The Seattle Seahawks’ season started like a morning of tepid coffee. Through a worried smile I praised the Pro Bowl level play of Shaquill Griffin, but deep down I was concerned about the overall state of this team. How a win changes the mood, albeit against an abysmal Dallas Cowboys squad.
Three games in, it’s now time to talk about a Seahawks player who isn’t just looking like a Pro Bowl candidate; he’s performing at an All-Pro level and is strong early favorite for team MVP. Step forward Bradley McDougald.
McDougald article @FieldGulls is going to have to be 100 parts at this rate. Running out of superlatives to describe this baller— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) September 23, 2018
McDougald represents an upgrade over Kam Chancellor in coverage, with greater fluidity in his hips and more speed. And, while his box play was an area to improve from last year, it’s what’s standing out this season. While he will never have Chancellor’s power, he leads all safeties this season in solo tackles with 17.
The former Kansas City Chiefs undrafted free agent signifies a subtle change or slackening in front office philosophy. Though that initially may have been intentional, with his arrival designed to cover an injury to Earl Thomas or Chancellor, it now sees a starter at strong safety who is not the prototypical sort.
Instead he is versatile and truly can do-it-all; be it rotating to single-high, manning-up or playing in the box. Heck, so far this year he’s done-it-all for Seattle. Let’s get to the tape.
Two core principles of Pete Carroll’s philosophy are simplicity and practicing hard. That, in theory, allows a player to be “free”. To play instinctually, without thinking (over-thinking can cause paralysis) but within the rules of the gameplan.
McDougald is in his second year as a Seahawk. You can tell he is now fully comfortable in the defense. He is playing free, not having to think too much, and it’s seeing him make some incredible plays within the structure of the scheme. It’s clear how well he understands the concepts of both the opposing offense and the defense.
Week 1 first showed us McDougald’s ability in a hook zone. The Denver Broncos move their pocket to buy Case Keenum time for a deep crosser to Emmanuel Sanders.
McDougald drops into his initial landmark of the cover 3, but notices no-one near him. He therefore gains more depth while reading the quarterback’s eyes and has the awareness of the offensive concept to look for the crossing route.
Keenum sees Sanders clear the underneath zones of the linebackers and zeroes in on his target. The quarterback doesn’t even register McDougald coming from the other side. The safety intercepts the ball and adds a nice chunk of return yardage too.
It’s chalkboard underneath zone play, coming after Seattle had turned the ball over themselves. What a fantastic statement.
I initially thought this might be a matching defense, similar to 3 rip with McDougald carrying #2 if he goes vertical, and if not playing the hook curl to flat. I’ve now decided the coverage is just a disguised cover 3.
Anyway that’s largely irrelevant, because either way McDougald uses his total comprehension of footballing concepts to make this incredible tackle.
Knowing that the cornerback next to him is playing the deep 1/3 zone and reading from the #1 receiver to the #2 receiver, McDougald makes a savvy decision. He is initially covering the curl of the #2 receiver.
However, he is reading the #1 receiver too. As soon as he keys the #1 nestle in the shallow on a smoke route, he zooms downhill—fully confident that Tre Flowers will pick up any vertical route from #2 over the top and the low-hole linebacker Austin Calitro will take the underneath.
To the bemused Dak Prescott, what looked like a form of cover 2 or cover 4 pre- and post-snap suddenly turns into a cover 3, with McDougald shooting down from the hook to flat.
His click and close speed is blisteringly fast—he really ran a 4.74 at the combine huh?! Starting 15 yards away, McDougald’s pure faith in his defensive scheme and keys sees him make the form tackle as the ball arrives to the dangerous Tavon Austin.
The one-yard loss is a generous outcome for the Cowboys from the officials. Still, McDougald sets the tone on just the second play of the game.
What made Chancellor so fantastic was he could come down in the box to stop the run like a linebacker, yet he could also match-up with tight ends and nullify their presence. (Did it get dusty in here?)
Emotional time is over. Seek comfort in the fact that McDougald is showing an ability to do the same. This is despite his listed playing weight of 215lbs, which is almost 50lbs lighter than most tight ends.
(Kam was listed at 225lbs for reference, I’m not sure how believable that is)
The Broncos are marching attempting to increase their seven-point lead with 1.06 left in the half. They give Keenum a mesh concept. It’s revealing how confident Seattle is with McDougald in this situation. He’s playing a similar man coverage assignment as slot cornerback Justin Coleman.
There’s a touch of separation at the break point, but Keenum isn’t reading it yet and McDougald recovers well to get in phase with tight end Jake Butt. The slightly late throw from Keenum can’t lead Butt as much due to Griffin now looking in on the ball.
Still, there’s no way McDougald should record this interception. The Broncos don’t think there is; they think they have a mismatch. And yet McDougald does get the pick, getting eyes on the quarterback and undercutting the route at the perfect moment to pluck the ball away via an impressive diving catch. Coming right after Chris Carson’s fumble, it’s a monumental reply from the defense.
Geoff Swaim attempted to use his bigger size on McDougald’s man coverage by thundering into the safety. This had virtually no effect, with McDougald showing the footwork to mirror the release; then the fully extended arm punch plus the strength to absorb the hit and open with the crosser.
The Seahawks’ green-dog cover 1 blitz results in Prescott moving to the crossing route of his double-in/slant follow concept. He attempts to squeeze the ball to Swaim.
McDougald pretty much runs the route with Swaim, staying right in the hip pocket. He locates the ball with sound timing and swats with his nearside arm (crucial in case you miss and then can tackle with the far arm). The pass falls incomplete on the 3rd and 3. Physical finesse!
Coming Downhill from zone
Carroll will always be happy to give up underneath stuff to not concede the big play. For that reason, Seattle essentially has a no-cover-area in the backfield. Offenses will try to provide death to such a defense by a thousand paper cuts, dinking and dunking underneath.
For that reason, rallying to the ball as a defense and limiting the yards after the catch is massively important. McDougald is doing this beautifully—the play against Austin already being an example.
This is a tricky tackle in space on one of the NFL’s best. Prescott registers the two-high safety off-coverage and changes the play pre-snap to a running back screen.
McDougald settles in his underneath shell and reacts to the quarterback plus the offensive line. He diagnoses the play quickly, then drops Ezekiel Elliott in the open-field.
The short-stride technique to break down and prevent the runner slipping free up the sideline gets it done. Additionally, it delays the Cowboys’ attempt at a two-minute drive.
Again playing from an underneath shell, McDougald comes downhill on a checkdown with similarly excellent recognition and technique.
McDougald’s athleticism combined with his awareness gives him stunning ability. On this pre-snap Run-Pass Option, there is a designed passing lane created for Mitch Tribusky by the split- play-action.
McDougald honors his assignment by coming down to play the run, but then identifies the passing lane and Trubisky’s intention.
He therefore makes an incredible vertical leap to tip the pass, intended for the in-breaking Allen Robinson. This enables Shaquill Griffin to intercept the wobbling ball underneath. It’s a wonderful assist from McDougald.
Run fit Discipline
As earlier stated, McDougald’s play in the box has developed this year. He’s impressed so much that the Seahawks have felt comfortable playing three-safety packages more than usual. It’s enabled the team to get the still-developing Tedric Thompson on the field in more of a coverage role. This has seen McDougald slot into what is essentially an inside linebacker position—especially useful given Bobby Wagner has been missing and K.J. Wright is still injured.
McDougald has outside contain, particularly after cornerback Akeem King gets dominated down the field. The safety stays outside versus the read-option keeper, forcing Trubisky to turn it inside while controlling his blocker ready to move in to make the tackle.
Fortunately, Trubisky foolishly decides to bounce the run. McDougald disengages, still stays outside in and makes a lovely tackle for a loss of 2. He crucially avoids going for the ‘kill shot’ at the expense of wrapping up.
Here McDougald is in that inside linebacker-ish role, next to Kendricks, and Seattle is rolling with their big-nickel package. With the ball handed off to Tarik Cohen on the outside power, McDougald is responsible for the weakside a gap.
He tracks the ball carrier well, staying on the near hip and in his gap responsibility. Kept clean by the 3t in front of him, he is free to scrape and come downhill to tackle Cohen as he cuts upfield. The disciplined pursuit angle prevents any cutback from Cohen—a favorite move of his.
McDougald starts in the d gap as the alley player. However, with the run away from him he effectively becomes the chase-and-run backside player. He doesn’t cheat, moves within his fit and ends up picking through the trash to bring Royce Freeman down on the inside dive. The offense barely picks up 1, forcing them into 3rd down.
It’s a giant cliché, but McDougald never stops hustling.
That was exemplified last game. The Seahawks run defense finally caved against Elliott, with Clark missing a wrap-up opportunity that saw the running back bounce through the hole. McDougald, as the alley player from his two-high alignment, jumped inside. This rare mistake gave Elliott a crease down the sideline.
But, rather than give up and jog, McDougald worked his way back, kept himself from falling over and then forced the fumble from behind with a powerful swipe. It was the play which basically ended Dallas’ game.
What Value: An Absolute Bargain!
What value McDougald represents! As shown, the 27-year-old is playing at an All-Pro level. His play is teaching tape right now. This is ridiculous when you consider the sixth-year pro carries a measly cap hit of $3,333,333 this year. His deal has two years to run after 2017, where the cost against the cap is $4,733,333 and $5,433,334 respectively.
In simpler terms: bringing McDougald back this offseason was an absolute bargain from John Schneider. While Thomas is dissatisfied with his contract situation, McDougald might soon be asking for a raise. His play to this point—full of ball skills, tackles and hustle—certainly merits the discussion.
For now, we can enjoy this talent; a level of ability which many would have thought unthinkable so soon after Chancellor’s injury. Thank goodness the dysfunctional Tampa Bay Buccaneers let the baller walk. Thank goodness Schneider re-signed the safety. Thank goodness for Bradley McDougald.