Bloggers note: Many apologies for making this article two weeks in defense the last few times. I will explain more in detail at the bottom of this article but circumstances outside of this amazing football season have taken some priority. Hopefully though this will be the last one of these types that I do. Are you ready for a TWID blowout and answers to your concerns on the run defense? Let's get to work!
I use the term "track the back" a few times in this article and I want to be sure to explain it in simpler terms for fans that may not understand it. The middle linebacker is the anchor, and in this case his job is to follow the back like a mirror and help set the spacing of the other linebackers, who have the outside gaps.
Put another way - using this diagram from Danny Kelly as a blank slate - imagine that the LBs are tied together by a rope at the arm.
If someone gets wider than they should or is slow to react the rope becomes tight and the gaps become too large to hold. Sometimes a D-line can impact this if they let O-linemen get to the second level but for the most part the LBs should always be aligned and attacking gaps, making sure they hold integrity to prevent huge runs. Right now Bobby Wagner isn't doing that.
If you're still a bit confused, watch this video where an old friend shows us how a Middle Linebacker gets it done.
Fans went into the game against St. Louis concerned about the offense, as two backups would be repelling the Rams' talented D-line, but few imagined the Rams would run the ball at will. Even before the news came out that Sam Bradford had torn his ACL, most had expected the defense to control this game.
The news only got better when Kellen Clemons was named the starter, and fans punched the W even before the team got off the plane.
In the case of the Tampa Bay Bucs, the fans had a ton of angst following such a tough game in St. Louis, a game they felt they should have dominated, and really did not know what to expect.
A lot of discussion was on the hope that coming home would help, and again, just mostly thinking that this should be an easy blowout for the Hawks, as the Bucs were winless and starting a rookie in Mike Glennon at quarterback.
Seattle @ St Louis
[1st Qtr 2:38 1st and 10] (2:38) Z.Stacy up the middle to SL 47 for 11 yards (E.Thomas).
The Seahawks get caught and knocked off the ball on a 1st and 10.
The defense has no real shot to get this as the Rams' line just steamrolls into the second level. This is the first of the big runs by the Rams. One note here is that Brandon Mebane is not in the game on this play. Clinton McDaniel is at nose and McDonald is lined up as 3-tech. Mebane has definitely had his struggles over these last two seasons but Seattle doesn't appear to have his replacement on the roster. The big blocks wind up being the compressing of Red Bryant and McDonald together, opening a huge gap up the middle of the field.
It's a questionable personnel choice but without all the facts I can't tell you what Dan Quinn is thinking.
[1st Qtr 1:20 2nd and 10] (1:15) Z.Stacy right tackle to SEA 40 for 13 yards (K.Chancellor).
The play before this, the Seahawks had seen Red Bryant win on a surge to stop the run for no gain. On this play, however Red, is stood up and stoned by his man, opening a huge hole for the Rams.
Again, no Mebane in sight.
Mebane has been absent for most of this quarter and it's definitely worse when he's not in there. However, to say that the Seahawks' run defense is up and down is no exaggeration - they stop a run short then get gashed - it's head scratching, particularly on the line of scrimmage.
Another thing to note is that Bobby Wagner is somehow completely on the other side of this play. This should not happen against the run with your middle linebacker - he sets the contain for the other linebackers by "tracking the back."
This means - watching Stacy and matching him stride for stride as he approaches the line of scrimmage. This helps the other linebackers set their contain points against the run to prevent the big backside cuts. Whatever Wagner thought he saw on this play was completely wrong and it left a huge gap for Stacy to run through. Basic fundamental football here.
[2nd Qtr 9:23 1st and 5] (9:23) Z.Stacy up the middle to SEA 46 for 13 yards (C.McDonald).
After an offsides penalty on Michael Bennett, the Seahawks align themselves a bit oddly here - with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright compressed into the middle of the field. However, Mebane is back, playing strongside on this play while Clint McDonald is playing the nose tackle spot. At the snap, McDonald gets obliterated, but Clemons holds his outside leverage and pinches the space Stacy has to run through.
Unfortunately K.J. Wright misses a tackle - something we don't see very often from him here - and Kam Chacellor has to work himself into the play to make the stop. It goes on like this for the half with these different types of mistakes with the occasional perfect stop.
[3rd Qtr 9:52 1st and 10] (9:52) Z.Stacy up the middle to SEA 36 for 11 yards (B.Wagner).
This game is bad on the stat line, sure, but despite the big runs, the defense did play pretty well through most of the first half of this game. However, more plays like this started to happen.
The line gets blown off of the football and Zac Stacy has a convoy on this big run. The thing I noted the most was that Wagner just accepts the contact of the center, and that springs Stacy for the first first down in the game since there were five minutes to go in the first quarter.
There isn't a lot Bobby can do here, but the way he just stands flat footed and doesn't contact the blocker concerns me if I'm the coaching staff.
[4th Qtr 5:42 1st and 10] (5:42) Z.Stacy left end to SL 11 for 8 yards (E.Thomas).
The Seahawks lose the edge here with the Rams pinned in their own end of the field. Wagner does the right thing here and attacks the fullback on the run, but Bruce Irvin loses the outside edge and the chain reaction of mistakes is completed when Irvin stands in the vacated gap. Stacy runs around him, screened by a blocker.
Inexcusable stuff, but by this point, guys may have been somewhat tired.
Tampa Bay @ Seattle
[1st Qtr 9:19 1st and 10] M.James left tackle to TB 19 for 5 yards (T.McDaniel; E.Thomas).
The Seahawks get off the ball well, but the Bucs keep working and working and eventually Tony McDaniel gets turned around and pushed, creating some space in the middle of the field. I actually felt more threatened by the Bucs' offensive line than I did St. Louis because the Bucs, in this case, really grind you when they run the ball. All of these guys love to come downhill together and drive guys into the dirt.
This play, where late yards show up, was kind of the order of the day for the Bucs, where the Rams last week were sort of feast or famine.
[1st Qtr 1:08 1st and 15] M.James left tackle pushed ob at TB 42 for 21 yards (K.Chancellor).
The Seahawks get smacked at the point of attack here and have no real shot at recovery. McDaniel and Cliff Avril get smashed at the point of attack - Avril can't hold gap integrity and McDaniel gets driven off the ball.
If it's not one thing it's another, and I questioned the Seahawks' personnel packages and their use by Dan Quinn against the Rams - well, here I outright want to know where Mebane is and why he's not in on this play.
However, there is also the matter of Clinton McDonald, who does get a small shot backside at bringing this play to a stop. You just can't have your D-line getting beat like this and expect to control the run; this removes the ability of Bobby Wagner to fit into a space and attack the back, as he winds up in perfect alignment on this play but caught in the wash.
[2nd Qtr 7:52 1st and 10] M.James up the middle to TB 43 for 11 yards (K.Chancellor; R.Sherman).
Bobby Wagner is unblocked but can't follow the play, and loses the runner - who runs right up the middle against him. He's clean, unmolested and has some gaps to attack and just doesn't. Wagner missed a play wrapping up the first quarter where he just sort of lunged at the runner - again, he had no one on him -and no excuses to mention on that play either.
Wagner is playing very flat or making guesses where he's just completely wrong. I seriously contemplated where this team would be with old explode-y knees Lofa Tatupu in this game, because Wagner is really looking gun shy and his tackle numbers aren't the only side effect of his play.
[3rd Qtr 11:31 1st and 10] M.James up the middle to SEA 17 for 18 yards (R.Sherman).
Bobby Wagner again fails to recognize and track the runner. He's untouched again and decides for some unknown reason to attack the right guard. It's as if he doesn't see anything in front of him, goes to where the traffic is, and abandons his gap for no real reason other than he sees traffic and therefore action must be there.
I tried to talk about this last year and at the time I think Wagner was excused because the D-line was so poor, but as we've seen in the past two plays and two weeks overall - even when he's clean he's gun shy and not recognizing runs well enough to be successful.
[0T Qtr 14:35 2nd and 9] M.James right guard to TB 23 for 2 yards (C.Clemons, K.Chancellor).
The Seahawks surge late and Wagner works himself back into the play on a cutback. This is a nice track and tackle.
A good surge by the D-line, but it was hard not to notice the tension felt by the Bucs. A line that had fired off the ball in the first half and played downhill for most of the game suddenly got no push in its last two drives, and the linebackers were able to play more effectively against the run.
Overall View of the game vs St Louis:
The Seahawks defense played alright. The yards were bad, particularly on the ground, but with an offensive performance as poor as they got, I wasn't surprised. The defense did force 3-and-outs and have some turnovers.
They got gashed on some big plays, but for the most part there was not a trickle of 4-yard runs for the Rams' offense.
Mistakes by Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright helped spring a few of those and a defensive line that spent most of the game without Brandon Mebane had trouble with consistent penetration. With Red Bryant as the only mauler against the run, teams look to smash him down out of the play, and were successful for most of the game doing so. Some of this is fixable, but Clinton McDonald is getting a lot of snaps in base looks - color me concerned.
Earl Thomas saved the game for the defense on a number of occasions in this game again, after doing so in the game against the Titans. He continues to be a big force in this defense. Special mention for Kam Chancellor, who made a few tackles in those situations as well.
Everything about the front seven needs tweaking - from our groupings to play calling to awareness and play making by our linebackers. It's a lot to do but this team has to get this done.
Overall View of the game against the Tampa Bay Bucs:
Though the stats look similar, the Bucs did more than the Rams in gaining 200 yards on the ground. The O-line for the Bucs basically made every combination of our front four a joke for two quarters, and then Wagner continued his struggles from the week before.
The Bucs bled the Seahawks with medium sized runs most of the day, plus got three to four major gashes. I am much more concerned following this games' 200 yards than last games 200. I also wonder if Dan Quinn's defensive game planning is worth asking about because it seems like the Seahawks have been expecting something other than what they've wound up with the last two weeks.
I also find a lot to be desired in Bobby Wagner's run defense. He's playing in between right now and that means rather than anticipating the runs he's waiting to see what develops and by then it's too late for him to have an impact. When he does make a play it's often 3-4 yards down the field. He's guessing out there right now and it's costing this team big plays.
The Legion of boom stepped up after a tough half of football and made Mike Glennon unwilling to make a mistake. The Bucs became one-dimensional by choice and the LOB deserves major credit for continuing to battle despite the early penalties.
Bobby Wagner. Rarely do I spotlight one player in this section but the man needs to step his game up, without question, in defending the run. He is a big culprit on at least three huge runs and none of what has happened is an injury excuse - he's not reading his keys and he's playing guess-and-go football.
Important article note:
I will be having surgery the Thursday following the Viking game and because of this I will likely not be able to continue these articles for about six weeks as my left arm heals. I hope to be able to return for a great run at the Super Bowl. I wanted to make sure I warned people a little ahead of time that I would be gone so that I just didn't disappear off the face of the blog. You all have been so generous in providing feedback and conversation on the hawks I am going to miss that opportunity while I recover.
That said it's time to go down and clip the Falcons and then come home and drown the Vikings.
Thanks to Danny for the gif collaboration!