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Seahawks on tape: Barkevious Mingo’s defense in coverage should amaze you

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Seattle Seahawks v Oakland Raiders Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Coming out of college, draft analysts salivated at the glitzy potential of LSU’s Barkevious Mingo. His length and explosion made him a tantalizing proposition as a pass rusher, but when he got drafted sixth overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2013 the prospects of Mingo dwindled in the dysfunctional black hole of the Dawg pound like so many others.

Landing with the Seattle Seahawks was the perfect place for Mingo to ‘get right.’ It’s little coincidence they gave him the #51 jersey: His usage after just five games has been more diverse than Bruce Irvin, himself a player who was moved round a lot. Mingo’s slotted in well at SAM linebacker, but facing the Oakland Raiders he demonstrated his full value to the Seahawks.

The 28-year-old’s two-year, $6.8 million deal is another piece of savvy business from John Schneider, as Kenneth Arthur wrote in March.

Here’s something that may surprise you: In 10 years, players like Mingo entering the league will play safety. In fact, with 4-2-5 the most common base defense in college, those who have been super athletic linebackers in the league are now listed as DBs, the hybrid, apex studs who do-it-all. Mingo himself has more of a DB-looking stance pre-snap.

His pass-rushing arsenal never got the chance to evolve in the mess of the Browns. Bouncing around from the Patriots to the Colts restricted his opportunities to sharpen his weaponry too. Maybe he isn’t the Pike Place salmon-tosser who gets on TV when Seattle is in primetime at home. Instead, he’s the guy who caught the fish at 5 am that morning. What stands out about Mingo is that he does his job.

He executes his assignment while offering far more upside than Austin Calitro. Calitro is the most north-south linebacker I’ve ever seen: lateral molasses. The Seahawks, challenged with the indefinite suspension of Mychal Kendricks, were smart in playing Mingo at weakside linebacker when they moved into nickel. He made the move inside next to Bobby Wagner from outside (strongside linebacker) seamlessly.

With K.J. Wright’s knee injury keeping him out until an unknown date, Mingo’s versatility is precious. He truly is a do-it-all linebacker, contrasting starkly with the two-down-at-best Calitro—they tried to ‘hide’ Calitro by playing him more at middle linebacker in base last Sunday, with Wagner at weakside. This gave him easier coverage responsibilities.

The term “Swiss army knife” is an overused cliché in football, but Mingo fits the comparison. Consider the effort he showed in London, where he played 93% of defensive snaps and 74% of special teams.

While his performance versus the Oakland Raiders wasn’t the flashiest, his dependable ability in multiple assignments deserves a full Seahawks on tape analysis.

Inside Run Stuffer

The biggest test for Mingo was moving inside to the less familiar WILL role. Whereas he usually sets a fierce edge as the force defender at SAM linebacker, playing inside meant he had to take on interior offensive linemen while filling the b- or a-gaps.

His runs fits were flawless all day and I counted just two missed tackles from him. They came in difficult circumstance: one as he got off a blocker with Marshawn Lynch going past and the other as he tried to meet Lynch at the side after forcing the run upfield.

In this cut-up, the Raiders have essentially packed their bags for Oakland down 27-0 in the 4th. But there is still the same guard-center-guard combination which isn’t nearly as bad as the offensive tackles.

Mingo is responsible for the weakside a-gap. He keys run quickly, surging down into the correct gap while the counter action takes place in the backfield. He takes on center Rodney Hudson well, using a near shoulder, Kam Chancellor-style, block disrupt move.

Mingo’s presence in the a-gap has Jalen Richard progress his read and try to cut into the other a-gap. Richard ends up pinballing around in the backfield. Mingo, staying hungry for the ball-carrier, hunts Richard down. He contacts him in the backfield and the rest of the pack joins the stoppage.

Screen Sniffer

Mingo certainly has a nose for the ball. This is most apparent in how he sniffs out screen plays.

Look how fast he keys the play design on this 1st and 20. Following his speedy diagnosis of Hudson’s intentions, it would be tempting for Mingo to try make the stop quickly. Instead, he does his job.

Staying disciplined and patient, Mingo controls the block. This allows other defenders to fit and turns the runner inside. Once Richard has declared and got closer, Mingo disengages from Hudson like Pete Carroll flicking his gum on the sideline. Mingo makes a forceful tackle for minimal gain.

Mingo’s hustle makes him a player that is easy to root for. There’s no way he should be making this tackle running outside at the perimeter screen. Yet his processing and speed sees him pound Martavis Bryant into the turf for small yardage once more.

Schematic Faith in Athleticism

Mingo’s athletic ability is reflected in the schematic faith that Seattle has in him. This was the Raiders’ biggest gain by far against the Seahawks defense, with them picking up a 3rd and 20 conversion. Before we get to that, I want you to first focus on Mingo’s alignment.

He is positioned similarly to slot cornerback Justin Coleman and goes on to perform a comparable role. That is a startling endorsement of Mingo’s physical profile and coverage ability.

Again, Mingo does his job. He hurries to the underneath completion to Richard, after initially being tasked with an underneath zone designed to take away any outside hitches or out routes at the sticks. It’s not Mingo’s fault that Coleman had a horrid day tackling in the open-field. This time it results in Oakland picking up a rare first down.

Matching Running Backs

Mingo’s coverage ability isn’t just aided by his excellent athleticism. He has sweet footwork and a rare comprehension of his role.

I was sat right behind this play as Mingo first does well to get underneath the in-breaking route in his shell. As Lynch releases into the no-cover area of this play-call, Mingo reads from his zone.

He clicks and closes downhill rapidly as the pass heads towards Lynch. Mingo’s superb angle of approach means he is ready to launch as a tackler. He could have short-strided to avoid lunging, but instead he explodes upwards as Lynch tries to wiggle up the alley. Mingo delivers a tough blow and Tre Flowers finishes the job.

From my viewpoint in the stands, I was muttering about pursuit angles and footwork as Mingo approached the catcher in space. I was left applauding and whooping chalkboard open-field pursuit made on a difficult, unfamiliar playing surface.

I imagine certain grading sites would mark this as a “completion allowed” by Mingo. But, for the second time I came away impressed with his running back coverage. Carroll is all about staying over the top and in this clip Mingo does that perfectly. The 2nd and 13 is mightily relevant.

On the backside of the trips formation in cover 3 cloud, Mingo’s main task is to match the running back. He widens and mirrors the route of Doug Martin beautifully, not allowing the cushion to be eaten up.

Sure, he’s a little sluggish out his break, but this is a linebacker lined up over an agile (6.79 3-cone) back. Crucially, Mingo does his job: not getting beat deep. At the catch point, Mingo punishes Martin for the reception and limits the yards after catch to a big, fat, 0.

3rd down.

Downfield Coverage

This is the play that epitomizes the possibilities Mingo’s talent brings. Okay, the better play-call would be to add conflict to the linebackers via play-action. Still, this is outstanding from Mingo.

Seattle plays a cover 3 skate matching defense against the Raiders’ trips bunch. That leaves Mingo, as the weakside linebacker, having to ‘ROBOT’ any deep crossers across the field. The term ROBOT meaning to “rob and get underneath.” I don’t need to inform you that a linebacker running with a receiver across the field is a brutally tough assignment. It’s one that leaves OCs looking in the mirror telling themselves how great they are.

Mingo denies Jon Gruden any potential self-gratification. He gains fantastic depth and checks to his left with smart timing for the crosser. Logging his responsibility, the deep over route of Seth Roberts, he takes the ideal path to getting underneath the receiver. Then he flashes a stupidly fast speed turn to blanket it. Ridiculous.

He does tangle slightly with Roberts, an area to refine, but Carr has long progressed his read to the deep isolated go-route.

Mingo doing this with such ease is utterly ridiculous for a linebacker. Just look how other Seahawks ‘backers struggle in these similar examples when Seahawks on tape looked at cover 3 mable matching.

Pass Rusher

Having provided the large blade and small blade; the corkscrew; the can opener; the screwdriver; the bottle opener; the wire stripper and bender; the reamer and hole punch; and the key ring, Mingo went on to give Seattle the tweezers—the pass rush in this case.

Early in the fourth quarter onwards Mingo lined up solely at defensive end. This, while filling in for a sick Frank Clark, gave Shaquem Griffin some valuable reps at linebacker. Mingo’s pass-rush ceiling is always going to be limited by his slender frame, but as a situational rusher he is mighty exhilarating.

Temper your excitement, because everyone was beating Oakland’s offensive line—ahhh Tom Cable—but this is another impressive play from Mingo. He swipes the tight end chip away, then two-hand swipes left tackle Kolton Miller sideways. Finishing with a rip, Mingo partially pressures Carr. Moving up the pocket in getaway mode, the poor quarterback is eventually brought down by Jarren Reed.

Keep Playing Mingo

Mingo, like the entire team, was aided by how well Reed and Frank Clark played, as well as Oakland’s bottom-tier offensive line. Seattle’s dominant defensive performance deserved a shutout, which a still-bemusing non-fumble decision robbed them of.

Mingo’s performance was one of the best despite his lack of highlight reel content. It’s clear that in their ‘base’ 4-3 defense, the Seahawks view Mingo as their SAM backer. Wouldn’t it be nice to get faster on defense though? Jacob Martin flashed the effectiveness of his speed and hand usage off the EDGE; it would be interesting to see if he could play SAM.

Pete and John mentioned Martin as a potential option at the position post-draft, but the desperate need at pass-rusher has seen him exclusively used as a defensive end. The bye week provides an opportunity to try Martin at SAM and play a far more athletic linebacker group in base—sorry Calitro.

The issue with this would be whether Martin has the size and ability to set the edge consistently. He was up-and-down when tasked with this in the preseason, so Mingo’s chance to play WILL full-time is unlikely to transpire.

The real test for Mingo and the rest of the defense comes after the bye week. They face a death row of quarterbacks and offenses. Matt Stafford, Philip Rivers, Jared Goff, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton. Gulp. Before that, excluding the Rams game, the best quarterback they’ve duelled has been Case Keenum.

For Seattle’s defense to emerge still impressive—they rank #4 in DVOA right now—they’ll need to keep Mingo’s versatile, cerebral and physical brand of linebacker play on the field for all three downs. He’s a bright spark again.