I wrote earlier this season that Bradley McDougald was having an All-Pro year. It’s certainly at a Pro-Bowl level; though winning that popularity contest for the underrated talent will prove tough. McDougald was incredible versus the Carolina Panthers, continuing his incredible year. In fact, I can only recall two bad McDougald plays this season. Both were tricky situations.
Facing the Packers, McDougald lost at the line of scrimmage to Robert Tonyan yet managed to stay in phase with the tight end for an eternity downfield. Aaron Rodgers made a play that just a select few can, rolling right and lobbing a precise 54-yard deep ball right to his receiver for the touchdown.
The other negative play came in Carolina from a brutally difficult assignment on Christian McCaffrey’s option route. Deep safety Tedric Thompson’s lunging tackle attempt, not showing a good short stride or aiming point, made this play far worse:
#Panthers film part II: @run__cmc out of the backfield with the stem and stick.#KeepPounding @StanfordFball pic.twitter.com/to4JbTXD0C— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) November 28, 2018
But back to the subject of this article: McDougald was incredible last Sunday other than being beat by the quickness of McCaffrey on one occasion. He brought his man down in space, doing just enough to contain him on a day where the offensive star exploded in a career-high supernova.
Evoking Kam Chancellor
Seattle’s new safety tandem gets compared to the hall of fame duet Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas performed. That’s unfair on so many levels, but inevitable given the recent memories of that pair’s greatness. Yet McDougald managed to evoke Chancellor at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers had the ball on the Seahawks’ 3-yard line and faced a 3rd and 1. Having failed in going for it on their first drive in a fourth down near the goalline, the scores are still tied at 0-0. Seattle’s defense this season has been excellent in third and short, ranking second in the league in conversions given up:
3rd Down Defense: By Distance— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) November 28, 2018
PART I: 3rd & SHORT (1-2 yards) #GoNiners #Seahawks #GoSaints #DaBears #LARams #Skol #Jets #Browns #HTTR #SeizeTheDEY #GoPats pic.twitter.com/78ajVhUMtO
Carolina’s jumbo formation saw the Seahawks respond with a goalline defense that had safeties Delano Hill and McDougald as the force defenders. The Panthers motioned their tight end away from the play, attempting to cause alignment issues, then ran an outside zone to the weakside.
Nazair Jones, aligned at 3-technique, was the initial wrecker on this play. Responsible for what looked like the playside b gap, he squeezed inside through the playside a gap right into the backfield. Bobby Wagner, the run-through player at middle linebacker, took the b gap responsibility.
It’s part of Seattle’s spill and then force philosophy. This has defensive linemen stepping inside to spill and play through their linemen, then linebackers flowing over the top of blocks to turnback the runner. The initial penetration would have caused McCaffrey to bounce the ball further outside.
However, the exceptional play of McDougald prevented any bouncing. Taking on the fold block of right tackle Taylor Moton, McDougald does something never thought possible after the days of Chancellor. Getting lower than the offensive lineman, McDougald exploded upwards with a block destruct shoulder strike that propelled the 6-5, 325lb blocker backwards into McCaffrey. (McDougald is 6ft 1, 215lb!) Simultaneously, McDougald managed to stay in great outside-in leverage.
The Seahawks talk about their safeties in this alignment against stretch plays “earholing” their man and being the “pure edge setter”. This was exactly that from McDougald, though instead of having to take on a fullback he rocked a tackle.
As Jones contacted McCaffrey’s ankle, McCaffrey’s point of attack got smacked back into him and the runner was dropped for a loss. Carolina was forced to settle for a field goal on this occasion; Seattle’s defense showed why it is so tricky to convert 3rd and short against.
“Everything I know is a lie” Cam Newton (possibly)
If you play the latest Madden video game, under cover 3 beaters it’ll probably list “four verts” as a “cover 3-beater”. I wouldn’t know, because I despise how the next-gen Madden games play after they were wrecked by exclusive rights, the frostbite engine and an ultimate team focus—but that’s another article for a different day. (It doesn’t help that I now suck at video games but please don’t tell anyone else that)
The point is, running four vertical routes is a standard cover 3 beater. That’s football 101. It’s why Nick Saban devised his rip-liz matching, which essentially turns into a four-deep coverage when faced with the route combination. It’s what made McDougald’s play on the ball so impressive initially.
Carolina struggled massively inside the Seahawks’ redzone; they had 7 trips inside the 20 and came away with only 23 points. Following a highly questionable defensive pass interference call on Tre Flowers, Newton saw a clear single-high safety and decided to attack.
The coverage that looked like a blatantly bland cover 3 wasn’t quite that. As Thompson cheated his deep middle third shell over to the boundary seam route, Newton’s excitement must have grown as he executed the run fake to McCaffrey. His other seam was bound to be open, right?
Wrong. Thompson’s shading of roughly 60/40 to Greg Olsen’s seam was by design of a matching coverage Pete Carroll runs out of his over front (called Boston). In this coverage, Thompson’s deep middle third shell has a seam alert, meaning he’s assigned Olsen’s route primarily.
Dropping back in his “soft sky” hook zone, McDougald quickly diagnosed Newton’s downfield intentions and carried the seam route from tight end Chris Manhertz deep. Not dissimilar to rip-liz itself, it’s Carroll’s soft version. For that reason, it’s a common call against 2x2 receiver alignments as it takes away four verts—even with a play-fake.
Here’s how it looked on McDougald’s pick:
Newton released what he thought was sure to be a touchdown, expecting McDougald to stop in a buzz/hook-curl zone. Instead, McDougald continued and attacked the football. He leapt, raising his near arm to high-point the pass. After softly cushioning the weight of his own deflection, McDougald then secured the ball with a two-handed clasp.
What a staggering turnover! It was Seattle’s first in four games, coming at a crucial time with the Seahawks only down by 3. Having flashed his skills playing the run, McDougald showcased his ability covering the pass. He continues to provide valuable versatility.
The Wave Technique
BRADLEY MCDOUGALD'S WAVE TECHNIQUE MADE GANO MISS— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) November 25, 2018
It was hard not to notice McDougald’s frantic waving and jumping on that lovely, fantastic, brilliant Graham Gano 52-yard miss. Sure, it’s amusing to jokingly overstate the potential impact of the wave. BUT, it may have affected Gano. It’s fun to think this whatever the case:
Pro-Bowl, at Least
I mentioned in the introduction that the Pro-Bowl is largely a popularity contest. For this reason, McDougald will likely miss out on an honor he thoroughly deserves. His best bet to gain the attention of voters is to keep intercepting the football. McDougald has three picks; the leader amongst safeties is Damonte Kazee with six; D.J. Swearinger, Shawn Williams and Eddie Jackson have four each.
Pro-Bowler or not, once more I’m left marvelling at the fantastic business John Schneider did this past offseason. McDougald’s deal has two years to run after 2017, where the cost against the cap is $4,733,333 and $5,433,334 respectively. McDougald, at this level of play, has every right to be asking for more money at the end of the season. Given Seattle’s leverage, they can afford to stick firm and enjoy his value for another season at least.
Thanks to Beast Pode contributor and online friend @cmikesspinmove for more valuable schematic conversations.