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The Tape: Defense

I forgot to mention this yesterday, but the partnership starts tomorrow at 11am. It's a live chat on their website. I believe I'll be doing it at 11 on Wednesday's until, well until I'm no longer relevant or drop an F-Bomb mid-chat or whatever. So, if you're down, go ahead and lob me some softball questions.

We're still covering the first half, it's the bye week so I don't have to do any game previews, and given my non-Field Gulls schedule, I'm going to have to take my time breaking down the game. Hopefully, hopefully, I'll be able to cover the entire second half tomorrow. We'll see.

  • On the very first play of the game Brandon Mebane broke into the Rams' backfield and tackled Brian Leonard for no gain. Mebane wouldn't record another solo tackle for the remainder of the contest, but his impact is visible in the Rams inability to run up the middle and through the contributions of his line mates.

    Let's start with runs up the middle. Saint Louis averages 4.33 adjusted line yards on runs up the middle for the season. That's fifteenth in all of football. Their total for Sunday was 1.33 yards per rush on runs up the middle. That's three rushes for negative yardage, four more for 0 to 3 yards, one 12 yard rush and one 14 yard rush. I don't have the resources to adjust for strength of opponent, but Seattle ranks 16th in adjusted line yards allowed for runs up the middle, 4.16, so it's more or less a push. In other words, Seattle absolutely dominated the Rams ground game on rushes up the middle. Nine rushes is not an overwhelming sample size, but bare in mind that adjusted line yards is less susceptible to wild fluctuations. The most any one run can contribute is 7 yards, 4 for the initial 4 yards and three more for the remaining 6 yards. After that it's no longer counted. Even if the Rams exploded through the middle for a pair of 50 yard gains on Sunday, their adjusted line yards would only equal 2.36.

    The other way to interpret Mebane's impact is through the feats of his adjacent line mates. Rocky Bernard, Craig Terrill and Darryl Tapp combined for 10 penetrations, 3 sacks, 3 runs stopped for no gain or loss and 2 forced incompletions. Tapp and Terrill are both undersized players with lightning first steps, for them to succeed they need someone between them that can take on multiple blockers. On the very first play of the game Mebane served notice, Andy McCollum will not be able to block me alone. It's too early to christen Mebane as true successor to Marcus Tubbs, but he certainly laid to rest any nostalgia for Chartric Darby.

  • How good is Julian Peterson? Even when he screws up he converts the sack. Sixth play, Rams' third drive. Set up by another blasted 7 man blitz on third and 9 two plays earlier and the resulting 31 yard completion, Saint Louis is on the Seattle 4 down only a touchdown. The Hawks are in a goal line package, five down linemen, with Peterson crouched opposite Rams' tight end Randy McMichael. Saint Louis is calling a designed roll out right, with Bulger bootlegging into the flat and McMichael hopefully coming free underneath. At the snap, Peterson misreads the play, taking McMichael as a blocker he lowers his right shoulder into him attempting an inside move. McMichael instead moves out and up to the right, causing Peterson to stumble forward and fall down. That's exactly what the Rams are looking for, Peterson down a step, Bulger moving into the flat and McMichael untouched underneath. Unfortunately for the Rams, Peterson has mad quickness, and as soon as he picks himself up he's bearing down on Bulger. The Hawks have 3 men overtop but only one trailing McMichael. Bulger can't lob one up and with Peterson able to immediately reestablish himself opposite Bulger, the underneath passing lane is also shut down. Bulger is forced to eat it. Peterson charges in, attempts the strip, keeps a hand on Bulger and then converts the sack. It's a play of pure, uncanny athleticism. Peterson makes the wrong read from the onset, but recovers and forces the Rams into 3rd and 13.
  • The play of the half belongs to Marcus Trufant, who may be the greatest beneficiary of this past offseason's shakeup in the secondary. Tru matched mainly against Isaac Bruce (thank you very much official depth chart (Of course it beats CNN, which is using a depth chart from 2001.) With horrendous line woes, less double teams on Torry Holt, and two games of Gus Frerrote, Bruce has had an underwhelming, but forgivable season so far. The best testament to Trufant's cover skills are that in 40 pass attempts by Bulger, Bruce was targeted just three times. On the aforementioned 31 yard completion, Bruce made a lot of contact with Trufant, so I didn't credit him with a blown coverage.

    Tru's big play was, naturally, his interception. Interceptions come in all shapes and sizes. Many are simply lucky tips, lucky bounces, or lucky errant throws. A DB can rack up interceptions without being good in coverage, Michael Boulware did just that in 2004-2005. Since 2004, Tru's interception totals have decreased as his cover skills have improved. That's because Tru plays the man almost to perfection, but has heretofore been incapable of knowing when to play that ball. That might all be changing.

    First play, Rams fourth drive. The Hawks are dominating the line of scrimmage, but leading only 10-3. Bulger, with good time, attempts a deep pass along the right sideline. Tru intercepts. On the replay, here's what we see. Off the line Tru uses expert body position to subtly ride Bruce up against the sideline. He's literally in lockstep with Bruce, hip to hip, running down the right sideline. That's all classic Tru, but here's where we see something new. Still shadowing Bruce, playing the man, he sees Bruce look up towards the descending pass. Trufant sticks up an arm and begins to turn his body back towards the line of scrimmage. Both men are still running at near top speed, so that's incredibly difficult for Tru to do. The ball hits Tru in the arm and bounces back towards his bread basket, Tru snags the ball, tip-toes two feet centimeters from the sideline and converts the interception. He doesn't ballhawk, he never breaks coverage opening the potential for a big gain, Tru nullifies his man and punishes the attempt. Bulger wouldn't look Bruce's way again until garbage time in the fourth quarter. That's true shutdown corner play that Seattle hasn't had since Shawn Springs. That's Tru, free agent 2008.