Seahawks' run defense: Gap control & assignment discipline

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

I have commented in recent articles that Seattle's drop-off in run defense this season has had mostly to do with blown assignments, specifically when linebackers have not maintained good gap control. This assertion has brought some interesting discussion on the concept of gap control and how to spot it, and naturally, because it may be a tougher thing to identify on a review of the game, there have been questions of specific examples of where I'm seeing these lapses.

So, I thought I'd put together a quick post of notes from the Minnesota game, earlier this year, detailing specific blown gap assignments and bad angles by linebackers that I saw, in combination with a link to Nate Dogg's Video Retrospective, showing every Minnesota run play from that game. I've referenced the time mark in the video for each note, so that you can follow along with my notes.

You'll read my reference to the "A" or "B" gaps in several of these notes. The "A" gap is the gap between the center and the guard on each side of the center (thus, there are two "A" gaps). The "B" gap is the next gap over - between the guard and the tackle (again, on each side - thus, two "B" gaps). Typically, in a base, 4-3 defensive alignment, the middle linebacker will be in charge of controlling both "A" gaps - again, I say "typically" - whereas the outside linebackers are responsible for their "B" gaps and the remaining space outside of the offensive tackle on their side ("C" gap on the strong side, is the gap between the tackle and the tight end). Now, as the play moves, you want to see the linebacker shadow or mirror his gap. That means if the line crashes to the linebacker's left, he'll follow that gap to the left. This should give you some reference point for the notes below.

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Peterson's longest run (00:22 in the video) - Leroy Hill takes a shallow angle into the backfield, when he should have contained the sideline to funnel Peterson back inside, then close/attack on the redirect. Peterson escapes to the edge as a result.

8:46 1st quarter against Min (1:16 of the video) - Mike Morgan loses contain of his edge, over-pursues, and allows Peterson to escape back to the strong side, where he jukes Morgan in open space and gains another huge chunk of yardage. Had Morgan contained the edge, he would have been able to close on the play in the backfield.

8:37 2nd quarter (2:19 of the video) against Min - Bobby Wagner over-pursues to the "B" gap between RG and RT (should be over the "A" gap - between center and guard), leaving a gaping hole for Adrian Peterson to explode for another huge play.

7:53 of the 2nd Quarter (2:31 of the video) - Mike Morgan doesn't squeeze down with the line and leaves the "B" gap wide open once again, and while Bobby Wagner is responsible for the "A" gap, he isn't able to correct and make up for Morgan's mistake. Danny broke down this particular play in great detail as well, HERE, showing Wagner's overplay to the offensive left, which left him out of position to clean up Morgan's mistake.

Percy Harvin Reverse (2:40 of the Video) Mike Morgan, once again, loses contain of the edge. This came as a result of him hesitiation (granted, there was a fake and he simply didn't diagnose it in time) - this is an instincts issue and caused enough of a delay to where he couldn't get out and set the outside edge effectively - even though he essentially had nobody blocking him. He froze. Costly.

4:04 of the 3rd Quarter (3:18 in the video) - Bobby Wagner severely over-pursues and ends up in the "B" gap again, and nearly to the outside shoulder of the RT. That's called a missed assignment (as are the other examples given here). Leroy Hill over-runs his backside gap as well. This was just an ugly play altogether.

Last Play of the video (3:46 of the video) - Mike Morgan doesn't move with his gap again. Wide open hole, and Peterson exploits. On this one, Morgan is supposed to move with the gap between the LG and LT. Instead, he stays man-man with the LG so the gap opens up when the LT moves wide.

Mike Morgan wasn't good in this game and afterwords, Pete Carroll wasn't shy about acknowledging it (without throwing him too under the bus). In general, Carroll talked about Seattle's issues defending the run as a team a little bit, noting, "I do think we're over-trying a little bit. I think in general guys are trying to live up to the expectations and we're trying really hard, and at times that takes you out of your game. That's something we're really concerned about. ... We just want to play the way that we're capable of playing. Sometimes guys try to go beyond their responsibility to make a play and they get in a bad situation. That's just because they want to do really well and they're trying really hard and all of that. It's a young bunch of guys getting together, so you can fluctuate a little bit there."

"We're trying to really keep the lid on that," Carroll said, regarding gap discipline and maintaining assignments. "We really trust if our guys do what we're asking them to do and play really disciplined, strict ball, the good stuff will happen... We're seeing a lot of complexities in the last month, and some of the stuff has been harder for us, we haven't executed as well, and that calls for us to make sure we're really on our stuff. To play good run defense, you have to be extraordinarily disciplined and at times we're just getting a little bit out of whack, and we need to fix that. So that's what our efforts will be, to get that done."

Earl Thomas talked a little bit about what I pointed out above, in regards to players being out of position, impatient, or undisciplined in their gaps, and the difference between the 1st and 2nd halves of that game.

"We were more disciplined in our run gaps," Earl noted, "Throughout the game, Adrian Peterson would press the line of scrimmage and then jump cut to the backside of the play. So we made a big emphasis in the second half on just maintaining our gap responsibility and just wait on him. We were patient and it paid off for us."

That 's just the Minnesota game, and it was loaded with gap assignment mistakes. I'd be happy to look over some of the other games, and provide a similar critique later on, if people were interested.

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