Over the past four years, every starter on the Seattle Seahawks defense has remained the same except for defensive tackle, corner opposite Richard Sherman, and now this year: SAM linebacker. The departure of Bruce Irvin left a big hole in the defense without having an heir apparent. Going into the preseason, it was Mike Morgan vs Cassius Marsh vs Eric Pinkins. Some threw Kevin Pierre-Louis’ name around to be in contention, but he has mostly only played WILL, and wasn’t in the competition at SAM, due to having a smaller frame that is more suited to playing in space, and not up on the line of scrimmage.
That’s why it was quite a surprise for many that Pete Carroll said we would see a lot of KPL against the Atlanta Falcons. Pete wasn’t joking or just his usual optimistic self about that proclamation, because we certainly did see a lot of KPL, more than many thought we would. Maybe a little bit of Marsh on the run heavy downs? Nope. Give me KPL, and more KPL. So much KPL that he played 60% of the defensive snaps, with many of those in very run heavy packages, we’re talking three tight end formations and sometimes even throwing a fullback in there as well. KPL just flexes his biceps at those personnel groupings and says bring it on.
Before we take a look at his performance on Sunday, what have we gotten out of KPL? Drafted in 2014 in the 4th round, a SPARQ’d up LB with tremendous speed and agility that has the capability of rushing the passer. Unfortunately, so far he hasn’t been able to reach that high ceiling of his, and last year showed that he also has a pretty low floor. After KPL was pushed into action after an injury to Bobby Wagner, he played so poorly that he hardly saw the field again for the rest of the year (not including special teams).
This is now his third year on the team. Does he finally put it together and play himself into a contract extension? Let’s take a look and see how he did in his first action at the SAM linebacker spot.
First off, here’s the grading scale, still the same for the defensive side of the ball.
To get a better understanding of what positions the coaches put KPL in, I included descriptions of the personnel and formations and where KPL was at to get a better understanding of what the coaches were asking him to do.
Now let’s look at some video to get a closer look.
Play 4: Incomplete Pass to Tevin Coleman
This play isn’t anything fancy, but KPL shows off his athleticism. Coleman leaks out of the backfield, KPL takes his drop and uses his speed to close. If the catch is made it’s still a win, as Coleman would be tackled for minimal gain and no yards after the catch.
Play 8: Coleman up the middle for 8 yards
This play shows a big improvement in KPL’s game. He used to struggle against the run, but you can see here, that he shuffles, is patient, fills the hole, and then EXPLODES into the ball carrier. Also noticed DT rookie Jarran Reed taking on a double team keeping the linebackers clean.
Play 17: Pass to Mohamed Sanu for 7 yards
This was a great play call by ATL and caught KPL in no man’s land. It’s a play action, but Matt Ryan only takes two steps to fake the handoff (doesn’t actually get deep enough to fake the handoff), then plants and throws the slant. KPL reads it well as play action and stays home, however, he freezes and stops rushing Ryan and doesn’t get a drop. He does however jump and try to knock it down, but was a couple feet off.
Remember this play for later on, KPL sure did.
Play 20: Devonta Freeman left for 4 yards
KPL tries to set the edge here and at first does an okay job, however, the fullback gets his block on him and is able to turn his shoulders, which opens the gap for the running back. He does a good job of reading and reacting, not letting the tackle get a reach block on him and then getting into position. He just needs maintain his leverage and control the blocker, rather than letting the blocker control him.
Play 24: Pass to Julio Jones for 24 yards
Tough play here for KPL and KJ Wright, but we often see this a couple times a game where a pass is completed right behind the linebackers. Play action sucks all three linebackers up to the line of scrimmage, but they then immediately get into their drops. KPL gets to his drop, see Jones taking a seam route, then looks back towards the QB. This is hard to do, but I’m holding it against him here, he needs to watch Jones for another second.
He already saw that nobody is coming across the middle into his zone, so he should take another split second to watch Jones break his route off to the post, rather than up the seam like he thought. If he did, he’d be able to match the route and would be in position to make the play. Watch KJ as well, his head needs to be on a swivel a little faster. Tough play for both, but we have high expectations for our defense.
Play 30: Pass to Jacob Tamme for 4 yards
This is a double blitz with both KPL and Kelcie McCray coming off the left side of the line. KPL has a straight line at the QB but the running back chips him in time to let Ryan get the throw off. The pressure means that the ball was caught at the line of scrimmage. If Wagner doesn’t fall flat here, it’s a play for no gain. Good play call by Kris Richard with the Falcons backed up to their own goal line.
Play 32: Pass to Aldrick Robinson for 8 yards
Remember play 17? No? Ok go back and look at it again real quick.
Same play call, except to the other side and is an awkward throw for Ryan. This time KPL recognizes the play action and keeps rushing at the QB and doesn’t freeze. His pressure forces an errant throw by Ryan and a great catch by the WR bails him out.
Play 37: Coleman right for 3 yards
This is my favorite play by KPL throughout the entire game and is why I think he’s finally started to put it together. Here he’s not on the line of scrimmage but back off the ball a few yards in the box. Here he has contain and it looks like the FB is going to be able to kick him out. He lowers his shoulder and gets physical! Knocks the FB on the ground like he’s suppose to and the running back has no where to go. Over the past several years he never was very physical, always dancing around blocks and not taking them head on, so this is a big improvement.
I had a total of 39 plays for KPL and had a total of 24 plays that were wins. That’s a success rate of 62%. He also had four stalemates and eight failures so a Field Gulls defensive grade of 64% seems about right, and a KiSS grade of 74% is about spot on as well.
- Kris Richard blitzed KPL and McCray together quite a few times, which was very surprising. We hardly ever see Kam Chancellor blitz, and Wright only a few times (usually up the middle). This is where they are probably trying to take advantage of KPL’s and McCray’s speed, and several times it worked. Didn’t result in any sacks, but got good pressure on the QB.
- Since we’re talking about blitzing ... Wagner has definitely upped his game this year. So sneaky coming in behind the defensive tackles.
- I haven’t gone back to look yet, but typically your SAM lines up on the strong side of the line. KPL consistently lined up on the weak side with McCray on the strong side. Keeping him on the weak side keeps him mostly on the non-play side in the run game which suites more to his strengths and he doesn’t have to set the edge as much. McCray did a decent job, but having Kam back will greatly help on setting the edge.
- Atlanta ran a ton of multiple tight end sets, a lot of times using three and also routinely using a full back. Their run defense is elite. They did an outstanding job against the run. Bennett was his awesome self and Reed stood out a few times as well. Also don’t forget Cliff Avril anchoring his end.
All in all I came away very impressed with Sam Pierre-Louis ... I mean Kevin. He has grown as a player and wasn’t a liability on the defense. There are still some things that he needs to clean up, but getting more first team reps he’ll improve as the season goes on. I can’t compare him to others that have played the position, but I’m definitely comfortable with him going forward and seeing how he does.