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2009 Season Retrospective: Lofa Tatupu


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Lofa Tatupu





Seahawks at 49ers September 20

Will Herring did his coverage thing. He broke on a short pass to Michael Robinson and was running him into the backfield before he could make a field move. It was Lofa Tatupu's zone, but Herring made a faster read and was faster to his man. Tatupu wasn't 80%. I doubt he was 50%.

Seahawks at Colts October 4

His team took the field on Sunday. It was his defense, personnel, coaching and scheme that Peyton Manning effortlessly scored 28 points on in three quarters. It was his bloated contract at right defensive end. His first round pick at starting right cornerback. It has his hand picked defensive coordinator chewing out Lofa Tatupu on the sideline. His Seahawk for life being chewed out. Who stays? Who goes? Has Ruskell built a foundation? With a franchise defining draft approaching this spring, is Ruskell the man to lead Seattle into 2010?

Jaguars at Seahawk October 11

Lofa Tatupu dropped a rare interception opportunity, but Seattle turned good field position and two Aaron Curry blitzes into better field position and the ball.


Rams at Seahawks September 13

Seattle matched a 4-3 under against the Rams two wide "I". Curry was the under linebacker, and Seattle used him as an extra linemen. He attacked Alex Barron, matching Patrick Kerney on left guard Jacob Bell, Brandon Mebane on center Jason Brown and so on down the line. Seattle's five stacked the Rams five and Lofa Tatupu shot the right "A" gap and wrapped Steven Jackson from behind for a tackle awarded to Cory Redding.

. . .

Redding gets around Smith, but is dropped by Smith just as he approaches Bulger. Tatupu draws the block of Steven Jackson, but is able to shed it. The Rams start with nine blockers, but the fullback squirts into the left flat. Kerney covers him. Redding and Tatupu flush Marc Bulger from the pocket. He targets a retreating Donnie Avery and passes to him. Wilson is there for the immediate tackle.

. . .

Seattle ran a similar blitz out of a nickel package to end the drive. Lofa Tatupu shot the right "A" gap and was through and on Bulger before Richie Incognito even saw him. Good to see Tatupu blitzing head on and not attempting a wending, stunting, overlong and overcomplicated blitz.

Seahawks at Colts October 4

Seattle forced a three and out. Tatupu pressed a pass lane and got a hand up, tipping Peyton Manning's pass and forcing an incomplete. His ability as a pass defender separates him. That's why he has been shuffled behind flashier inside linebackers like Patrick Willis by fans. Pass defense, even at its best, is good for the occasional highlight. Willis wows with his speed and tackling on every snap.

Jaguars at Seahawks October 11

Tatupu drops deep and fast. He slide steps with an eye on the quarterback. He sets into the deep middle and plays middle linebacker there. That's where he joined a gang of four that smacked around Torry Holt. Holt got the first, but barely, and took four solid shots to get it. Tatupu led off. He hit Holt in the ball and fell away attempting a strip. Then Josh Wilson dropped a shoulder and his force sort of righted Holt after he had spun away from Tatupu. Jordan Babineaux joined in with a head of steam and his hit was the finisher. Aaron Curry got the pin, Wilson and Babineaux split the tackle, and Tatupu was stuck with a broken tackle in some stickler's notebook.

Tatupu attacks the ball. He's fumble hungry and almost a year overdue. He drops some tackles because of it, but he relies on his teammates to clean up. If he's not the first man, he knows how to wrap and stop a ball carrier where they stand. Before an illegal formation penalty nullified it, Tatupu played middle linebacker from the end zone on Maurice Jones-Drew's near touchdown reception. Seahawks falling off him left and right, Drew was literally bent back and away from the goal line by a shattering Tatupu tackle. He doesn't always wrap perfectly, in part because of his build and in part because of a desire to strip, but he knows how to pop a guy when pop matters.

He's an option man on blitzes. It's a neat little wrinkle I've come to look for. He moves forward as if to blitz, but Tatupu is not committed. He can rush, but disengage to cover an outlet receiver. He can rush, decide it's a run and run blitz. Curry around the edge and Tatupu through the hole is a pincer opposing rushers will learn to fear. The two did it twice this quarter: First on the fourth play of the Jags first drive and then on the fifth play of the third drive. The rushes combined for -1 yards.

Outlook: Five games, one not finished, one played at half strength, but Tatupu still contributed some excitement. That is good news for Seattle. 2008 was an injury-riddled and injury-slowed season for Tatupu. Losing most of the season to injury in 2009 is seemingly the continuation and advancement of a trend. Two things argue against that. The aforementioned quality of Tatupu's brief 2009 campaign and the nature of his injury in 2009: a torn pectoral muscle. While it fits within a general injury related decline, it is not in of itself indicative of decline or an increased risk of injury. It's a fluke. It happens. To ends, punters and bloggers.

I have always compared Tatupu to Michael Singletary. He's the same height and a similar weight. They both play above their tools. They are both known for their leadership, smarts and quality of play rather than their highlights. Singletary stayed healthy. Tatupu has not. He hasn't yet run off the rails, but unless he corrects this trend, he will.

Call it whatever we want, Seattle is, if nothing else, deploying 3-4 personnel this season. Chris Clemons is the size of and has the duties of a rush linebacker. Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane will seek to control the interior. Lawrence Jackson is possibly bulking up and certainly competing for his job with two 3-4 end-types: Red Bryant and E.J. Wilson. The overall size of players with their hand in the dirt will be a lot like the three down linemen in a 3-4. The back four features two inside linebackers.

In a traditional 3-4, David Hawthorne would likely be the MIKE and Tatupu the TED. The MIKE makes plays. The TED does the grunt work. Though the MIKE is supposed to be the better player, the general assignments of a TED and MIKE fit Tatupu and Hawthorne respectively. Tatupu is smart and willing to stick his face in the pile. Hawthorne has better range and is a better blitzer.

In Carroll's system, Tatupu is Ray Maualuga and Hawthorne Kaluka Maiava. That distinction should make more sense in about a month.

Increased speed on the weakside edge could help Tatupu, but Darryl Tapp was an excellent run defender with great range. Nevertheless, Clemons and Hawthorne should compensate some for Tatupu's only-adequate range. That should keep Tatupu where he is at his best: between the tackles. He stuffs the run and stomps lead blockers between the tackles. He blitzes best between the tackles. He defends the pass best in the narrow window between the tackles. Just like seasons past, Tatupu won't register impressive total tackle numbers, but he will make quality tackles. He should return at full strength, and fulfill his normal role of leader of the defense, brick-shithouse tackler, assignment correct and ball-skill savvy pass defender, and occasional blitzer, and continue in that capacity as long as he's healthy.