What’s the best Christmas present you received this year? I was lucky enough to get a fetching pair of dinosaur socks, a pencil carrying my new motto for life—“you probably need another coffee”—and a delicious bottle of Guinness Original XX. Yet none of these wonderful presents ranked first. Instead, it was the Seattle Seahawks who came bearing the finest of gifts: a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Wrapped in Pete Carroll’s scheming brilliance, the defense played one hell of a game. That may sound odd given the Seahawks eventually conceded 31 points. But it was the impact the defense had on Andy Reid’s gameplan and offensive build that made this close to a Christmas miracle.
The Chiefs attack was left relying on the play-extension brilliance of Patrick Mahomes: their playcalling was left looking devoid of ideas; their initial structure collapsed; their offense lost the battle to Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. Mahomes finished with his second-lowest completion percentage of the season (57.5%) and his second-fewest passing yards per attempt (6.83).
Mesh < Cover 3
Earlier this year, Seattle had issues playing crossing routes. It is, after all, a regular weapon of choice for offensive coordinators looking to defeat cover 3. That said, the zone technique has steadily improved throughout the season.
With K.J. Wright’s coverage ability back on the field, the Seahawks played cover 3-beating concepts like mesh superbly. Wright has far more refined pass defense than Austin Calitro, who was horrendous against the San Francisco 49ers. Moreover, it was the defensive-wide level of execution that so impressed.
On their first set of downs in the game, Kansas City aligned in an 11-personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers) doubles formation designed to get Seattle in their base coverage. The pre-snap shift from Travis Kelce confirmed the coverage to be zone. The single-high safety heavily hinted at cover 3.
Mesh made sense; the Seahawks executed perfectly. Hook defender Wright stayed in the vicinity of Tyreek Hill’s post route with Tre Flowers over the top of it, first subtly disrupting it and then taking away Mahomes’ first read. Boundary buzz defender Delano Hill smothered the wheel route out of the backfield. Wagner moved with Kelce’s crosser as it entered his vicinity. Wright then did the same with Chris Conley’s, who was Mahomes’ third read.
Reading from Tyreek Hill, to Kelce, to Robinson, Mahomes saw nothing but converging defenders. Seattle hit their landmarks and converged perfectly. Mahomes was left improvising. He ended up scrambling right and lobbing a ludicrous deep ball narrowly incomplete. The Seahawks’ outstanding zone technique, a theme which would continue throughout the game, saw the Chiefs go three and out on their opening drive. Unthinkable.
The depth of the hook droppers against crossers seem to stagger wonderfully to play the right depth and avoid rubs.
Bootleg < Cover 3 Robber
Against other doubles formations, Seattle was less vanilla in their pre-snap looks. This 2nd and 10, with the Seahawks up 7-0, provided an example of how Seattle played crossers well with 3 robber coverage.
Post-snap, the Seahawks rotated Delano Hill downhill to form a second hook zone in a cover 3; a 3 weak robber. Against Kansas City’s bootleg, Delano Hill ran with the intermediate crossing route of Tyreek Hill.
Meanwhile, Wagner as the other hook defender did well to dissect Tyreek Hill’s route and the flat route of tight end Demetrius Harris. More solid dissecting was conducted by buzz defender Justin Coleman; he stayed in sound position on Conley while moving with the rollout and keeping his eyes on Harris.
As the backside, unblocked defensive end, Frank Clark also did well. He moved with Mahomes’ rollout, first trying to disrupt the flat release and then pressuring the passer into progressing to the checkdown throw rather than squeezing it into Tyreek Hill.
Travis Kelce < Akeem King
Kelce, entering the match-up, had 10 touchdowns and over 1200 receiving yards. Seattle held him to a meager 54 receiving yards and 0 touchdowns. It felt like Akeem King played far more than the 13 snaps he received last Sunday. Cris Collinsworth highlighted his play. In clear passing downs and versus obvious passing personnel, the Seahawks went into some pass-focused personnel. Rather than the “bandit” package of 3-1-7, it was more often a 4-1-6 that matched King up on Kelce.
The below play had King jam and trail Kelce. Mahomes quickly moved off his tight end and chose Tyreek Hill’s out route in the spacing concept. Seattle’s boldness in playing two-man under against a trips bunch formation was rewarded. With the stunting Jarran Reed approaching, the forced tight window throw sailed on a rushed Mahomes. On 3rd and 10 the Chiefs couldn’t convert.
Kelce is a baller. There’s no doubt about that. The big tight end is a physical mismatch for lots of players and has a suddenness when route running that is rare for the position. King being occasionally beat in the assignment isn’t surprising.
The first snippet features capable man-to-man defense that forced a wonderful throw and catch. That’s the only way to beat this, and it’s not viable as a regular solution.
The second cut-up is King overcommitting on Kelce’s pivot route, though Mahomes decided to hit the wheel of Tyreek Hill against the cover 1.
Clip 1: King allowed two catches against Kelce, yet both times the coverage was excellent. The last catch of the game for Kelce was King winning the battle between the pair. Immediately after a missed grounding call, King answered on one of the most crucial third downs in the game.
With just over six minutes left in the 4th quarter, Kansas City trailed by 11 and really needed to convert this 3rd and 3 at the Seattle 47. The Seahawks sent a surprise safety blitz through the a gap via Delano Hill. Facing an unblocked rusher, Mahomes had to release the ball quickly to Kelce’s hitch.
The cover 1 blitz placed King into his typical one-on-one assignment against Kelce. Kelce’s hitch was supposed to be at the sticks, but King refused to allow Kelce to properly re-set the line of scrimmage. The patience in the press alignment was ideal. King’s play-strength was evidenced by his jam, which denied Kelce the separation needed. This forced Kelce to move backwards for the football.
As a result, the reception was made short of the first down. King then came downhill and made a nice form tackle to drop Kelce and force the fourth down. That’s how you take away a big tight end.
Clip 2: In another cover 1, King again shone his talents. Mahomes knew it was man defense pre-snap after Kelce’s motion was followed across the formation by King. The Chiefs liked the match-up for Kelce and a vertical route.
Yet King stayed fantastically patient and square, stuttering but not overcommitting as Kelce faked an out route and then opening to run downfield. His over the top position was great throughout, and his strength survived through the hand fighting. The area for improvement is to locate the football at the end.
RPOs < Down safety alignment and technique
Kansas City likes hitting Run Pass Option plays. They’re ‘can’t be wrong’ ways of attacking a defense. Seattle played them smartly. The entire gameplan featured patience from backside defenders that negated option plays, accounted for reverse motions and stopped the pass option in RPOs.
Take these back-to-back snaps. On the first one, the Chiefs’ pre-snap shift of their running back meant that Barkevious Mingo became the backside defender rather than Delano Hill. Mingo rushed out to the flat route of Kelce. Flowers in his deep third paused thinking the ball was going to Kelce. Tyreek Hill’s slant was wide open for Mahomes, who’d read Mingo run away and Wagner play run.
After a false start put Kansas City in 1st and 15, they called a very similar concept. This time, Delano Hill stayed as the backside defender. He executed his coverage brilliantly, patiently waiting on the mesh point before playing his man coverage assignment on Kelce. He was helped by Kelce’s delayed release when trying to sell a block.
Mahomes saw Delano Hill stay somewhat in the passing lane to Tyreek Hill. This resulted in the passer handing the ball off to Damien Williams. The Seahawks’ feverish playside pursuit of the wide run forced the fumble.
With the down safety often aligned to the backside of the running back versus shotgun, Seattle had better coverage technique and awareness for giving Mahomes a “give” read on RPOs. Their frontside played very aggressively and was free to attack.
Coverage weaknesses < Stunts
Delano Hill has been capable when deployed down in the box or over a tight end. Yet his ability, or lack thereof, at two-high safety makes him a weakness to target in coverage. His eyes get drawn for too long to certain routes and he is slow to anticipate plus react to deep corner routes.
Gucci Mane proclaimed that “stunting ain’t nothing to me”,, but it sure was something to the poor Chiefs o-line. It helped cover for the issues Delano Hill presented as Kansas City went pass-heavy in desperation mode and the Seahawks played more two-high defense. There’s no greater help to shaky pass defense than pressure.
Delano Hill was beat by Kelce to the corner in Seattle’s usually shutdown “red 2” coverage. Thankfully for the Seahawks, the bullet-fast get-off of Frank Clark insta-pressured Mahomes, and the tackle-end exchange to the left flushed Mahomes into spinning right and away from the open Kelce. The result was an out-of-bounds heave.
Seattle also got freaky by allowing Clark to play “radar style”. Before the snap, he walked around the line of scrimmage, not allowing the o-line to know where he’d rush from. His eventual long-arm surge from right end shocked left tackle Eric Fisher. Mahomes was forced into more improvisation.
Pete Carroll Coach of the Year
The Chiefs game was the latest instance of the brilliance of Carroll’s defensive scheme. The innovation and adaptation in the defense combines with wholesome coverage technique. If he and Norton Jr. can continue to get the gameplans right—against the 49ers they didn’t—then this defense can hold any playoff offense within reach.
The savvy utilization of various talents in coverage is a massive supporting factor for why Carroll should win Coach of the Year. This is a heck of a coaching job.