The Seahawks' NASCAR defensive package

Norm Hall

Detailing how the Seahawks used the NASCAR package against the Cardinals, and the advantages the scheme creates.

"We came up with NASCAR; we call it our speed package… All of us compete about who's the fastest and who gets to the quarterback the fastest. So NASCAR's just something that felt right." -- Justin Tuck 2011

In 2011 the Giants had what Marlo from The Wire would refer to as, "One of dem good problems."

They had four high-caliber Defensive Ends -- Mathias Kiwanuka, Osi Umeniyora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul – and had to figure out how to get them all a lot of playing time. One of the solutions they came up with was the NASCAR package.

The NASCAR package consisted of all four of the DEs as the four down linemen to be used on obvious passing downs. By putting their best pass rushers on the field together, the Giants were able to overwhelm teams with speed, notch 48 sacks and win the Super Bowl in 2011. Obviously, the 48 sacks and the Super Bowl victory were not all a result of the NASCAR package, but it was something that the Giants used frequently throughout the season and had great success with.

Here is an example of it, against the Seahawks.

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The four down linemen on this play were Kiwanuka, Umeniyora, Pierre-Paul and Dave Tollefson – all DEs. Sadly, Justin Tuck was injured this game so he is not exemplified in this play, but normally he would have been in for Tollesfson. Despite his absence, the Giants were still able to get a sack with Umeniyora getting an incredible jump on Russell Okung and beating him for the sack. Even if Umeniyora didn’t get a perfect jump, the stunt on the other side with Kiwanuka and Pierre-Paul would have probably resulted in sack for Pierre-Paul, who was coming unblocked at Tavaris Jackson.

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Fast forward to 2013 and the Seahawks are now the team with, "One of dem good problems."

They have four DEs that are all capable of notching 10+ sacks in a single season – Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett. How do they get their best pass rushers on the field as much as possible? Like the 2011 Giants, the Seahawks now have their own "NASCAR" package.

The Seahawks "NASCAR" package was on full display against the Cardinals last week. Out of this package, they notched two QB sacks, a QB hit that led to an interception, and a few other QB pressures that resulted in failed 3rd down conversions. It was incredibly successful and something that the Seahawks will certainly use repeatedly throughout the year.

The first time the Seahawks used this package against the Cardinals was with 10:22 remaining in the 1st quarter. The Cardinals were facing a 3rd and 14 so the Seahawks sent their four demonic pass rushers to get pressure on Carson Palmer. The Seahawks lined up Clemons and Irvin on the right, Bennett over the Center and Avril on the left.

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Notice from their alignment, initially it looks as if Clemons is going to rush the C-gap, Irvin the D-gap, Bennett the A-gap and Avril the C-gap. However, Clemons takes the B-gap, Irvin the C-gap, Bennett the B-Gap and Avril the C-Gap. The Cardinals protection call was designed to double team Irvin and Bennett, which leaves Clemons and Avril left to win one on ones.

Avril won his, pushing the right tackle back into the pocket immediately, which forced Carson to flee and the Seahawks’ defense won their first 3rd and long of the day.

Creating one on one opportunities is a MAJOR advantage of this scheme. On obvious passing downs, there are usually only going to be six blockers – 5 OL and 1 RB – to block 4 pass rushers. Only two people can be double teamed so the other two are going to have one-on-one opportunities.

For this scheme to continually be effective, it is going to be up to whoever gets one-on-one opportunities to consistently win their matchup. This scheme essentially forces the opposing offensive line to pick their poison. If they choose to slide to one direction then whoever is rushing from the other side is going to be one-on-one with a whole lot of space to attack the offensive lineman.

This is what happens if an offense decides to slide to one side.

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Notice all the space that Clemons had to work with. He was completely isolated on the LT with tons of space to operate, and he's going to win this matchup every time in what's essentially open field. He could have attacked either inside, outside or through the LT to get the sack. He chose to go with an outside bull rush, won is one-on-one, got the sack and the Seahawks won this 3rd down.

Also notice how the Seahawks ran a stunt with Irvin. This ability to run stunts is another HUGE benefit of this package. Not every team can run successful stunts because they don’t have the athletes on the D-line. Stunts require a defensive lineman to run a longer distance than they normally would to get to the QB. The benefit however, is if that player can quickly cover that distance, they have a good shot at coming unblocked to the QB. Irvin didn’t get to the QB on this play because getting through the opposite b-gap from his wide-9 alignment on the other side is a lot of ground to cover, even for him.

However, if he lines up closer, he has the speed get to that B gap.

Up 24-13 with 4:56 in the 3rd quarter, the Cardinals faced a 3rd and 5. Again, the Seahawks sent out its "NASCAR" package, ran a stunt with Bennett and Irvin, and forced Palmer to throw an interception.

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Stunts are essentially pick plays for defensive linemen. They are designed for one of the defensive linemen to occupy multiple blockers so one of the other defensive linemen can be unblocked. They are also used to counter offensive line protections. If an offensive line calls a protection to double team a specific player, then stunts are a schematic way to possibly free that player from being blocked. The key to this all working though is speed and speed is something that the Seahawks "NASCAR" package certainly has.

This speed was best exemplified when Avril chased down Palmer for a sack fumble late in the 3rd quarter. The Seahawks ran a stunt with Irvin and Avril that was initially evaded by Palmer stepping up in the pocket. However, by having to step up in the pocket, Palmer’s timing was completely thrown off which forced him to roll to his left in hopes that somebody would be open down field. Nobody was, he decided to throw it away, but Avril was right on him by that point and got the sack/strip. Unfortunately, the ball went out of bounds but this was still an amazing play by Avril.

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If Clinton McDonald or Bennett were lined up in Cliff Avril’s spot (which is what happens in the Seahawks’ normal nickel defense), they never would have been able to strip Palmer on this play. They also may not have even been able to get Palmer "off the spot" initially which may have given Palmer time in the pocket to deliver a pass for a 1st down completion. McDonald and Bennett have both played amazing all year but their lack of speed makes stunts that move them from inside pass rushers to outside pass rushers not their strength.

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In conclusion, speed is what makes the "NASCAR" package so deadly. It creates sack opportunities through overmatched offensive lineman, stunts that create free runners and constant backside pursuit when the play breaks down so that QBs are never safe.

The best part of it all is that this is only a small part of the Seahawks defense – just like the read-option is only a small part of the offense. Despite this, coaches are going to have to spend the always-finite practice hours preparing their team to handle this because it is so effective. This will in turn make the Seahawks’ base defensive plays even more effective. The "NASCAR" package is another thing that will give the Seahawks an advantage on the race to a Super Bowl victory. Imagine when they get to use it at home.

Big up to Danny for the GIFs!

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