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Seahawks on tape: Blitzing Justin Coleman a solution to the pass rush problem

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Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks’ lack of pass rush talent and depth is becoming a vivid issue. Against the Los Angeles Chargers, Philip Rivers was rarely made uncomfortable. Last week, versus the cross-city Rams, the problem was even more apparent, facing one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.

You could see this struggle coming. Indeed, Ollie Connolly and I forecast the Seahawks’ impending pass rush shortage in the offseason. We envisioned ways Seattle could generate pressure via blitzing. Yet the Seahawks, until the Rams game, hadn’t got that creative.

The Rams’ NFL-breaking offense is impossible to defend if Jared Goff has days of time to throw. Pete Carroll knows this. Despite his penchant for getting pressure with just four—a luxury every coach dreams of—Carroll started getting funky in his desperation for reaching Goff. One such example was Seattle lining up undersized EDGE rusher Jacob Martin at 3-technique.

Coleman unleashed

Additionally, the Seahawks unleashed Justin Coleman as a rusher. Finally! In that pre-season conversation I had with Mr Connolly, I wrote on the effectiveness of Coleman as a blitzer:

“Coleman lines up over the slot as though he is in normal coverage. Then, suddenly—with brilliant disguise and timing—he is rushing the quarterback’s blindside. Teams don’t know what’s hit them. It’s nothing fancy. Nothing abnormal. Just violent shock.”

In 2017, under Kris Richard, Seattle deployed a blitzing Coleman from a 3-2-6 man coverage look:

(Shaquill Griffin being deployed)

Whereas last Sunday, with Ken Norton Jr. as the defensive coordinator, the Seahawks decided to send Coleman from a cover-2 zone.

The blitz appeared to be an automatic reaction to motion; an adjustment to what the Rams had shown in their offensive game-plan.

Aligning in an empty quads formation via 11 personnel (1 RB—1 TE—3 WR), the Rams have Todd Gurley stacked behind the middle receiver. The main threat this poses is a dump-off to the offensive star on a screen or jet motion. As Gurley begins his jet, Coleman follows him inside.

Yet, getting Coleman into a footrace with Gurley across the formation is foolish, and Seattle is in a cover-2 zone, after all. Instead, Coleman becomes the spare man—as Barkevious Mingo waits for Gurley on the other side.

The options for a spare man in a defense are plentiful. In a single-high coverage, they can be rotated to a middle of the field coverage assignment. Yet, in this two-high pass defense. The Seahawks have a couple of safeties focused on the deep halves and Bobby Wagner somewhat closing the deep middle of the field.

Coleman, then, could have been utilized in an intermediate hook. Yet, with Seattle having a three versus three—albeit with poor leverage to the outside—this isn’t an absolute necessity.

With Coleman struggling as a spot-dropper (he’s far better in press-man) and the Seahawks having difficulty moving Goff, it made far more sense to send him at the quarterback given his coverage was no longer “needed.”

The blitz is packaged into the coverage. The key for Coleman is the motion. As soon as Gurley begins moving on the jet, Coleman can move inside—as though he is following the movement across the formation. Instead, as the ball is snapped, Coleman is free to hunt.

The Rams, when faking the jet, require more time than if it were a straight drop-back pass. The bear/double eagle/46 alignment Seattle has their defensive line in contains a tight interior trio. The 3-tech on Coleman’s side, Quinton Jefferson, steps inside, occupying the attention of left guard Rodger Saffold III. Coleman, blitzing with the disguise I’ve praised him for previously, has the b-gap completely exposed for his blitz.

That, combined with the tight area inside the 10, makes the nickel pressure a jailbreak one. Untouched, Coleman’s dynamism forces Goff to move off the corner route of the double china concept and instead check the pass down to Gurley.

Without pressure, this play may have been a touchdown, given the inside leverage of Tedric Thompson on the corner route. The blitz transforms the result. Instead, the Seahawks almost picked the pass off.

Near-miraculously, Coleman’s quarterback hit was a back-to-back pressure on Goff. While the first pressure came from solid coverage, Coleman’s was virtually instantaneous and occurred thanks to cunning scheming. It left the Rams in a 3rd and 9, from where they eventually settled for 3 points—keeping Seattle within a touchdown of the lead.

Forthcoming inventiveness

The state of the Seahawks’ pass-rush is improving. Dion Jordan appears to be recovering closer to his 2017 self. On the interior, Jarran Reed is remarkably a better pass-rusher than run-defender. Finally, Martin is quickly developing the technical side of his game. Yet Seattle’s pass-rush concern isn’t going to vanish as the season goes on.

Incorporating blitzes as adjustments to what the opposing offense is trying to do is therefore a savvy coaching move that must continue. Though the Green Bay Packers are less motion-heavy than the Rams, we can presume the Seahawks will flash some inventive blitzes when the defense struggles to get after Aaron Rodgers. Coleman possesses north-south potency and camouflage. That makes him a quality starting point.