This Week In Defense: A mission statement

USA TODAY Sports

I took my first stab at writing about the Seahawks on the internet, beyond just the typical forum rantings of a fan, back in 2007 after the Seahawks got their tails kicked in Cleveland. I tried to make sense of the fiery disaster that was Mike Holmgren's team and thus began a fascination with writing about defense, and more specifically, the defense of the Seattle Seahawks. Recent history hadn't been good to Seattle at that point and I wanted to learn more about why, beyond the typical "That guy sucks," "Fire the coach," or "Prevent defense."

So, as I continued to work on these pieces I learned more and more about reading personnel groups, play calls, formations, and specialists. It was great and then in 2010 I began doing a weekly piece on the defense on a Seahawks forum called NWSPortsTalk.com. In these pieces, I took the ten most important plays (to my eyes) that told the story of the game and walked people through what happened, good or bad.

These plays could be anything, like a tipped pass or an interception or a sack or even just a pressure. My goal was to try and walk people through the moving parts of the play so they could get a broader perspective of what was going on. Eventually, I was doing random articles here and actually dropped doing those pieces on the other forum, much to my own disappointment. However, I saw the perfect opportunity to bring it back, here, after the Atlanta game. So many people were upset and confused and angry about that game and I wanted to see if I could help them understand what happened.

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From: This Week in Defense: NFC Divisional Round, Seahawks at Atlanta

Disclaimer: These types or articles would be open to interpretation because none of us knows the play calls, of course. These are done with best-guess, based on the facts we can track, personnel, result, etc. Nothing I would post would be definitive and therefore could be open for debate, discussion. Please feel free to ask questions about any highlighted or not highlighted play and debate is also welcome in the comments.

[1st Qtr 14:50 2nd and 10] The Seahawks allow a power run right up the gut and the trouble begins. This play illustrates the problems later in the year with both Alan Branch and Red Bryant eventually getting pancaked to the turf after allowing Turner to run past them. Atlanta is probably the best o-line in football, but this is really disappointing to see the bigs getting blown off the football two weeks in a row. 12 yard gain for Turner.

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[1st Qtr 10:36 2nd 5] I had to highlight this play because Greg Scruggs has been a guy I have keyed on. Though he hasn't produced pressure as much as one would like from the 3-tech and 5-tech spots this year, this play does illustrate why he made the team. It's an outside run by Alanta and Scruggs, who is unblocked on the backside of the play, tracks the back down, and takes a fantastic angle to combine on the stop for a two yard run for the Falcons. I realize it seems trivial, but after watching Aaron Curry for two seasons it really makes you appreciate a good fundamental football play.

[1st Qtr 7:12 3rd and 3] Bobby Wagner's interception: the blitz has been hit or miss all year for the Seahawks, which has been a bit frustrating for me. I have documented and charted a good deal of success the previous two years, but it seems with all the newer 3rd down parts this team lacks the discipline to make blitzes consistently work. In this case however, a simple overload works, Ryan throws in a rush, and Wagner comes away with an easy pick.

It's a nice outside angle by the first man through, Winston Guy, that provides the lane for Trufant on the play as Jaquizz Rodgers picks him up, and Bruce Irvin's quick dip inside turns the tackle away from the outside pressure - otherwise Atlanta could've blocked it up easily.

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{2nd Qtr 9:51 3rd and 7] One of the rare 3rd and long plays of the first half. Atlanta goes with a quick screen and KJ Wright and Brandon Browner play it as if they knew the call. Wright gets off of a Jason Snelling lead block easily, and Browner knifes through and dives to ankle tackle Roddy White. Atlanta loses two, but this play and two others showed just how well the Seahawks had scouted the Falcons' offense. Atlanta is forced to kick a field goal.

[2nd Qtr 4:23 1st and 10] Kill shot, long TD throw to Roddy White. This is entirely avoidable. The Seahawks bring pressure and it's picked up - the pressure is actually pretty cool, because nickelback Marcus Trufant follows WR Harry Douglas across the formation in a man-to-man look, but then blitzes at the snap - Earl Thomas comes down into the box to mark Julio Jones as he runs what looks like a screen-route, and Browner takes Douglas deep.

However, on the backend, Kam Chancellor vacates his deep middle responsibility as he gets caught reading Matt Ryan's eyes. He abandons Sherman for help of Browner on Douglas, but Sherman expects some help to the inside (in fact, Roddy White catches the ball to Browner's side field).

Sherman is beat a bit on the play as White cuts inside at the last moment, but this is Kam Chancellor's fault. As White slow-plays his route, jogging at first, then turning on the jets, Kam's back is completely turned to White. Once Kam sees the ball thrown deep middle, he's too late in reacting.

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This is the same play, more or less, as the Falcons' first-drive look for White in the endzone, a play that Sherman batted away.

[3rd Qtr 5:43 2nd and 7] Seattle brought a lot of blitzes in this game, and this play was really a microcosm of what was happening on them. The Bobby Wagner B-gap blitz was picked up nicely by the running back, and Ryan makes the easy completion after looking down the field to the left. Lots of frustration, and lots of chaos on these pressures just made it look like more of pile up than a disciplined blitz scheme.

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The thing to note on some of these plays is that some blitzes are delayed, or disguised, and watching Wagner on this one - he comes on this call hot, and then sees the RB ready to make a block and stops his momentum to try to go around him. This is a mistake. Once he stops his momentum, he becomes easier to block and his balance is affected; he gets knocked out of the pocket rather easily. It's almost as if he didn't recognize the back was held in as a blocker. This is the difference between a rookie and a veteran player on a play like this.

[3rd Qtr 3:41 3rd and 9] Seattle brings another blitz and again it's picked up. However, I wanted to note this play for the fact that even though it results in a completion, Winston Guy plays this pass to Tony Gonzalez as well as you can and sticks to his coverage beautifully. For a player who didn't even cross my radar in the pre-season, he's interesting as a potential player to add into a slightly bigger role next year, perhaps in nickle situations. I definitely will be on the lookout for this kid next season. He played a very physical game. Ryan gets a bit lucky on the throw as well as he has to turn and fire as Kam Chancellor blasts through and is barely picked up. Sometimes football plays like this are chaos and luck. Matt Ryan chucks the ball up and Tony G bails him out with a fantastic catch.

[4th Qtr 11:52 1st and 10] Atlanta tries an end-around with Julio Jones. KJ Wright diagnoses this before the snap as Jones heads in motion, pursues Jones through the snap and brings him down for a 1-yard loss. It's an impressive play of recognition through completion. Players often will recognize the play post snap, but very few actually notice the motion of the receiver until it's too late to fully react.

[4th Qtr 11:15 2nd and 11] Earl Thomas with an INT. The play really makes no sense from Matt Ryan's perspective. This ball just should not be thrown. Thomas makes a fantastic break on the ball, but Ryan is also staring this target down. Trufant has ideal position trailing, and Thomas can finish the play unimpeded. Matt Ryan is sent back to the bench wondering just what he thought he saw there.

[4th Qtr :25 1st and 10] Harry Douglas with a 22-yard reception. The Seahawks break your heart. For as well as the defense played in the 4th quarter, the details have haunted this team in heartbreakers before. Leroy Hill in Miami, Marcus Trufant in St. Louis and Brandon Browner last year against the Redskins. When you watch this play the details are like this.

In this situation, with 25 seconds remaining, Trufant shouldn't have stopped his back pedal on the short outside zone until the ball comes out. This would force the Falcons to dump underneath to Gonzo at about the 35-yard line, and use up valuable seconds. Instead, for some unknown reason, Trufant jumps the underneath route by Gonzalez, and leaves a huge gap between he and Brandon Browner, who is still back-pedaling, waiting for the ball. This allows the perfect route by Harry Douglas to get tucked in behind Trufant and Browner at the 50, which Bobby Wagner follows but is slow to contest.

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The Seahawks did bring pressure on this play with Guy up the middle, but it had no bearing on the completion and so, your season comes down to the same Achilles heel it has all year, details.

Game wrap:

These plays, for me, really best represent the game as it was played. There were a number of blitzes called, but I was amazed at how many I missed during my look-through. I spotted at least 11 blitz calls where five or more defenders were sent in pressure looks. Some were disguised, some delayed and some all-out calls, on all manner of down and distances.

It was clear Gus and Pete felt they needed to pressure and though the results seemed less than meaningful at times, it stopped Atlanta from getting huge plays for most of the game. Match-ups in coverage were well schemed, but again, they were caught off guard by some of the running plays. In fact, the only time I saw the Seahawks in tough match-ups they wound up being mis-aligned against running plays. It was disappointing and really another continuing issue with the front seven vs the run.

I hope it's something that can be fixed this off-season. Injuries or otherwise, Atlanta had far too many 3rd and 3 or less plays in this game and that's not how Pete builds his teams to play.

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Back to the mission statement:

So, because I've wanted to contribute on a more regular basis, with the help of Danny Kelly, I'm planning for this to be a a weekly piece during July, in which I break down the Seahawks' four games against St. Louis and San Francisco, and the going forward, hopefully following each game during the season.

Four things I hope to accomplish with these articles:

1) A better understanding of how a game is called - what adjustments are made - and to give an overall feel of the game outside of the knee-jerk reactions (Not that those don't have merit.)

2) Community invovlement: One of my great joys posting a piece like this was questions on plays I highlighted, or perhaps a play I missed that someone felt had some value. I am not the God of these pieces. I expect and welcome debate and discussion. I want everyone, including myself, to learn from week to week and maybe even year to year if you find these entertaining enough.

3) I want to help everyone better understand players' strengths and weaknesses. It is rare in these selected plays that a player should show up more than twice so in a season the fans should learn who's doing well and who is continuing to struggle.

4) These weekly pieces should set the context of the game. For example, most of us as fans felt like we got our doors blown off against the Steelers in week 2 in the 2011 season. When I put the game in context of the play calls however, the play calls on defense made it evident with 6 early blitz calls that were picked up, that Pete and Gus had been trying to use the defense early to try and turn the game, presumably because they knew the offense would struggle. Yes, the Seahawks lost the game 24-0 but it was easier to see what was actually going on on the second look through rather than through the disappointment and rage of losing.

The format should look like this:

Narrative: Every game has a narrative - whether it be poor run defense, no pass rush, good secondary play or key stops on third down. Everyone comes out with a general feeling of what happened in a game. Usually based on some fact and can be correct a little over a third of the time, but most of the time there are key points missing that either can destroy or expand the narrative. I always think it's important to know how your audience is feeling about your subject coming in and so I will be taking careful note of it.

Ten Highlighted Key Plays: The meat of the article. You get the point.

Game Ball: In most cases people tend to give this to the person that makes a few key plays. I try to take a slightly different approach and find the guy who had the most consistent impact on the defense and make sure he recieves recognition.

Needs work: Usually one or two players will get a mention here. These are guys who have consistently performed poorly and need to improve their play in a hurry. I know this and the game ball portion will have it's debaters and I cannot wait.

Overall view of the game: A ending paragraph usually compressing the playcalling and highlighted plays into a more correct or expanded narrative.

That's it in a nutshell. I look forward to your thoughts with the coming articles.

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