Reloaded: This Week In Defense - the Divisional Round Game

DK Note: From the archives -- Joshua wrote and published this article about the Seahawks' defensive performance against the Saints the Divisional Round Game back on January 16th. Whether you missed it the first time around or just need a refresher, hopefully you enjoy it.
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Narrative of the game:

It was understandable leading into the game that the media and even some fans believed what happened on Monday Night wouldn't happen again. The pundits believed in the inventiveness of Sean Payton, and while most picked the Seahawks it was with the opinion that the game would be much closer. I'll say it here and throughout the piece, the Saints lack the skill players to match up with the Seahawks defense, especially at home.

To the tape...

[1ST Qtr 14:28 2nd and 6] D.Sproles right end to NO 24 for no gain (K.Chancellor).

The Seahawks and Kam Chancellor set a tone early on Darren Sproles, tackling him for no gain. All we heard all week from national and local media was that the Seahawks' defensive domination wouldn't happen again, and the national media thought Jimmy Graham would go off with the loss of KJ Wright. The local media followed suit, and I saw postulations that said this time around, Darren Sproles would be going off with Wright on the sidelines.

This play early showed other guys could pick up the slack - the read by Chancellor is excellent, and the finish is textbook.

[1st Qtr 13:51 3rd and 6] (Shotgun) D.Brees pass incomplete short right to M.Ingram

The Seahawks made their second statement the very next play. The screen play is a staple for the Saints, and they are probably the best team in the NFL at it. Seahawk fans know that K.J. Wright is the best screen defender Seattle has, so it's only fitting that the offensive powerhouse genius megamind Sean Payton would pull out plays like these two early to test the Seahawk defense's mettle.

What makes this play is Michael Bennett's awareness as he rushes, but quickly sees screen and throws himself at Mark Ingram's feet. Ingram drops the screen and this would be a theme of the day on these Saint staples. I'll have two more plays of this kind to look at before we're done.

[1st Qtr 10:19 1st and 10] M.Ingram right tackle to NO 27 for 7 yards (M.Smith; K.Chancellor)

Very rarely in these TWID pieces do I have a lot of negatives to cover with this defense (particularly lately), but as much as they were able to control the Saints' passing game, the running game was an issue, particularly when the Seahawks had one-on-one tackles to make against it. This play is pretty good blocking, but Richard Sherman, who has outside contain, allows Ingram to slip from his grasp. Red Bryant, who was holding the edge, found himself unable to make the play either.

It may have been the conditions or something to that affect, but we saw many one-on-one tackles not made in this game, and Pete Carroll mentioned his distaste with Seattle's tackling post-game. It's concerning with a professional power running team coming to Seattle this week. You have to make these plays.

[1st Qtr 6:38 2nd and 10] (Shotgun) D.Brees pass short left to D.Sproles to SEA 36 for -3 yards (B.Wagner).

Bobby Wagner lays down the law. After the front seven looked shaky for a handfull of plays, Bobby stopped their high powered momentum as Sean Payton again tries a screen pass.

This one is fun, because Bobby Wagner makes a huge play here for a loss, but what I like is his awarness and footwork. Too many guys wait to find a gap in the blocking to try and go attack the runner, and this makes them flatfooted and easy to block by the linemen. Bobby, though, takes the direct approach and splits the linemen with his speed and gets an impressive tackle for loss, essentially killing all the momentum on the drive for the Saints that would eventually force a field goal try.

[2nd Qtr 13:23 3rd and 10] (Shotgun) D.Brees pass incomplete short middle to M.Colston (W.Thurmond).

Chris Clemons has been quiet since the Arizona game; he's maybe getting a late rush here or there, but largely he's been unnoticed in these TWID articles since that game. This play however, shows the Clemons of old. Chris gets off the ball and nearly clears the tackle - this forces Brees to get rid of the ball much faster than he would like and Walter Thurmond is able to get into the play and break it up.

It looks like Brees might be hoping for a penalty on Thurmond, but none comes. This is sort of the calling card of the Seahawks though, they rarely hold except in cases where they are trying to "find" the receiver while watching the QB's eyes. These calls are harder for officials to spot as they usually just look for a guy who's giving the telltale signs of interference or illegal contact i.e., not looking for the ball or hands around the chest or waist.

(Also for the benefit of 49er fans that object to the Seahawks' defensive strategies, I can pull up five successful defensive downs from San Francisco's game against Carolina where Niner DBs did the exact same type of "hold" as occurs on this play here. Those are just ones off the top of my head.)

[2nd Qtr 6:59 3rd and 4] K.Robinson right tackle to SEA 29 for no gain (B.Wagner, K.Chancellor).

Sean Payton made a lot of head scratching calls in this game. This one, on 3rd and 4, made no sense unless he was going for it on fourth down. The Seahawks are actually a bit confused and are barely finished lining up when the ball is snapped. You can see Wagner still directing, right before the ball is snapped, making sure the defense is aligned correctly.

The ball is snapped and the right side of the Saints line gets no push nor seal on the backside, which Wagner exploits for an easy stop for no gain. A strange call made even worse with bad execution for the Saints.

[3rd Qtr 11:30 2nd and 9] D.Brees pass short right to B.Watson to SEA 34 for no gain (K.Chancellor).

The Saints adjust their strategy early in the 2nd half, and throw a couple of beautiful passes for completions. They ran the ball to lead into this down, and it seemed to me like Seattle's front seven was a bit stretched here. But, as happened throughout the game, someone steps up and makes a key play to end the momentum.

This time it's Kam Chancellor, who again defends a screen. Sean Payton continues to dial up this play following every bigger-type play - it's almost unbelievable to me how many times he tried this. Here, Kam steps up and makes the play to force a third down.

The next play:

[3rd Qtr 10:50 3rd and 9] (Shotgun) D.Brees sacked at SEA 44 for -10 yards (sack split by M.Bennett and C.Avril). FUMBLES (M.Bennett) [M.Bennett], recovered by NO-J.Evans at SEA 42. J.Evans to SEA 42 for no gain (M.Bennett).

This follow-up to the Chancellor stop was huge, and both Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett get off the football well before their guys can ever set their feet or space properly. Brees has to eat this and nearly gives up the ball. There wasn't a lot of pressure on Brees up to this point actually, other than a few rushes by Clemons.

After this particular series though, it seemed like the pass rush picked it up and Drew Brees was constantly on the move for most of the rest of this football game. Michael Bennett continues to impress as Seattle's best and most consistent pass rusher this year.

[3rd Qtr 5:01 3rd and 4] D.Sproles left tackle to SEA 44 for 1 yard (B.Wagner).

Sean Payton calls a draw play out of this "obvious" pass look with stacked wideouts, but Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor, who have really been alternating making big plays in this game, bring the runner down for a gain of only one despite having a huge hole to run through.

There's no doubt in my mind that Sean Payton is a brilliant play caller and a great schemer of matchups, but his offense was no match for the speed of this defense. I noted when I watched the Monday Night Football game that the Saints seemed unable to answer Seattle's speed on defense, and this is just a prime example right here.

The screen and draw game was the worst it has ever been for the Saints. This is why Seattle was not going to lose this game on defense, no matter what the pundits thought (and rightly so) about Sean Payton's play calling skills. (It's not gonna happen again .... the same way)

[4th Qtr :34 4th and 6] (No Huddle, Shotgun) D.Brees pass short right to M.Colston for 9 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Hate this play call, it's an all out blitz with three back in coverage, and Drew Brees, the savvy veteran that he is, makes the Seahawks pay. You might get away with that call against a younger guy, but this just puts a one on one opportunity for Brees, who's been made uncomfortable the entire second half.

I thought it as soon as I saw it - "Why make that call on 4th and 6?" despite not blitzing for nearly the entire game.

It led to all the drama that followed. It still makes my blood boil because 4th and 6 with 12 yards or so to the goal line with 30 seconds left? Make him beat you. UGH. Ok. I'll let it go.

Overall view of the game:

Dan Quinn did a tremendous job in this game of adjusting to the looks the defense was getting from New Orleans, including several two tight-and three tight-end sets running the ball early. It's clear that Seattle did need Pete's advice of forgeting their first meeting, as it turned out the game Payton called was much different in the Monday night game than the one they ran here.

We got away with a weak looking linebacking corps as both Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin were complete non-factors and Irvin had some issues against the run that I didn't expect. If you folks remember my spacing conversation following the Rams and Bucs games, suffice it to say Bruce had trouble with angles and leverage throughout this game and got smoked in a one-on-one tackle in space. He may have 1st round talent, but this team survived on Wagner and Chancellor exchanging big plays throughout the contest.

Sidenote: Jimmy Graham is henceforth known as the Pilsbury Dough Boy because he's still fat and if you even hint at touching him with press man, he's all ticklish and useless. I even hear his small giggles when 190 pound Jeremy Lane moved him off his route.

Game Ball:

I'm going to split this between Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor. Every time the Saints put together a good drive - and there were a few in this game - one of these two, be it Kam Chancellor on a screen or Bobby Wagner dealing on a screen of his own, would step up. It was hard to miss these two and they elevated game which they shared. The Seahawks need every bit of it as the offense sputtered in the second half outside of a few clock consuming drives that resulted in no points. If K.J. makes it back this week, I see this team having the best game of the year vs the 49ers.

Needs Improvement:

The OLB group was bad in this game. If not for Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor, this could have been a disaster for the Seahawks defense. Malcolm Smith's lack of impact against the run was especially irritating for me, because I'm one of his biggest fans. I know that some of it had to do with the Saints using such a drastically different game plan, but this isn't the time to find a position wanting when you're 60 minutes from the Superbowl, but that's what we have this week.

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