This Week In Defense, part II: Seahawks at Cardinals

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Narrative:

Coming into this game, folks were still more concerned with the offense getting off to a better start than thinking the defense would struggle at all against this team. I had my own reservations, as I pointed to the Cardinals and the Rams as better armed clubs to combat our defensive personnel. I also felt that Bruce Arians was a better play caller than his counterparts with the Niners or the Rams.

[1st Qtr 11:48 1st and 10] C.Palmer sacked at ARZ 30 for -14 yards (T.McDaniel).

Tony McDaniel gets a sack. This is all McDaniel, too.

Arizona calls a play action pass that never fools McDaniel, and he finishes impressively, with a flourish. Essentially, he shrugs off the tackle (The cards use slide protection which is common for  play action) and then the back who is supposed to block just releases, and Tony has a free run at Palmer, who is by this point panicking as he tries to figure out if he should run, throw it away, or take a sack. Fortunately, McDaniel doesn't give him enough time to select an option from that menu screen of "This play is F***ed"

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[1st Qtr 6:35 2nd and 9] A.Ellington right end to ARZ 17 for -1 yards (K.Chancellor).

Kam Chancellor blows up a run on an incredible display of leverage and pop. It actually reminded me of a favorite hit of mine from Lawyer Milloy, who used terrific leverage to blow up Steve Hutchinson in a preseason game. I liked this play so much that even though, in the scheme of the night, it's just one play, I figured we should, as fans, appreciate it as much as we can. Eric Winston is going to be seeing this one on film. And in his nightmares.

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[1st Qtr 4:03 1st and 10] (3:59) C.Palmer pass incomplete deep left to L.Fitzgerald (B.Browner).
Seattle challenged the incomplete pass ruling, and the play was REVERSED.
C.Palmer pass deep left intended for L.Fitzgerald INTERCEPTED by E.Thomas (B.Browner) at SEA 30. E.Thomas to SEA 28 for -2 yards.

The Cardinals had a little drive working, converting a third down and running a nice out pattern for a completion against Walter Thurmond. Palmer makes an ill advised throw, but I think he has good reason to do it. Brandon Browner is actually half a stride behind Fitzgerald and had his hands on him a bit to keep stride.

Palmer launches a throw but it doesn't get much air under it, and Browner actually is able to find and deflect the ball with a club move at the right moment. Earl Thomas does Earl Thomas things with his Earl Thomas speed and makes a great pick.

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If this play looks familiar it should, both Browner and Earl tagged up on an interception in a similar situation against the Redskins in the playoffs.

[DK Note: Shameless plug for a breakdown of that play. The Seahawks & the Cover-3 - Field Gulls]

[2nd Qtr 4:42 3rd and 12] C.Palmer sacked at SEA 31 for 0 yards (C.Avril). FUMBLES (C.Avril), ball out of bounds at SEA 31.

The Seahawks find themselves in an ideal pressure situation with a 3rd and 12.

Prior to the snap, Cliff Avril is in a two-point, stand-up stance. Red Bryant and Chris Clemons are pinched down on the weak side and Bruce Irvin is hand-down outside on the strong side. When the snap occurs though, Irvin forces his way inside and Avril expertly moves into the cleared space for a clean rush at Palmer. This becomes a slight chase, but ends up with Avril slapping the ball from Palmer's hand.

Exotic looks for Pete and Dan do not necessarily find that they need five or six guys to improve a rush, but with the right execution and discipline these looks can just be four-man fronts.

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[3rd Qtr 11:59 3rd and 9] (Shotgun) C.Palmer pass incomplete short left to A.Roberts [C.Clemons].

The Cardinals are finding a bit of rhythm after a 3-and-out by the offense. Walter Thurmond sticks his nose in and breaks up a key pass to Andre Roberts. Palmer is forced to throw it high and away from Thurmond, who is stuck to Roberts like glue here.

This forces an Arizona field goal attempt. I also should give some credit for the pass rush collapsing the pocket and pressuring here, but that's a result of some great coverage from the LOBs nickel assassin.

[3rd Qtr 4:57 3rd and 5] (Shotgun) C.Palmer pass short left intended for M.Floyd INTERCEPTED by B.Browner [B.Irvin] at 50. B.Browner to ARZ 1 for 49 yards (A.Smith).

The Seahawks get pressure. All night the pressure has consistently practiced one idea: "Turn the tackles in to the line of scrimmage and use the space to bring a free rusher."

In this case though, it's a complex look, as we have Chris Clemons, Michael Bennett, and Bruce Irvin all stood up with a strange alignment of Byron Maxwell and Cliff Avril on the other side of the line.

Maxwell breaks with a receiver in coverage. The stunt occurs with great timing from Bennett, who takes the left guard with him at the snap as he stunts inside, allowing Irvin to sneak in behind in the open space. This forces Palmer to try and throw off his back foot, but there isn't any real time for him to read and get the ball off - he just kind of chucks it up there - and Browner, who watches this unfold, gets the interception as he can attack the ball without fear of being burned.

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[3rd Qtr 2:53 1st and 10] C.Palmer sacked at ARZ 47 for -9 yards (sack split by K.Wright and R.Bryant).

The Seahawks blitz with their base package. K.J. Wright is the extra guy with the line as follows: Bruce Irvin(Leo), Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel. I don't think the Cardinals O-line was expecting a blitz on this down with this personnel package, because somehow both Red Bryant and K.J. Wright are just flat out unblocked as they meet at the QB for a sack.

A little note on the play. You'll notice that Cliff Avril was in as an OLB and went back into coverage. Probably the least exotic thing I've covered and yet still so intriguing.

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[3rd Qtr 2:13 2nd and 19] (Shotgun) C.Palmer sacked at ARZ 39 for -8 yards (M.Bennett).

Chris Clemons had a sack earlier but this one illustrates his talents even more than the first one. The reason Clemons is so good as a pass rusher is because of two important factors:

1) Burst of the snap. He's almost like spring loaded gun. The force he gains in that short amount of space reminds me of Bruce lee's one-inch punch. (if you aren't familiar look it up on youtube.)

2) He works first from his lower body. Most rushers try to work their arms and their chest as rushers if you ever watch Clemons closely watch how his own lower half works to neutralize the footwork of the tackle. He is an expert at neutralizing the tackle to a zero impact state when pass rushing with any type of rush: be it bull, speed, spin move, or movement through scheme, he very rarely lets a blocker dictate the terms of their engagement.

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[4th Qtr 15:00 1st and Goal] (Shotgun) C.Palmer pass incomplete short middle to A.Ellington (M.Smith).

The Cardinals force another fumble and drive down within the five yard line. Knowing they can't run, they elect to throw on three consecutive plays. So often, though, it's hard if you allow a completion short to be able to keep them out of the endzone. Malcolm Smith makes the play here in a zone cover scheme against Ellington, who is emerging as a pretty solid dual threat for the cards. Malcolm's deflection shows how much he has developed in pass coverage and has, I think, earned himself the job of starting linebacker.

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[4th Qtr 9:40 3rd and 3] (Shotgun) C.Palmer sacked at ARZ 18 for -8 yards (M.Smith).

Death and taxes may be absolutes in life, but the one I know from watching Pete Carroll for the last three and a half years is, if you go empty, he's probably going to bring some kind of pressure, usually from the blindside.

This time it's our edge man Chris Clemons, who clears inside, freeing Malcolm Smith for a free run. Palmer never sees it coming and Malcolm gets a hug, so that's nice.

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Overall view of the game:

Well called on all sides. Matchups were solid, and designed rushes were pretty much there to make the tackles for Arizona overcommit, and the fact that it kept working was hilarious to me.

Clemons had a Clemons game against the Cards with a sack and a half.

The LOB collected 2 INTs but even more impressively, stuck with all the Cardinals passing weapons with no real breaks in coverage - except for a pair of passes near the end of the third quarter - which were then followed by a pair of sacks. The Cardinals found a few plays here and there that were almost always followed by a sack a turnover or some other inexcusable play created by the Seahawks defense. It was really fun, as Pete might say.

Game Ball:

It's hard to give this to any one man on the defense this week so I'm going to take the easy way out and give it to the D-line as a whole.

Whether it was the expert execution of a stunt or the man to man beat down in the running game, the Seahawks D-line unloaded its A-game on the road for the first time this year and I would only expect it to get even better.

Needs work:

Can't complain about anything this week as every phase of the defenses game was spot on for this one. No mistakes, great pressure, coverage was sticky, hard to hate any of that.

Thanks to Danny for creating all the gifs!

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