From Atlanta's first few series last Sunday, it was evident their game plan was to run the ball against the Seahawks.
After Seattle had surrendered 200 yards rushing to the Rams and 205 yards rushing to the Buccaneers, many thought the run-D was the chink in the Seahawks' armor. The run-D certainly wasn't the Seahawks' weakness on Sunday though, as the Falcons only gained 64 yards on the ground, 15 of which came from Matt Ryan on scrambles.
It was also evident from Atlanta's first few series that the Seahawks were determined to stop the run. One of Pete Carroll's major defensive philosophies is to stop the run and make teams become one dimensional. Once teams become one dimensional, then the defense has more opportunities to make highly impactful plays like sacks and interceptions. These are the plays that kill drives and shift the course of a ballgame. They are all less likely to happen if stopping the run does not happen first.
Carroll believes that the most important thing to stopping the run is for the defense to maintain gap integrity. In his Atlanta postgame press conference Carroll said, "You've heard me say it's always about the discipline of the fits. Every play for the defense has an assignment on where the guy should fit the run."
One play from last Sunday that illustrates the "discipline of fits" perfectly happened early in the game. With 1:47 in the 1st quarter, the Falcons came out in "12" personnel - 1 RB and 2 TEs - and the Seahawks matched with their base defense with eight in the box. The Falcons tried to run a dive to Steven Jackson which the Seahawks stopped for no gain.
Just as Carroll said, "It's always about the discipline of fits." On this play, everybody controlled their gap - Cliff Avril had the weak side C gap and contain responsibilities, Clinton McDonald two gapped the weak side B and A gap, Brandon Mebane had the strong side A gap, K.J. Wright had the strong side B gap, Michael Brooks (who is Michael Brooks!?!?!) had the strong side C gap, Bobby Wagner had the strong side D gap and Bruce Irvin had strong side contain. Since McDonald is two gapping the weak side B and A gap, Kam Chancellor gets to roam free.
Falcon's coach Mike Smith had this to say about the Seahawks' eight man box in his Monday press conference: "When you have an eighth element in the box, which they did yesterday, there is going to be a free hitter and the back is going to have to account for him."
Even though Wright is the player that went unblocked on this play, he should have been picked up by the RG. This was horrible run blocking by the Falcons honestly - they had three guys blocking Mebane. Regardless of how bad the Falcons blocked on this play, the Seahawks played perfect run defense by maintaining gap integrity and swarming to Jackson for no gain.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Seahawks' run defense last Sunday was that they did it without Red Bryant. When Bryant is on his game he is an immovable object, but even when he is playing his best, he is still not the quickest individual in the world. With Bennett taking over for Bryant, the Seahawks ran a lot more run stunts to take advantage of his quickness.
Smith also had this to say about the scheme change, "They changed some things up. They had lost Bryant, so they did some things schematically that were different in terms of what they were asking the replacement to do. They did bring some run stunts, which they had not done, and I think that was obvious when we had a couple of plays that didn't get started and there were hits in the backfield."
The Seahawks used these run stunts early in the game to take away the run. With 6:48 left in the 1st quarter, the Falcons came out in "21" personnel - RB, FB, TE - and the Seahawks were again in their base defense with that "eighth element" in the box. The Seahawks ran a stunt that involved Tony McDaniel and Bennett slanting left, and Wright Chancellor coming in hot from the right.
Lamar Holmes, the LT, thought that Bennett was going to attack the C gap but he instead attacked the B gap. This completely threw Holmes off and allowed Bennett to get penetration through the B gap. Chancellor annihilated Patrick DiMarco, the FB, which allowed Wright to come through untouched and tackle Jackson for no gain.
Wright and the Seahawks tackled wonderfully all game, something that they did not do against the Rams or the Buccaneers which is uncharacteristic for them. Every player on the Seahawks defense is a good tackler. The worst is Richard Sherman, and he is a good tackler for a corner.
To be able to tackle is a prerequisite skill (mindset) needed to play on this defense.
Tackling is what Carroll and probably every coach believes is the final component of good run defense. Again in his postgame press conference, Carroll said this about all the components of good run defense:
"We emphasize on the discipline of the fits, we emphasize the nature of coming off the blocks, defeating the blocks to make the play even when you might not be the key guy, and then the essence of tackling, which is being in the right mind frame to knock the hell out of somebody."
Like this Pete?
If every player on the Seahawks defense got pancaked on this play but Brandon Mebane, the result would have been the same. Mebane exemplified every single component that Carroll talked about. He owned the strong side A gap, schooled his blocker and made the tackle.
Lastly, Adrian Peterson is coming to town this week so keeping gap discipline, shedding blocks and tackling will be extremely important. If the Seahawks play like they did against the Falcons, they will be up to test.
Big up to Danny for the GIFs!!!