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Seahawks Scheme Analysis: More Notes on 4-3 Under/Over & the 3-4

We've been talking about the 4-3 Under/Over and propensities for the 3-4, the Defensive Front Seven, and just in general, player types and schemes to watch for on the Seahawks defense in 2012 a lot recently, so I thought I'd share a few more notes on the subject.

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We've been talking about the 4-3 Under/Over and propensities for the 3-4, the Defensive Front Seven (PART I, PART II), and modern hybrid fronts - a Beekers must-read from a few months back - and just in general, player types and schemes to watch for on the Seahawks defense in 2012 a lot recently, so I thought I'd share a few more notes on the subject. Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was on the Clayton show last Saturday and I thought there were a few things to highlight that go along with the theme we've hit on over the last few weeks.

To start, John Clayon starts by asking Bradley about what it's like running the Seahawks' brand of defense after spending so much time in the Cover-2, Tampa-2 style schemes with the Bucs prior to coming to Seattle. Bradley replied:

"Back in the Tampa days we played Tampa-2, we played a little Over, a little Under defense, but I think the idea is that Pete wanted to try and incorporate both the 3-4 and the 4-3. The hard part of it is to try and make it simple enough that you can run both defenses, and we feel like we're on our way to doing that." This augments something Bradley said a few weeks back. "We really developed this defense so you can play multiple positions - It's not as advanced as maybe some 3-4 teams and maybe not as advanced as some 4-3 teams, but, we can do both. And, that's where I think we create some issues for offenses. They look and say, "gah, we can't put in our 3-4 plan, or our 4-3 plan, because they do both, and it might limit some of the things they do."

This is something the Seahawks coaching staff, as far as I can remember, have only started publicly talking about recently, though they've assembled some personnel that might fit a 3-4 for a while. The idea that they're trying to or going to incorporate principles from each defense is interesting, it's something that Bill Belichick and the Patriots are doing, and if done correctly could be a pretty fun defense to watch and study. As Clayton points out, "Offenses have become so good now, especially at tight end, and with backs coming out of the backfield, that if you stay in Cover-2 all game, you're going to get destroyed. You have to, at times, have the ability, against passing offenses with a good quarterback, to man up, and not just play Cover-2."

Bradley addresses that, saying, "You really do. I think teams around the league, there are so many good receivers, that the ability to cloud a corner, and put a safety over the top of him is so important (like in a Cover-2), but to live in that type of system play in and play out, it just makes it difficult. On the other side of it though, you need corners that can play man, in order to switch up for that. If they're going up against these big-time receivers, the ability to press them at the line of scrimmage, and hold them up is critical. We just felt like that's the style that we want to lean towards."

It's why the Seahawks have concentrated so heavily on the corner position, bringing in Walter Thurmond, Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, sticking with Marcus Trufant, Roy Lewis, and still going out and drafting Jeremy Lane to complement and compete with a host of other potentially talented back-end roster guys like Ron Parker and Donny Lesowski.

In a cover-3 or in man, these corners are on an island, and affecting timing or position of the opposing receivers is the difference between a completion or pass defensed - or more likely - no pass at all. Bradley's explanation on why the Hawks have gone after these "big, angular" type players on the corners.

"Well, I think it's two-fold. I think, first of all, it's for run purposes. It allows us to get eight men in the box (by bringing Kam Chancellor in), and I think last year in the average-per-rush we were in the top-5. Well, in the NFL, if you can get an 8-man front, you should be doing that well, and I think the length that we have at the corner spots allows us to do that."

"Secondly, in the passing game, when a corner can disrupt at the line of scrimmage, and if you have a good pass rush that goes along with it, a lot of time, what goes on on tape is, a lot of time you'll see a quarterback look there, they'll see he's pressed, or jammed up at the line of scrimmage, and he'll immediately go to the other side, or he'll look down the middle. So, like I said, it's two-fold. It helps us in our ability to stop the run, because you do have to do that in the NFL first and foremost, and second of all it helps us to disrupt the outside and kind of funnel things inside to our safeties."

Not coincidentally, the Seahawks have also heavily invested in the safety position, and perhaps more than with other teams, are a crux of the defense. Kam Chancellor is perfect for the system because he can play in the box as an enforcer, but also has the speed to play in pass coverage. More important though, is the role that Earl Thomas plays. The roles of these two are becoming a little more clear to me as time goes on - originally, I believed that the two spots, strong safety and free safety, were fairly interchangeable and could be similar in body type and role. I wrote about it HERE and HERE, and because of our analysis of Carroll's defense at USC (as explained by Carroll himself), a lot of us didn't know if Kam Chancellor would be an every-down type of player for the Seahawks, but instead more like a sub-package "Big Nickel" type. Bradley explains:

"You know, when we first got here, we decided that we wanted to have two types of safeties - one that was really the type of guy that you could drop down into the box, the thumper, you know, the presence back there. We had that with Lawyer Milloy, and it evolved to where Kam, we've put a lot on his shoulders to be that guy. Then, you have the free safety, the ball-hawk guy, a guy that can cover from the middle of the field, to the bottom of the numbers, to the top of the numbers, and has the speed to do that. If you're playing so much single-safety up the middle, where you have to cover the whole field, it's important to have speed there. So, we have two different styles and both have done really well in that system."

With corners funneling big-time receivers to the middle you have to have a guy like Earl Thomas - rangy, instinctual, can jump routes but also play savvy enough to not let anything get behind him. To an extent, Chancellor can play this role when Earl is up on the line or on the slot receiver in coverage, but as we've said many times before, Thomas is integral to making this defense effective, and it's because he's so good in center field.

Bradley went on to talk about the linebackers and defensive line in the Clayton interview, and a couple quotes stood out to me, particularly his comments on linebackers and their ability to play in the hybrid 4-3/3-4:

"Well, you need the speed for the times that we're playing 4-3, and then you need the stoutness to when you go to a 3-4. You're seeing a guy like K.J. Wright - he's 6'3 and a half, 250 pounds, but can run real well. To us, that's ideal. He can play at the line of scrimmage, he can be a MIKE linebacker in 3rd down situations. So, it's the same with Bobby Wagner - he's 242 pounds and ran a 4.4... so, we kind of evolved to those bigger, stouter guys but they also have to have the ability to run. So, when we're getting ready for the draft, and looking at guys, that's the mindset that we have."

This echoes something Bradley said recently, as I highlighted in my Defensive Scheme Versatility post. Bradley said then, "I think it's a unique combination that we're looking for. In the 3-4, the linebackers are big, physical type guys; the guards are going to come right at them and they have got to be stout enough to take on the guard. Then, the 4-3, you want speed. The Lance Briggses, the Derrick Brookses, the guys that can really move well, lateral movement, and those guys are always protected. Well, we do both. Instead of maybe the 260 pound linebackers, or the 225 pound guys, we like that guy that's 240 and can run a high 4.4. So, we're getting that hybrid that can do both. That's what we're really trying to be looking for. But, we try not to put them in too many positions where they're taking on the guard, so we're probably leaning more towards the 4-3 principles."

Now, this isn't new, we've already talked about it, but I still find it interesting that Bradley used the word "evolved" when talking about their interest in the bigger, stouter players. It's evident when watching the way the Seahawks play defense that they make in-season and in-game adjustments and often change their strategy in response to injuries or personnel available to them.

Defense is what Pete Carroll does and what he knows - I think I heard Doug Farrar say once that Carroll has "forgotten more about scheming defenses than I'll ever know of it," and I think this idea is something that gets lost in all the analysis/lampooning of Pete's philosophical style, nationally especially. We all talk a lot about his rah-rah motivation, his mantras - "Win Forever," "Always Compete," his khakis and his California style, micro-machines-man speed talking and all that, but sometimes we lose track of the fact that he's turned a really, really shitty inherited defense around and made it respectable in just over two years, mixing some carryover players and his guys, and a lot of the success on that side of the ball is due to ingenuity and nuts-and-bolts scheming. I know a lot of people make fun of Carroll because, well, he's kind of weird, but the dude does seem to know defense.

That said, there's still a lot to prove and I'm not anointing him for anything - just pointing out that which I think he's done well. The Seahawks' defense will be tested in 2012 against some of the top-flight QBs in the league and could potentially take a huge step back if things snowball. They escaped top tier QBs in 2011 due to schedule and some injuries on opposing rosters - Michael Vick and Jay Cutler in particular. With the added speed on the linebacker corps and on the defensive line, we'll get a good chance to see just how good Seattle's corners are against Tom Brady. How good the safeties are against Aaron Rodgers. With pressure coming from the inside, Seattle's pass defense should improve. Will it be enough against Tony Romo, Cam Newton? Matthew Stafford? Or, will things collapse? Will the hybrid experiment flame out? Tough to say at this point, but it will be fun to watch. Hopefully.