The Seattle Seahawks got funky last Monday. Ken Norton Jr. stunted hard, unleashing wild, looping blitzes. His defense looked like Kris Richard’s Seahawks with 3-down linemen looks. On the back end, the coverage was also a complete change up.
Seattle predominantly ran two-high safety pass defenses that turned into either match quarters, cover-2 man or bracket man. Single-high, cover-3 and cover-1? This was only witnessed against heavier personnel and formations.
Here’s what Kirk Cousins (probably) said at half time:
Yes, in addition to the Seahawks’ distractingly lurid ACTION green uniforms, their defensive scheme was also deceiving. The result was a rattled, confused $84M quarterback who double-clutched and missed throws.
Norton Jr.’s gameplan was completely different to what the Minnesota Vikings would have prepared for in the days leading up to their 21-7 defeat. The now fired John DeFilippo struggled to figure out ways to move the football. Seattle popped off the screen in more ways than one on Monday Night Football.
What this article will cover is the bracket/bandit coverages. In Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the Vikings have the deadliest receiving duo in the league. The Seahawks limited them to 76 and 70 receiving yards respectively. Zero touchdowns. That’s not bad at all, especially when you factor in garbage time production.
In the first quarter, Seattle befuddled Minnesota’s opening script and didn’t allow a single Thielen or Diggs reception. Let’s get to their second drive of the game.
The Vikings came out in an 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers), empty shotgun set featuring two wingbacks. They were lied to pre-snap by the Seahawks’ 3-1-7 big seven defensive back (bandit personnel) defense on this 3rd and 12.
It looked like a cover-2 man press defense. Instead, Seattle rushed just two of their players. Jacob Martin, lined up at left end, dropped as his green dog assignment required him to stop his rush and cover the releasing man one-on-one.
Meanwhile, in the deep secondary, Delano Hill bracketed Thielen over the top. The coverage saw Griffin and Hill double cover Thielen. The other safety, Tedric Thompson, was assigned Diggs deep. Diggs had to contend with the man coverage of Justin Coleman, walling from the initially sugared Akeem King and Thompson: triple coverage.
Cousins first looked at Diggs, expecting the middle of the field to be open. He quickly progressed, given the safety movement and immediate two-man plastering. His second read was Thielen’s in-breaking deep route outside. The underneath and over the top layers smothered Thielen, making this even less preferable of a throw.
Checking that Martin had dropped with the flat route checkdown, Cousins panned to the other side of the field and the checkdown of Dalvin Cook in the flat. Bobby Wagner, in man coverage over the running back, dropped him for a loss.
(The refs made a very strange call on Wagner here, but the coverage still worked beautifully.)
The bizarre flag on Wagner kept Minnesota’s drive alive, only for them to stall in similar fashion on the next third down—a 3rd and 12. The Vikings plumped for an 11 personnel shotgun trips formation; the Seahawks once more responded with a 3-1-7 big bandit (7 DBs).
The assignments were similar, as was the result. King walled Diggs’ skinny post route, along with the man-to-man press coverage of Griffin and the bracketing of Hill. On the opposite side of the field, the isolated Thielen had Thompson work his way over the top to double cover him above Tre Flowers.
It was this safety movement that Cousins first observed. Correctly choosing to move to his next read, Cousins again saw a triple-covered Diggs. He went for the one-on-one the defense produced. Coleman worked well on Aldrick Robinson’s wickedly angled vertical route, staying easily in phase with the receiver.
Up front, Jarran Reed managed to command a double-team (benefited by pre-snap sugaring) that saw Martin get a one-on-one with right tackle Brian O’Neill. Beating him for speed to the corner, Martin dipped through and registered a hit on Cousins. Hurried, Cousins’ pass fell nowhere near the intended receiver and Coleman’s sound coverage.
Seattle’s ability to adapt to their opponent is a massively underrated aspect to Pete Carroll’s genius as a defensive coach. Undoubtedly, Norton Jr. had influence on the scheme too. The Seahawks’ near-perfect execution had Cousins reeling: they went to match-quarters stuff for the rest of the game and it was similarly effective.
“There were two third downs early where they truly were doubling Adam and Stefon in a way that they’re not going to get the ball. Shouldn’t get the ball,” Cousins said. “And, that was one down the middle to Aldrick where I was trying to work him down the middle in one-on-one because the safeties are so enamored with Diggsy and Adam that literally it’s like cover zero for Aldrick. Just right down the middle of the field, you can take it down the chute. One other one on the Microsoft Surface picture they literally dropped, it appeared, nine defenders. If they didn’t drop nine then they dropped eight and Diggsy was triple-teamed.”
The proactive measures neutered the Vikings’ offense of any tangible threat. It was deadly, like Nolan Ryan’s circle change-up after a ton of scorching fastballs. Minnesota was left looking silly.
Bobby Wagner reflected on the Bandit coverage post-game:
“It creates problems. We were able to put a couple guys on their best receivers. It creates confusion out there. You [as a quarterback] don’t know who is guarding who, who is doing what. That’s what we are trying to do is confuse them. And while we are confusing them, the d-line gets time to go and get him.”
Here’s what Carroll thought of the schematic tweak:
“I thought it was a beautifully-timed plan for these guys. That team is really good and they protect well and have an experienced quarterback. I think he had them off kilter a little bit, and I think the mixes of the calls worked out quite well for us.”
With a playoff run now nearly certain, it’s comforting to know that Seattle has ways of taking lethal receivers out of games. Cousins was persistently forced to his tertiary read and he looked shell-shocked in the big moments.
A stifling defense that imposes that level of psychological stress on a quarterback is something that screams SEAHAWKS IN DECEMBER. The astonishing part is we can think that about this rebuilding iteration of Carroll’s Seattle. I’m in!