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Are the Seahawks getting away from their simple scheme?

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Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

"We don't vary or disguise coverage, we play a pretty simple defense," said Richard Sherman shortly before the Seahawks dismantled the greatest offense the NFL's ever seen in Super Bowl XLVIII.

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Simplicity -- "We play man-to-man or Cover-3, not much more than that. It's not a secret," as Kam Chancellor put it once -- is at the core of Seattle's whole makeup. They don't try to get too crazy with anything on offense or defense, the goal is to simply execute better than the other guys. And it's worked, really, really well, over the past few years.

But this year, something is different. They're not finishing games. They're not the suffocating pass defense that they've been over the last few years. They're just... off... somewhere.

"I think we're not being ourself,'' Said All Pro safety Earl Thomas on Monday. "I think we're distracted in some areas.''

Now, it's tough to pin down, and the team has been purposely vague about the reasons, but there are plenty of theories as to why the Seahawks are struggling in the fourth quarter of games and in general. Is it because of Kam Chancellor's holdout? Is it because of guys getting paid and changing? Is it because the league has Seattle figured out?

I don't know, honestly. It could be a combination of all those things. One more interesting angle to look at, as Greg Cosell over at Yahoo pointed out, is that the Seahawks might be getting away from that simplicity that got them to two straight Super Bowls.

From Cosell:

The Seahawks had a lot of issues like this [talking about the blown coverage on the Greg Olsen touchdown, where Seattle players were caught playing two different schemes] again (coverage breakdowns were an issue in the fourth-quarter collapse against the Bengals too), perhaps because they continue to do different things this season with alignments, pressures and coverages, a big change from the static Seattle defense we're used to seeing.

Defensive coordinator Kris Richard, in his first year on that job, is doing different things and the Seahawks are going through the growing pains.

In previous years the Seahawks would predominantly run their "Cover 3" zone and execute it very well.

On the Panthers' final drive Seattle ran "Cover 3" on first two plays, then "man free" out of nickel on the third play, "Cover 2" on the fourth and fifth plays, "man free blitz" on the sixth play and then what appeared to be "Cover 2" on Olsen's touchdown, when the secondary had the breakdown.

The Seahawks didn't change up coverages that much in the past few seasons. It was striking that with the game on the line, the Seahawks didn't just line up in "Cover 3," which has been their foundation, and force the Panthers to drive the length of the field against their best defense.

Maybe this is Kris Richard trying to add his character to the defense, in the same way that Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn did in their tenures as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator. Perhaps it was based on the scouting report. I don't know. However, it's an interesting theory as to why the Seahawks have suddenly gotten so far away from the standard they set over the last few years. As to why Earl Thomas would say "I think we're not being ourself."

Pete Carroll once said that "we're very simple in what we do" when describing the Seahawks' defense. Will they get back to that simplicity going forward? Will we see a change in the varied Cover-2 looks, the man-free (everyone in man defense except the free safety)? Will the Seahawks start blitzing less? It will be interesting to watch. Whatever happens, if they can't get things cleaned up and get back to their style of ball in the fourth quarter going forward, it's going to be a long season.