Irv Smith Jr. was left wide open by the Seattle Seahawks for a three yard touchdown catch last Sunday. Pete Carroll commented on the play in his Wednesday press conference: “Yeah, we screwed it up, we made a mistake,” the head coach said. But what exactly did Seattle screw up and what mistake was made? This Seahawks on tape will answer those questions.
The preseason is full of learning pains. As rookies and newcomers get used to a new scheme, they face the additional challenge of playing with new teammates. Unfamiliar Xs and Os, plus miscommunication, was how Smith was left so wide open for his three yard touchdown catch.
Left wide open for the TD: @Vikings rookie TE Irv Smith, Jr! @swervinirvin_— NFL (@NFL) August 19, 2019
: #SEAvsMIN on FOX
Watch on mobile: https://t.co/uLZtwjkGlI pic.twitter.com/BL19MEiaiW
As Charles Davis said on the broadcast:
“Take nothing away from Irv Smith, but this felt like a busted coverage. And it was. He was so wide open. There’s no way no one is supposed to be in that area. So here in the preseason, a number of guys working, a lot of them working multiple spots, sometimes you get breakdowns and Irv Smith says thank you.”
Pre-snap, Seattle showed their “Red 2 (LA)” nickel defense. The LA part of that is what Pete Carroll calls his cover-2 pass defense and this is, essentially, a cover-2 adapted for the tighter confines of the redzone and goal line. It is one of the best pass defenses for smaller space as few throwing windows are given to quarterbacks.
With the defense being middle of the field open in nature—as the two safeties are in deep halves— the MIKE linebacker is used to partially close the middle of the field. In the Seahawks’ playbook, the MIKE is called the “Middle Run Thru” player as a result.
Seattle’s Red 2 teaches the MIKE linebacker to open to the number three receiver against trips. He runs with number three vertical. Minnesota coming out in a bunch trips formation just sees the MIKE linebacker assigned with taking the vertical route from the bunch.
Jamar Taylor, the nickel cornerback over the bunch, would be one of the two hook/curl/seam defenders—the other being WILL linebacker Mychal Kendricks. With Taylor on the bunch side, he would be looking to sit in the spot-route window.
All the underneath zones are tweaked by the inside the five yard line situation, with them not gaining any more depth and instead sitting. The MIKE would wait for the nod of three (an inwards break) or for two to nod.
Here is how Red 2 (LA) with no blitz would have looked:
If Seattle had played "normal" Red 2, this is what the coverage would have looked like versus the trips bunch formation.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) August 22, 2019
Jamar Taylor as the curl player would have sat in the spot area. Cody Barton would have looked to take first vert out of bunch. pic.twitter.com/m7xMqZhPwh
Here is Red 2 (LA) run against the Denver Broncos:
Ugo Amadi's easiest transition to the Seahawks system is doing cover 2 slot work like he did at Oregon. Here he excels as a hook defender in Seattle's typical inside the 10 pass defense: Red 2 (LA). There's no window for Drew Lock and Denver is held to 3pic.twitter.com/9rOh4Mgh6t— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) August 14, 2019
Of course, the Seahawks did decide to blitz. That’s where the problems arose. As Davis described:
“So here’s Smith, watch him work here and watch the coverage just vacate, no one’s there. Could not be an easier throw. That’s like throwing routes versus air for Sean Mannion and Irv Smith gets the first touchdown of his career here in the preseason.”
Seven (7!) defenders decided to go after Sean Mannion at quarterback. No one covered the #3 receiver: Smith. With what we know about Red 2 (LA) as a coverage, we can immediately absolve Mychal Kendricks of blame on the backside. He appeared to be a peel/green-dog blitzer, assigned with covering the running back if he decided to release.
The signs of miscommunication are obvious pre-snap. First, Marquise Blair as the backside half safety asks his fellow safety, DeShawn Shead, what’s going on. In some middle of the field open defenses, the backside safety is used to match the number three receiver; Blair could have been checking this.
Shead, before responding, glances towards Jamar Taylor. No eye contact is made between Taylor and Shead, but after glancing at the nickel cornerback, Shead responds to Blair. Shead must have known that Taylor was blitzing, because post-snap he covered the number two in what was basically man-to-man.
Cody Barton, the third blitzer, then checked with Blair pre-snap. I’d guess Barton was asking Blair if he was good, and Blair thought he was, having spoken to Shead. However, Barton probably thought that Blair was going to cover the number three receiver. Instead, Blair was covering the backside half of the field.
Blair, unsure, asked Shead about his assignment.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) August 22, 2019
Shead checked Taylor and seemed to tell Blair to play 1/2. So Blair essentially doubled the single receiver.
Barton, who would have been responsible for Irv, then checked with Blair. Barton seemed to think Blair was taking Smith. pic.twitter.com/l4RIBcpv57
For Taylor, a veteran cover-first guy, to blitz, he must have received a clear call. Shead probably thought Barton would take Smith, seeing the chain of communication fail when neither Barton nor Blair picked up the number three receiver—Smith.
This was the result:
Pete Carroll was today asked about Irv Smith Jr.'s touchdown against Seattle. "Yeah, we screwed it up, we made a mistake," said the Seahawks HC.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) August 22, 2019
Miscommunication led to the error. SEA called a Red 2 (LA) blitz. Red 2 is their RZ and GL version of cover 2pic.twitter.com/87coK9TE0V
I’m unfamiliar with how Seattle’s defense calls their plays in, but there is a chance that Barton at MIKE linebacker had a pre-snap choice between calling two blitzes—a Red 2 (LA) nickel blitz and then a 1 rat blitz disguised as Red 2 pre-snap. Here is what the latter would look like:
Red 2 (LA) is a 7-man over front defense. The "LA" part is just what Carroll calls Cover 2.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) August 22, 2019
There's a chance that this is disguised as Red 2 LA pre-snap but is actually transformed to a Cover 1 robber blitz (Marquise Blair as the rat). That could explain some of the confusion pic.twitter.com/xIBCzdktvd
Whatever the case, Barton and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. failed to get the playcall in correctly. Irv Smith Jr. showed himself to be enough of a mismatch in the passing game without such help, catching five times for 28 yards.
Each of the players involved in this play could be starting for the Seahawks sooner rather than later. Though Bobby Wagner will presumably return for Week 1 of the regular season, Mychal Kendricks’ sentencing in Week 4 could kick K.J. Wright to SAM linebacker and put Barton at WILL.
Meanwhile, Taylor is currently leading the nickel competition and Carroll said he would start in Week 3 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Shead projects to be the first safety off the bench and starting Bandit (Dime) back.
Finally, getting Marquise Blair on the field would bring a playmaking aspect Seattle lacks, yet the rookie must be able to line up without being babysat by Shead. Plays like this are why Carroll puts great value in the “veteran” play of men like Tedric Thompson.