Seahawks are forcing teams to pass 60% of the time, they are allowing only 196 yards passing per game. Only Pittsburgh (171) and Arizona (195) allow fewer yards passing per game. Couple that with the fact that the Seahawks have faced several solid quarterbacks, and yet the defense remains the 5th best team in the red zone and 4th in scoring.

Yes, the 3rd down defense has struggled, and rests at 40.6%, good for 22nd best in the NFL, with an NFL median of 38.3%. But consider this, the 2011 Seahawks defense allowed 34.8% on 3rd down, which was good for 9th best in the NFL. Look for that 3rd down number to creep down in the last six games.

More importantly, Seahawk fans need to hope the offense continues to improve, and particularly that their 3rd down percentage creeps up. This is an offense whose priorities I want to explore in-depth next week. Til then, you know where to find me.

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