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The Leo End and the Run Defense

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If Clemons slips, Heater is there.
If Clemons slips, Heater is there.

We've been on a leo end binge of late, with me discussing our unbalanced line and the blitz and Danny discussing the job of our defensive ends in general. In the comments section of the latter story, we shortly discussed the Leo end and the run. As mentioned in the blitz piece, it seems pretty clear on paper that the Seahawks should be bad at defending running backs attacking the weak side. There are two reasons for that, one is that both linemen on the weak side are one-gappers focused on getting to the passer, the other is that Chris Clemons is a very undersized defensive end, weak at the point of attack, and easily chipped by an extra blocker or pushed off the line by a left tackle.

That was the theory. It's what I expected to see last season, easy exploitation of an unbalanced line. It probably helped that we generally didn't face the NFL's best offenses (though we faced a few good ones), but even so, the expected weaknesses never really materialized. I talked in the blitz article about how we didn't seem to need extra rushers that much to get to the passer, and now going over the numbers for running against us, I can't say there's any noticeable jumped between our heavy or weak side. NFL GSIS Numbers following the jump...

Left End Left Tackle Left Guard Over the Middle Right Guard Right Tackle Right End
Plays: 51 Plays: 76 Plays: 42 Plays: 111 Plays: 34 Plays: 69 Plays: 51
NFL Rank: 18 NFL Rank: 4 NFL Rank: 16 NFL Rank: 16 NFL Rank: 21 NFL Rank: 5 NFL Rank: 12
Avg Gain: 5.02 Avg Gain: 3.14 Avg Gain: 3.69 Avg Gain: 3.70 Avg Gain: 8.03 Avg Gain: 3.42 Avg Gain: 6.98
NFL Rank: 14 NFL Rank: 5 NFL Rank: 13 NFL Rank: 13 NFL Rank: 32 NFL Rank: 9 NFL Rank: 30

This is figured from the offense side. Defensive lines rotate a lot and strong and weak sides shift, but as a rough indication, Chris Clemons controls the left C-Gap (left tackle), Brandon Mebane the left B-gap (left guard), Colin Cole and Junior Siavii both A-gaps (over the middle), and  Red Bryant and Kentwan Balmer the right B and C gaps (right guard and tackle). Our formation shifts with the offensive weak and strongside, but Pro Football Focus numbers basically agree with the left/right responsibilities for our ends. Clemons played 718 snaps at right end and 178 at left end, Bryant 172 at left and 84 at right, and Balmer (who played DT a lot) 194 on the left side of the defense and 89 on the right side.

The first thing that stands out is that the frequence of running is roughly the same over the left and right sides. There are 15 more runs over left tackle/guard than over right tackle/guard, but that is a not a very significant number. Opposing offenses targeted our left and right tackle an above average amount of times for the NFL, while most other gaps are near NFL average.

When you look at the average gains made by opposing runners, it stands out that our left and right tackle defending was pretty good, while our right guard (8.03 YPC) and right end (6.98 YPC) are bottom-of-the-NFL bad. If I had to take a guess at why this is so, I'd say it has at least something to do with the combination of Aaron Curry's poor awareness and the rather unsuccessful Kentwan Balmer experiment and later putting Raheem Brock on that spot. Compare Red Bryant's yard per play of 0.9 to Kentwan Balmer's 2.6. As for missed tackles, Red Bryant had none, while Balmer and Clemons had 2 a piece.

Chris Clemons? Well he doesn't really show up otherwise. I actually expected more runs over left, but do remember our unbalanced line nudges a lot of players that run over the middle to that side. And that's fine, we want runner to run towards the weakside, because our fastest and surest tackler (David Hawthorne) is on that side. The fact that so many plays are sent his way is confused by pundits to mean he's the best LB, just like low tackle numbers are used to "prove" Curry is terrible. That's just missing the point, the numbers are mostly a product of our defensive system.