Bruce Irvin & the 'spinner' role in the Seahawks' defense

Al Bello

The 'spinner' in Seattle's defense.

The Seahawks already have one of the most interesting offenses in the NFL when it comes to scheme, and these schemes only stand to get more complex. With an entire offseason to prepare, combined with a coordinator-quarterback relationship between Darrell Bevell & Russell Wilson that is so joyously established and defined, downtime can be spent on implementing wrinkles and tweaks, package updates and introductions to the playbook, rather than trying to figure out who is going to be throwing the football or calling plays and trying to get a limited baseline set of plays memorized.

It's likely the Seahawks will be looking to implement more pistol formations to their offense to augment a fledgling read-option game from last year, all to complement their pro-style, run-first zone-blocking, play-action passing gameplan. With Percy Harvin in the mix, you know they have some interesting things in mind.

Similarly, on defense, with the influx of athletic, scheme-and-position versatile players in Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, I just picture Dan Quinn and Pete Carroll in lab coats, drawing up every way possible that they can use Seattle's personnel to confuse and stymie opposing quarterbacks on third down.

As Pat Kirwin of CBSSports.com divulged today, one such scheme involves the use of a 'spinner'. Kirwin explains:

"When the Seahawks have all four pass rushers (Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett & Bruce Irvin) healthy enough to play together it could be a big problem for the opposition. Eventually Chris Clemons will get back on the field and Seattle will not have to blitz to get to quarterbacks. How will they get the four best rushers on the field considering only one (Michael Bennett) is really suited for the inside over a guard? Look for Cliff Avril at left end, Bennett inside over the center or a guard, Clemons at the right end and Bruce Irvin playing the "spinner" role. The "spinner" stands up and moves during the snap count, meaning he could rush from anywhere.

"Most NFL teams know Pete Carroll has run this scheme before, one head coach is taking special notice: "That Seattle spinner package will be a major problem for teams visiting Seattle," the coach said. "The O-line has to constantly communicate about where the spinner is and where he might cross the line of scrimmage. It won't be easy up in that stadium and it's going to put a lot of stress on the offensive line."

I don't have a ton of prior knowledge of the 'spinner' package the but concept behind it is thus - use Irvin as a moveable joker piece to create confusion along the offensive line and exploit communication issues and slow-reacting offensive linemen. As Irvin moves about prior to the snap, the offensive line must adjust to account for him as a rusher and thus may have to change line protections on the fly to protect their quarterback.

If the center is in charge of Bennett, the two tackles are taking Avril and Clemons, and Irvin is just walking around, it makes life hard for the two guards - they must know whether they're pinching down on a very strong pass rusher in Bennett or helping to the outside on the speed rushers. They're also likely going to be concerned about K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner, who blitzed frequently in 2012.

As Greg Cosell once described adroitly when talking about the 'amoeba' looks that teams have been using on passing downs, using a 'spinner' works, and it's hard to plan for at the blackboard, "because you don't know how they're going to move. ...You're dealing with human beings moving around. So, [Say Tom] Brady comes to the line -- let's say that there are six guys to the right side of the offensive line, and two on the left. Brady sets the protection. Then, just before the ball is snapped, four of those six on the right side move to the left side. The protection has been set, and the ball has to be snapped because there's two seconds left on the play clock. What do you do?"

You give up a sack, or improvise in order to avoid one. Generally improvisation among five moving parts is chaos.

Even better, it doesn't even have to be Bruce Irvin that is moving around to create mismatches. Cosell wrote specifically about Seattle recently, noting that the Seahawks "have recognized the tactical advances that are in the forefront of the NFL's next strategic cycle, and they have taken proactive measures to implement them."

Take this random, weird drawing I made:

Screen_shot_2013-03-22_at_3

You have Chris Clemons (#91), Micheal Bennett (#72), and Cliff Avril (#56) lined up in a 'jet ends' look on the outside. Browner/Sherman on the outsides, Walter Thurmond playing slot corner, and of course, Kam and Earl patrolling deep. In this specific example, I've rolled K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner up a little closer to the line - as they mull about in front of the two offensive guards, the opposing team will have to set protections, assuming the two linebackers will rush the passer.

They could rush, or they could fall back into their zone drops, heads on swivels, looking for the outlet pass and recognizing routes. Irvin is in red, and he can literally be placed anywhere on this sheet - have him move to his right across the formation and attack the Center-Guard gaps. Have him attack outside of Avril's shoulder as Avril stunts inside to the B-gap to occupy both tackle and guard. Blitz with Wagner and have Irvin follow through the same gap.

The options are nearly limitless. I ended up just drawing the example above because that's the most basic form I could think of. With the athleticism that Avril and Irvin possess (and Clemons as well), you could even drop either of them into the flats or the shallow middle and rush with other players like Wags or Wright. Kam Chancellor. The nickelback. Seattle's athletic defenders - even their front-four nickel defenders, are smooth enough in space to take away throwing lanes and jump routes, though they're probably never going to be used in man coverage.

As noted above, Irvin isn't the only 'spinner' that this defense could utilize.

From Cosell: "With Irvin, a returning Chris Clemons, and newly signed Cliff Avril, the Seahawks have three players who can align anywhere in their nickel sub-package. They all have what we call "Joker" ability, the talent to line up in either 3-point or 2-point stances and rush from different positions and angles. What you have is an ideal mix of physical athleticism, and multiple schemes. It's the new age pressure concepts in the NFL. It's very difficult to line up with four defensive linemen in conventional positions, and create consistent pressure on the quarterback. Not only is it difficult to find four players who can do that, it's tactically easier for the offense to protect against those more basic fronts.

"What defenses are trying to accomplish is pass protection indecision based on front alignments, coupled with athletic mismatches. The Seahawks are well positioned to do that with their personnel."

We talked about zone-blitzes here a week or two ago regarding the Seahawks' new-look aggressive defense. Greetings from Lord Humongous framed it very well when he talked about the issues that zone blitzing creates for offensive lines: "If you blitz Wagner or Wright or Thomas or Kam on some of these plays and drop Avril or Irvin instead, then the OL needs to account for more than four rushers. You create some confusion and doubt that can help you later in the game. The fire-zone creates more "gaps" for the OL to protect in ways similar to how the read-option creates more gaps for the defense to protect."

The 'spinner' role that we may see Irvin use this year is meant to create similar confusion that ends up getting the offensive line to block unevenly against the defense or block no one altogether. The 'joker' - it's a role suitable for the most explosively dynamic athlete at his position in the entire 2012 draft. It's a role that he should certainly enjoy. It's a role suits his combination of lateral agility, brute force and strength, a great stiff-arm rush move, straight line speed and absurd get-off. It's a way to get Irvin isolated in one-on-one situations and give him a chance to do what he wants to do: eat quarterbacks. Needless to say, I'm intrigued with the possibilities of getting Irvin moving around a little bit more.

With movement right before the snap, after protections are set, you get a tackle on the outside pass protecting against air. You get a guard pinching over to the wrong side. You get the numbers on your side. You get discombobulated footwork on the part of the O-line as they look to improvise against a strange, changing look, and that opens the door to a bullrush or club move. With Seattle's athletic personnel rushing the passer, a moment's indecision by a tackle or guard can be a moment to exploit.

Obviously, this package will be susceptible against the run so it's not a three-down thing. But, it should be interesting to watch unfold as Pete Carroll looks to bring more pressure on the opposing quarterback. Carroll's frustration with the lack of pressure against Atlanta should manifest itself onto the field in the form of this package.

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